Author Archives: Tracey

Last Concert Cafe

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When tales are told of the history of the Tex-Mex restaurant and live-music venue Last Concert Cafe (1403 Nance), it can be difficult to separate the facts from the mythology. But the story goes something like this:

The Early Days…

Legend has it that either the building in which the restaurant is located or the house next door was once a bordello. The small-looking house supposedly has eight bedrooms, but no kitchen.

1940’s…

The Last Concert Cafe was opened as a restaurant in 1949, by Elena “Mama” Lopez, who was then 62. The name came from Lopez’ statement that the restaurant would be her last business endeavor. Which it may well have been – but then, Lopez lived to be 95, and operated the restaurant into her nineties, and so was able to enjoy quite a lengthy swan song.

1960’s…

In the early 1960’s, the Last Concert Cafe reputedly served as one of Houston’s first gay bars, and was the site of a marjuana bust that was, at the time, the the largest in the city’s history (though the latter may have happened in the 1950’s, and not the 1960’s).

It’s also said that, when I-10 was being built in the late 1960’s, the restaurant stood right in its intended path; but that Lopez held some sway with city officials, and that the highway was rerouted to save the building. Lopez’ influence may or may not have had something to do with a memory that extended back to the restaurant’s alleged bordello days.

The Traditions…

The most famous tradition at Last Concert is to knock twice on the locked front door for admittance. There are conflicting accounts of the origin of the tradition, perhaps because there are so many different possible reasons why, at different points in the building’s early history, there would not have been a general admittance policy. For many years, there was not even a doorknob on the outside of the door. City regulations changed that, and visitors may even find the front door unlocked – but it’s nice to think that some customers still follow the protocol of knocking for entry.

Another tradition is that the name of the restaurant is not posted out front. (However, a sign was noted recently – posted down the street – reassuring first-timers that they are headed in the right direction. Understandable given that friends’ directions may be no more detailed than “head north out of downtown on San Jacinto, and keep to the right until you see Nance”.)

More information:
Last Concert Cafe website
Parks, L.B., “A good cafe is hard to find”, Houston Chronicle, Sept. 17, 1988

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Whitney v. State

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[1883 Harris County Courthouse]

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[1883 Harris County Courthouse]

In 1900, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, in the decision Whitney v. State, 59 S.W. 895 (Tex. Crim. App. 1900), reversed a black defendant’s rape conviction on the grounds that black residents of Harris County were excluded from the grand jury that indicted him. Testimony introduced in connection with the defendant’s motion to quash the indictment revealed that black residents had been routinely excluded from all juries in Harris County. The court summarized the somewhat contradictory testimony as follows:

The court heard evidence on the motion, which was substantially as follows: B. R. Latham testified that he was one of the commissioners that selected the grand jury that found the bill of indictment against appellant. Said grand jurors so selected were all white men. The population of Harris County is over 50,000, two-thirds or three-fourths of which are white persons, and the rest blacks or negroes. In selecting the names for the grand jury, witness stated that they put no negroes on the jury; that there were many negroes in the county capable of performing jury service, but that he would not put them on; that he never knew of negroes being impaneled on the grand jury in Harris County, and was not accustomed to putting them on; that they did as other commissioners had done before; that, if the names of competent negroes had been given to the commissioners, he would not have been in favor of putting them on the grand jury unless the court had so instructed; that he had no prejudice or ill feeling against negroes, nor did he have any prejudice or ill feeling against defendant, but that he did not consider negroes competent and qualified for jury service. [Another party familiar with the formation of Harris County juries] testified that he had observed the practice in Harris County of organizing juries for years, and that he knew of no negroes being put on any of the juries; that there were hundreds of educated negroes and property owners in Harris County, if not thousands; that the sentiment of the people is against putting negroes on juries; that there were 25,000 negroes in Harris County, and many negro schools and benevolent associations of all kinds; and that he knew many negroes that would make good jurors.

The trial court had upheld the indictment on the grounds that “the evidence failed to show that negroes were excluded from juries because of prejudice or ill feeling against them, or because of prejudice or ill feeling against defendant.” The Court of Criminal Appeals responded:

We do not understand that this would afford sufficient ground for refusing to sustain the motion. It is not a question of prejudice or ill feeling, but the fourteenth amendment, as construed by the Supreme Court of the United States, holds that if there are qualified negro jurors in the county, and in the formation of juries, grand or petit, where a negro is on trial, negroes are intentionally excluded from such juries, then he is denied the equal protection of the laws, and the case should be reversed.

Shepherd’s Dam

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[1913 Map of Houston]


[Shepherd’s Dam – HoustonHistory.com]

A 1913 Houston street map famously labeled Shepherd as “Shepherds Damn Road”, with the “n” crossed out (see photo excerpt above). While the “n” may have been an error, Shepherd was indeed known as Shepherd’s Dam Road for some period of time in reference to a dam once located on Buffalo Bayou just east of the current Shepherd Drive bridge.

The area around the bridge was once owned by Daniel Shepherd, the superintendent of the Southwest Telegraph Company. In the 1880’s, Shepherd apparently intended to build a sawmill and flour mill at the location, and built the dam to accommodate those plans. However, the plans were also contingent on state approval to divert water from the Brazos River into Buffalo Bayou, and Shepherd never received the required permission.

While the mills were never built, the dam did for a time create a stretch of deep water on the bayou that was used as a swimming hole as late as the 1920’s – even though the remains of the dam were likely washed away by floods before then.

