Category Archives: Other Places

Luna Park


[Luna Park – 1924 newspaper advertisement]

Rollercoaster.jpg
[1920’s photo (looking west toward Luna Park) by Mary Bavouset, published with her permission in J.R. Gonazales’ Bayou City History blog]


[1920’s postcard of Houston showing Luna Park roller coaster in distance (top left)]


[Panoramic photo posted on HAIF by Kevin Jackson, reproduced from a panoramic photo that hangs or hung on the wall of the Harris County Smokehouse restaurant – the photo gives the park’s address as 2212 Houston Avenue]


[Detail from photo on cover of Houston Then and Now showing Luna Park coaster in distance (top center)]

Luna Park was an amusement park located in the Heights area – on Houston Avenue, on the banks of White Oak Bayou – in the 1920’s and early 1930’s. The park opened as Luna Park on June 26, 1924, though it may have been open under a different name before that, as images of the park purporting to be dated prior to 1924 exist. For example, the above panoramic photo of “Venice Park – Houston, Texas”, dated 1923, appears to show what became known as Luna Park.

A July 27, 1924 newspaper article described the park as follows:

The park has virtually every variety of amusement device known in the world of showdom. One of its biggest features is the giant skyrocket, a roller coaster larger and higher than any other operating in the United States. The skyrocket is a mile and a quarter long and at its highest point soars 110 feet in the air. The first drop on this mammoth devide is eighty-four feet. Some 2,500 to 3,000 persons ride the twelve cars of the big ride each night. Many other amusement devices dot the thirty-six acre park, which is located within five minutes’ ride from the heart of Houston. A monstrous seaplane swing also has been installed in the park, as has a caterpillar, a merry-go-round, dodgem, baby airplane swing, junior Ferris wheel, miniature railway and other devices.

Three shows now are operating. The Mysterious Sensation, a weird novelty, is proving the stellar attraction. Williamson’s Midget City, a show that has played at many fairs and expositions, also is operating. Another show, “See America First,” described as the latest sensation from Coney Island, is the third show now operating in Luna’s joy lane.

The park is featuring a picnic grove of several acres in area. Here more than a hundred rustic benches and tables have been installed. Picnickers throng the park every afternoon, there being a large number of fraternal, church and Sunday school picnics booked before the end of the summer season.

Luna Park will be an all-year resort, remaining open winter and summer. During the winter months the park’s big dancing casino will prove to be the main attraction. Free automobile parking within the gates is attracting many motorists to the playground each night.

The park’s “scenic railway” was reported to be two feet higher than Coney Island’s, and the dance pavillion was at the time the largest in the south. Luna Park also hired stunt flyer Francis H. Rust to stage night-flying stunts overhead.

Tough Times

Nearly as soon as it opened, however, Luna Park was a center of controversy. A lawsuit was filed against it in July 1924, by a woman who said she was “roughly treated” while standing in line for the roller coaster. She claimed that a park employee “caught her by the arms and desisted only after the crowd threatened to lynch or mob him.”

The park was sued again that August, for noise pollution. A Heights resident complained that “sleep is impossible” when the park’s roller coaster and other devices are operating, though the park’s witnesses testified that the street cars along Houston Avenue made far more noise than all the attractions combined.

Also in August 1924, a local newspaper reported:

The Mexican consulate in Houston may be closed in protest against “discriminatory tactics” against Mexicans, according to Consul H. Valdez. The protest grew out of the arrest and beating of a Mexican boy Wednesday night, after he had been refused admission to the Luna Park dance floor. The boy is Jesus Prieto Laurens, a graduate of Ohio University. He escorted to the dance a prominent Mexican girl, who recently won a beauty prize offered by the Salesmanship Club. He was sold tickets, but was not allowed to enter the dance hall, and when he asked for an explanation he was arrested and charged with assault. While being taken to the police station, the boy says, he was beaten and cursed. His brother, G. Prieto Laurens, former consul here, was held off at the point of a gun when he attempted to aid his brother, it was stated. Another brother of the boy formerly was mayor of Mexico City and governor of the state of San Luis Potosi. The grand jury today began an investigation of the case.

Houston Deputy Constable Frenchy Naquin was charged with assault in the matter, but was ultimately acquitted. At the time he was acquitted, he was also standing charges for assault on a man who was a “keeper of a parking place” near Luna Park.