Whether the modern-day Shepherd Drive is named for Daniel Shepherd is an interesting question. In his book Historic Houston Streets: The Stories Behind the Names, Marks Hinton attributes the street name to Benjamin Shepherd, an early Houston banker who gave the city the land for Shepherd Drive, and gave Rice University the money to start the Shepherd School of Music. Marguerite Johnston’s Houston: The Unknown City, 1836-1946 makes the same attribution. However, a lengthy November 5, 1922 article in the Galveston Daily News about the road’s name being changed from “Shepherd’s Dam Road” to “Shepherd Drive” at the request of residents of “Brunner (now called west end)” discusses Daniel Shepherd at length, and never mentions Benjamin Shepherd. (Brunner – which was annexed in 1915 – is defined in the article as the area north of Buffalo Bayou, south of White Oak Bayou, west of Patterson Street, and east of Reinemann Street.)

More information:
Aulbach, L.F., “Shepherd’s Damn Road”, Buffalo Bayou – An Echo of Houston’s Wilderness Beginnings (2003)

Japanese Rice Farmers

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[Seito Saibara]

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[1904 – Seito Saibara’s new house, on his rice farm near Webster]

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[1905 – Japanese rice farmers on a rice farm near Texas]

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[“Planting time on a Japanese rice farm near Houston, Texas”]

Per the Handbook of Texas Online:

An important event in the development of the Texas Gulf Coast rice industry was the introduction of seed imported from Japan in 1904. Seed rice had previously come from Honduras or the Carolinas. At the invitation of the Houston Chamber of Commerce and the Southern Pacific Railroad, Japanese farmers were brought to Texas to advise local farmers on rice production, bringing with them seed as a gift from the emperor of Japan. . . . Japanese rice production began at Webster in Harris County under the direction of Seito Saibara, his family, and thirty original colonists. The Saibara family has been credited with establishing the Gulf Coast rice industry.

Ironically, Saibara, while highly accomplished in other fields, had no prior experience growing rice.

While there are numerous postcards from the early 1900’s showing Japanese rice farmers wearing traditional clothing in the rice fields, the farmers otherwise wore the same style clothing as their non-Japanese neighbors. Still, the presence of Japanese natives in rural Houston was noteworthy enough at the time that even Saibara’s son’s enrollment in school was noteworthy. In September 1904, Saibara wrote a letter to the Galveston Board of Trustees, asking if his son and his son’s friend could enroll in Ball High School. As reported in the Galveston Daily News, under the headline “Japs in Ball School”, the school superintdent stated in support of the application that he had met Saibara and his son and “[found] them to be of the highest type of their race.” The Board voted to allow the superintendent to handle the matter as he saw fit. (By 1928, the same paper was reporting, in a column called “Webster Personal Items of Widespread Interest”, that Saibara’s grandson was home from Texas A&M for the summer.)

Saibara hoped to establish a large Japanese rice farming colony in Webster, and had some success in that direction. However, in 1924, the federal government barred new Japanese immigrants from the United States.

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[Mykawa Rd. sign]

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[Shinpei Mykawa’s gravestone in Hollywood Cemetery]


[Mykawa School – photo posted by isuredid on HAIF]

Another early Japanese immigrant to the Houston area was Shinpei Mykawa, for whom the town of Mykawa and Mykawa Rd. are named. Mykawa began a rice farming venture in the area later named for him, but was killed in the rice field, by a mule-driven seed roller, just months after he began farming. Santa Fe Railroad officials subsequently named the local railroad station after him. (The town of Mykawa had 200 residents in 1914, and a post office until 1933, but had shrunk by 1986 to a trailer park and the abandoned railroad station.) Mykawa was buried in Hollywood Cemetery. During World War II, his gravemarker was temporarily removed from the cemetery because it bore Japanese writing, and was considered by some to be a “Japanese monument”.

More information:
Walls, Thomas K., “The Japanese Texans”, TexanCultures.utsa.edu

William L. Foley Building and House

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The building now called the Foley Building or Kennedy-Foley Building was built by John Kennedy, an early Houston merchant and Indian trader, in 1860. It served as a Confederate armory during the Civil War and was half-destroyed by fire in 1888.

Kennedy later gave the building to his son-in-law, William L. Foley, who has been referred to as the “dean of Houston dry goods merchants.” He was the “rich uncle” who, in 1900, gave Foley brothers Pat and James Foley the money to open the “Foley Brothers” store that would grow into the Foley’s department store chain.

Foley operated the W.L. Foley Dry Goods Co. in the building from 1896 until his death, in 1925. His children managed the business at that location until 1948. An advertisement in the November 20, 1897 edition of the Houston Daily Post announced a “Special Sale of Gloves and Hosiery” at “William L. Foley – 214, 216, 218 Travis Street”. The gloves listed are priced from 47 cents to $1.50, and the hosiery – “Quantity Limited. Only four pairs to each customer.” – is priced from 19 cents to 43 cents. The following day’s paper – a Sunday paper – contained a near full-page ad for the store, and competing ads from companies such as the Levy Brothers Dry Goods Company, Mistrot Bros. & Co., and Kiam Clothiers.

The Foley Building has more recently been home to the “12 Spot” bar, which closed in 2006, but is rumored to be re-opening in 2007.

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[Parasol Project at Foley House]

The William L. Foley House was built in 1904. The house was moved from its original location (704 Chenevert) to its present location on the 700 block of Avenida de las Americas. It sits next door to the Arthur B. Cohen house, built in 1905. Located between the George R. Brown Convention Center and Minute Maid Park, an area that has undergone considerable changes in recent years, the houses were at one time scheduled for demolition. In early 2007, however, the mayor announced plans to convert the two structures into a regional heritage tourism center.

The Foley House is pictured above during a 2006-2007 sculpture installation called the “Parasol Project”.

More information:
Texas Historical Commission entry for Foley Building
HAIF thread mentioning the Foley Building
HAIF thread discussing 12 Spot