Sadly, the history of Luna Park soon darkened further. On a single afternoon in October 1924, in two separate incidents, three people died at the park. A professional parachutist, Montie LeMay, was killed when her parachute failed to open. At nearly the same time, Mary Alta Watson and Charles C. Johnson were killed in a fall from the Luna Park roller coaster.

A year later, in August 1925, the Rice Hotel’s barber was stabbed several times at Luna Park.

Happier Days

However, the park remained a popular attraction, as demonstrated by a newspaper report on the Labor Day events of 1925:

The sturdy hands that provide the skill and man power to carry on Houston’s vast trade and industry were busy today at sports, atheltics and amusements at Luna Park. Between 10,000 and 15,000 members of labor unions and crafts, their families and friends thronged into the park throughout the day to enjoy the Labor Day festivites arranged in their honor. There were wrestling and boxing matches in the mammoth inverted bowl of a dancing casino, beginning at 1 p.m. Then there were races and other contests, with prizes to the winners; children’s games; awards to the best looking woman, the oldest couple, the fattest, the tallest, the shortest, the ugliest, and so on. Diving horses performed at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m.

A month later, the Houston and Galveston chapters of the Red Men fraternal organization held a joint “powwow” at the park, described as “one of the most spectacular and interesting of the typical celebrations held under the auspices of Texas Red Men.” The meeting featured “an outdoor initiation and war dance staged by the Galveston degree team in full regalia.” The war dance was staged just after dark, in the picnic grove, which was “appropriately lighted.”

By 1928, even the Mexican consulate appears to have made its peace with Luna Park. In observation of Mexican Independence Day, the consulate organized a two-day program at the park featuring “patriotic speeches, patriotic music; several entertainment features; and a reading of the Mexican Declaration of Independence.”

Marathons

Another noteworthy event in 1928 was a dance marathon at the dance casino:

Fifteen couples and a lone youth shuffled about the Luna Park dance casino today, the third day of a marathon which so far has seen the elimination of only five couples. One little blonde was eliminated from the marathon by her husband of three weeks who went to the dance hall last night. She argued with him, holding the hope of a “first payment on a home” with the prize money, but friend husband was obdurate, and home with him she went. One mother sat up all last night, holding a shoe box in her lap with food and first aid equipment to minister to her daughter who milled about in the long grind. The lone boy will be allowed ten hours, and unless a partner is provided, he will be ruled out. If some girl survives a boy partner in the grind, he will draw her for a partner.

Surprisingly, a report following several days later found the dance marathon still in progress:

Twenty-three pairs of blistered, burning feet were still shuffling about the Luna Park dance hall today in the dance marathon which started a week ago from from last Thursday. There are thirteen boys and ten girls still in the long grind; the three boys being without partners, who succumbed to weariness. The marathon has become grim business; the contestants rush to their cots for the fifteen-minute rest periods each hour; and sleep till roused. Some doze on their feet as they dance. The contestants are spurred on by $1,000 in prize money, three-fourths of which will go to the winning couple.

As the third week of the dancing marathon began, it was reported that the dancers were “continuing by dint of much smelling salts and determination.” But the marathon was clearly taking a toll on its participants:

Two girls, Phyllis Dreyer and Lucille Nelson, fainted last night on the floor, but were revived within the alotted five minutes by nurses and continued the grind. Fred Bradford fell asleep while dancing and tumbled forward on the floor, bruising a knee. He started dancing again, and shuffles along with a limp. Two of the stonger contestants aided Jean Inglehart to stay on his feet last night after he fainted, until he recovered sufficiently to proceed under his own power. The contestants help each other, rather than trying to get them out. The dancers shuffle for forty-five minutes and then rest fifteen in each hour.

The dancing marathon was apparently a promotional success, as a “floating marathon” was scheduled in the park in 1929, and a water tank constructed specially for the event. The floating marathon was billed as the first ever held in the state, and possibly in the world – the winner was to be named the floating champion of the world. Early favorites were 300-pound Tony Roselli and “star long distance swimmer” Lee Colombo.

Park Closes

But the 1930’s brought a return of the park’s early bad luck. In 1930, a man was discovered dead in the picnic grounds, his body having “apparently been there for several days” before police received an anonymous tip. And, in 1932, a Webster farmer was hijacked in his car outside Luna Park. It is unclear exactly when, but the park appears to have closed sometime in the early 1930’s, perhaps a victim of the Great Depression.

More information:
HAIF discussion re Luna Park
Another HAIF discussion re Luna Park
SixFlagsHouston.com discussion re Luna Park
PBS special that includes Luna Park

Frenchtown and the Silver Slipper

From Northwestern State University’s Louisiana Creole Heritage Center’s booklet “The Creole Chronicles – Houston Frenchtown” (2002):

“Many Creoles who were left devastated and homeless after the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 relocated from Louisiana to Houston, Texas. Because the people who settled in an area generally bounded by Collingsworth, Russell, Liberty Road and Jensen Drive spoke Creole French and enjoyed their food, music and culture together, this community became known as Frenchtown. . . . The area is comprised primarily of ‘shotgun’ houses replicating the architectural style of New Orleans. . . . Streets were dirt roads and the nearest transportation in the vicinity was by streetcar. The people walked from their homes to Liberty Road and Jensen Drive. From there it cost five cents to ride the streetcar three miles to attend St. Nicholas Catholic Church, the only Catholic Church for people of color in Houston in 1927. . . . Meetings were held in the people’s homes and by 1929 they decided to hold house ‘La La’ dances, selling gumbo, boudin and pralines in their homes to raise money to build [Our Mother of Mercy Catholic Church]. . . . House dances no longer take place, but many Catholic churches, restaurants and clubs in the Houston area continue to hold Zydeco dances on a regular basis. Creoles along with people of various other cultures generally are in attendance at these dances. . . . When the people were not attending ‘La La’ dances at each others’ houses, they were watching movies at either the Lyons or Delux Theaters that were located nearby. One of the earliest favorite places to attend Zydeco dances was LaStrappe’s Creole Night Club that was situated where the Eastex Freeway exists today.”

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St. Nicholas Catholic Church (2508 Clay) [Photo by Les Clay – St. Nicholas Center – Church Gazetteer]

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St. Nicholas historical marker [Photo by Les Clay – St. Nicholas Center – Church Gazetteer]

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Original Our Mother of Mercy Catholic Church building (4000 Sumpter) [Our Mother of Mercy Catholic Church website]

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Texas Historical Commission marker (Corner of Highway 59 and Collingsworth) [Frenchtown Community Association website]

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Continental Lounge and Zydeco Ballroom
(Collingsworth at Des Chaumes – Closed)

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Silver Slipper
(3717 Crane)

History of the Silver Slipper excerpted from Roger Wood’s book (photos by James Fraher), “Down in Houston – Bayou City Blues” (2003):

“[T]he symbiotic relationship between blues and zydeco survives in Frenchtown even beyond the year 2000, just a few blocks north of the old Continental building in the sagging wood-frame structure that houses the Silver Slipper. Curley Cormier, a soft-spoken gentleman fond of three-piece suits, is the proprietor there and is much beloved by his loyal customers. . . . In 1962, after several years in the construction industry, [Curley’s father, Alfred Cormier] capitalized on his well-proven talent for throwing a house party by opening a club – a little café with live down-home music – in a shotgun shack on Crane Street in Frenchtown. Known then mainly as Alfred’s Place, it featured a mix of live blues and zydeco six nights a week, providing a steady gig for former Houston resident Clifton Chenier for over five years. . . . According to the Cormiers, the Third Ward bluesman [Lightnin’ Hopkins] often visited the club (located a few miles northeast of his home turf) whenever Chenier was there. Cousins by marriage, the musicians reportedly were good friends who enjoyed each other’s company, offstage and on. When Hopkins showed up, the two would often treat the audience to an impromptu showdown between guitar and accordion, trading licks and improvising arrangements, recycling and inventing songs on the spot – surely blurring the aesthetic line between blues and zydeco in the process. Word of such savory jam sessions enhances the popularity of the club well beyond Frenchtown, so that the clientele eventually cam to include blacks from Third Ward and other parts of the city. As business increased, the elder Cormier opted to buy the property next door and expand, building onto and remodeling the original establishment to its present relative spaciousness. . . . Following his father’s tenure as proprietor, [Curley] Cormier’s older sister managed the place for a while, rechristening it the Silver Slipper but maintaining tradition and booking both zydeco and blues performers. Then around 1973 Cormier, who was already well established as a versatile guitarist backing the likes of soul-blues singer Luvenia Lewis (b. 1940) at local clubs, assumed operation of the popular nightspot.”

See also:
The Handbook of Texas Online, “Zydeco”
“Come Go Home with Me – Tracing the Bayou City’s Blues Heritage”, Austin Chronicle, May 30, 2003.
C. Rust, “Frenchtown”, Houston Chronicle, Feb. 23, 1992.
J. Lomax, “H-Town Zydeco”, Houston Press, Sept. 21, 2006.

Houston’s Red-Light District

redoldmap1913.jpg
[Bayou City History rendering of the 1913 boundaries of the reservation]

The red-light district established in Houston’s Fourth Ward in 1908 has been discussed on the Bayou City History blog, and on the Houston Architecture Info Forum. (See also this Houston Press article regarding Jelly Roll Morton’s association with the district.) Articles in the Galveston Daily News dated before and soon after the district was created offer some additional information.

As noted elsewhere, the district was referred to as the “reservation”. There has also been mention of the red-light district in Houston known as the “Hollow”, which appears from the following pre-1908 news reports to have been a red-light district in a different area – the creation of the reservation may have been in part an attempt to “clean up” the Hollow:

11/23/1907: “Houston, Tex., Nov. 22. – Complaints were filed in Justice Matthews’ court today against two alleged owners of property in the ‘Hollow,’ the local red light district. One complaint was filed against Michael De George, alleged owner of a house at the corner of Texas avenue and Louisiana street, which it is claimed he permits to be used as a house of ill repute. A similar charge was placed against Leonard A. Howard, alleged owner of a house on Prairie avenue. This action was the result of a recent campaign started by the business men of the city for the purpose of cleaning up that part of Houston.”

12/2/1907: “Houston, Tex., Dec. 1. – Tomorrow morning the court room of Justice of the Peace J.C. Matthews will be the scene of much activity, as the cases against certain property owners in the red light district will them come up for hearing. It is alleged by complainants that the property owners in the ‘hollow’ are renting their homes for immoral purposes, and a campaign is on for he ‘purifying’ of the district.”

A 1908 article post-dating the creation of the reservation, and discussing a fire in the area, appears to support descriptions elsewhere of the boundaries of the red-light district:

12/29/1908: “Houston, Tex., Dec. [28?] – A big fire in that section of the city known as the ‘Reservation’ gave the city fire department two hours’ hard work early this morning, and before the conflagration could be said to be under control five large, new two-story dwelling houses had been destroyed and about forty people, mostly women, rendered homeless. Since the city has created the new Reservation some large residences have been erected in the district, and all were occupied. The loss, as shown by the records at the fire station, total about $36,500 . . . . Several women and one or two men who happened to be in the buildings were slightly injured. The fire started in the house . . . at 800 Hardcastle street. No one seems to know just how it originated, but one rumor is in circulation which suggested the possibility of incendiarism. . . . One of the other houses was located at 802 Hardcastle street, and was occupied by Lucia Caldwell, a colored woman, who rented the rooms in her house to white women. A house on Crosby street in the rear of the other two mentioned . . . was occupied by Josie Sasser, also a colored woman. Some difficulty was encountered in getting the women out of this house, and after they had reached a place of safety they were taken to a house in the Second Ward owned by a sister of the Sasser woman. Sadie Gill owned and occupied the house at 804 Hardcastle street. . . . Rose Wilson owned and occupied the house at 813 Hardcastle street, but it was only slightly damaged. . . . The house at 810 Hardcastle street is owned by W. Rucker and occupied by Josie King. It was only slightly damaged. The house at 719 Shipman street, owned by P.H. Donigan and occupied by Daisy Brooks . . . was damaged to the extent of about $25. The roof was also slightly damaged on the house owned by J.M. Cobb and occupied by Crystal Sheldon, at 817 Hardcastle street.”

Articles appearing during the summer of 1909 give some insight into the complexity of the social issues surrounding the creation of the reservation, as well as the racial prejudices of the time:

6/26/1909: “Houston, Tex., June 25. – Under habeas corpus proceedings held in the Sixty-first District Court at [2?] o’clock this afternoon, Judge Norman Kittrell dismissed twenty cases of vagrancy which had been lodged against the same number of women from the Tenderloin district in Houston. City Attorney Wilson, assisted by local talent, was present in behalf of the women, contending that they are not subject to arrest and conviction on vagrancy charges, inasmuch as the Legislature of 1907 passed a law permitting all cities operating under a special charter to segregate the lewd women in a city in a specified and well-defined district. As soon as Justice McDonald learned of the action of Judge Kittrell he had the constable call the names of each of the women who had been arrested, in front of his office, and as the women did not answer to their names as they were called, their bonds were declared forfeited. It is very probable that Justice McDonald will issue new warrants for the arrest of the same women, and then it is thought be some of the limbs of the law here, that the higher court will be asked to issue an injunction restraining the justice of the peace from further molesting the women in the Reservation on vagrancy charges, but it is contended that for any other offense, such as fighting, stealing, etc., the women, notwithstanding they commit the offense within[] the bounds of the Reservation, would be amenable to the law as applied by either county, state or justices’ courts.”

6/26/1909: “Houston, Tex., June 25. – Armed with about twenty alias warrants issued tonight by Justice McDonald, Constable Frank Smith and his deputies are rearresting as many of the women as can be located who were this afternoon released from custody by an order of Judge Kittrell in the Sixty-first District Court in habeas corpus proceedings. Among the women who were this afternoon released there were some four or five negresses and these are alleged to be the proprietresses of houses of ill fame in the red light district in Houston where white women of dissolute character are permitted to stay. In dicussing the matter with a News man tonight, Judge McDonald stated that it is his intention and desire to disenthrall the white women in the lower walks of life in Houston from the throes of negro domination. In other words, he has taken a stand to prevent the races from commingling even in an execrable avocation, and he proclaims in a most emphatic manner that he is in the fight to the last ditch.”

6/27/1909: “Houston, Tex., June 26. – The spectacular fight of the Justice of the Peace McDonald for the segregation of the races at the “reservation” which has been productive in the past thirty-six hours of injunctions galore, habeas corpus proceedings, arrests and rearrests, alias warrants and contempt proceedings, was temporarily suspended this morning when Judge Norman G. Kittrell of the Sixty-first District Court issued an official explanation of his actions in the matter and postponed the final hearing on the injunction until next Wednesday. Judge McDonald’s contention that the races should be segregated was sustained by City Attorney Wilson when he stated in the District Court this morning that the City Council would pass an ordinance prohibiting the mixing of races in the reservation which exists under the authority and protection of the municipal government. In the meantime Justice of the Peace McDonald, the sheriff and deputy sheriffs, the constables and deputy constables and the jailors and deputy jailors are temporarily restrained from arresting any of the inmates of the reservation on charges of vagrancy growing out of the mixing of the races. The entire controversy is one that is being watched with interest by the authorities of other cities in Texas who have the same problems to contend with. In his opinion given out today Judge Kittrell deals with the question from a legal standpoint, and it is apparent that he believes that Judge McDonald’s fight is without legal foundation, although he agrees with him as to the moral questions involved. His statement, in part, follows: . . . ‘The city of Houston, by special act of the Legislature, has segregated all the occupants and inhabitants of houses of ill fame in a certain part of the city entitled the “reservation,” and it is admitted in this proceeding that all those parties arrested are residents of the reservation and, I assume, are women plying their vocation in that district. . . . Granting that the applicants and defendants are immoral, and lead depraved and vicious lives, and grant even that they are violators of the law, yet they are women and obscure, and in the main poor and outcasts from society, but they are entitled to fair treatment and to every legal protection the law throws around every citizen, however low or humble or mean he or she may be. If they have not violated the law, and so long as they confine themselves to the reservation, it appears to me that they have not, and I do so understand the magistrate to concede, then they should not have been prosecuted, because there was nothing on which to base the prosecution, and for that reason they were discharged.’”

7/1/1909: “Houston, Tex., June 30. – The contention of Justice McDonald is primarily based in this action on the allegation that negress landladies maintaining houses of ill fame in Houston’s segregated district employ white women, and in today’s proceedings in the Sixty-first District Court it was established by the evidence that negress landladies eat together with the white women who are sheltered under the roofs, and also hackride and otherwise force their white soiled doves to place themselves on an equality with them.”

7/11/1909: “Houston, Tex., July 10. – Judge Norman G. Kittrell of the Sixty-First District Court handed down his decision in the famous Thelma Denton case today . . . . This is the case in which Justice McDonald, Constable Smith and Sheriff Archie Anderson were recently enjoined by an order, issued out of Judge Kitrell’s court, from further molesting the lewd women who reside within what is known as Houston segregated district. Originally twenty-two such women, some of them black and others who are white, were arrested on complaints issued out of Justice McDonald’s court charging them with vagrancy. The women were brought before Judge Kittrell in the Sixty-first District Court and were released on habeas corpus proceedings; subsequently they were rearrested on alias warrants, issued out of Justice McDonald’s court, and again they were released from custody, and a temporary order restraining all peace officers from further molesting them was granted by Judge Kittrell, since which time he has had the case under advisement. The alleged charge that the races were commingling in the segregated district was the reason given by Justice McDonald at the time for their being arrested. It was stated that white and black women were living together under the same roof, that they ate together, and rode in hacks together. Judge Kittrell’s order, in part, which follows, covers the points at issue: . . . ‘The question is not free from difficulty by any means, and the discussion of it has been very elaborate and very able, but after the most patient investigation, I have reached the conclusion that, construing all the laws related to the subject together, that as to those women who ply their vocation only in the reservation the statute against vagrants does not apply, and that they are exempt from prosecution; or, in other words, that their actions and conduct and method of lives as women of ill fame do not constitute an offense against the law when confined to the reservation where they have been segregated in obedience to the legislative enactment; therefore, their acts constituting no offense within contemplation of law, there was no ground or basis for the charges against them. As I have said heretofore in connection with this matter, the motive prompting the magistrate to proceed against them, viz: That white women were inmates of houses of which the landladies were colored women, was most commendable, and it is to be deplored that he can not legally effectuate his purpose, but those conditions did not give him any power to proceed, because the law does not recognize any distinction in colors as to lewd women nor undertake to regulate their associations. I may add here without impropriety that the power is vested in the city authorities under the charter to suppress these conditions, and I have reason to believe that the same will be done.’”

Coombs Park and Heights Natatorium

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[1919 – Heights Natatorium – Houston Heights Association – Photo taken by Hawthorn Ramage, in about 1913, and donated to the Heights Museum Collection by Ms. Verna Topkins]

HeightsNat
[1909 – Ad from The Jewish Herald]

CoombsPark
[1895 map, showing Heights Blvd. on west of park, and Harvard, Cortlandt, Arlington, Columbia, and Oxford Streets intersecting with park from north]

Coombs Park (sometimes called Forest Park) was an amusement park that the Coombs family built around the turn of the last century on land they owned in the Houston Heights, just north of White Oak Bayou. The Coombs house itself was a sprawling mansion on the southern side of the bayou, in an elevated area that became known as “Coombs Terrace”. On the east side of the intersection of Heights Boulevard and 3rd Street (approximately where Heights Boulevard now intersects with the eastbound feeder road for Interstate 10), north of the bayou, E.L. Coombs dug a lake that featured live alligators and trick high-diving. Describing other features of the park, Sister M. Agatha’s History of the Heights states:

Sunday afternoon was the park’s big day. At three o’clock every Sunday, a Mrs. Roaming (significant name) went up in a balloon, with a monkey for a companion. Sometimes the monkey went up alone. The balloon had a basket and when the lady got ready to come down, she pulled a valve and gradually as the gas escaped, the balloon descended. When the monkey went up alone, the valve was fixed so that the gas was gradually leaking before the ascension. There was a track in the park for goat racing, and the children brought their pets, harnessed to various little wagons or traps, and took part in the race for prizes. Mr. Coombs also provided a zoo with all kinds of animals for the special delight of the children. Between his home and the bayou, extending back to Yale Street, he had an ostrich farm and children of the Heights loved to go near the fence to see the birds. These, too, were for the park.

In 1895, on the banks of the bayou at the southern end of Harvard Street, Coombs built a natatorium. Describing an early photograph of the natatorium, Sister Agatha reported: “Coombs built in the flamboyant style of Coney Island’s heyday. The picture shows a pleasure pier, two and a half stories, with dressing rooms for each floor, like galleries around the pool. The impressive building was topped off with one large round tower and two smaller turrets, each waving a flag.” The Galveston Daily News reported on April 12, 1895 that: “Houston’s new natatorium at Coombs park was thrown open to the public today, and in two hours after the opening every bathing suit in the house was out, and the jolly bathers were enjoying the fresh water. The tank has a capacity of 200,000 gallons of water and is 80×40 feet square, having a depth when full of from 4 to 9 feet of water.” The opening coincided with a Knights of Pythias convention at Coombs Park, and the same edition of the Daily News reported that “[t]he large pavilion is handsomely decorated with bunting, flags, and monograms, bidding the Knights of Pythias welcome,” and that many of the Knights had an opportunity to enjoy the “refreshing waters” of the natatorium.

When the original natatorium building burned, a smaller structure (pictured above) was built in its place. After E.L. Coombs died, the property on which the natatorium was located changed hands a number of times. The natatorium survived Coombs Park, and was still operating as late as 1942. The natatorium was filled in at some point thereafter, however, and there is now a self-storage facility located on the spot.

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)

Hot Wells

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[Hot Wells, Harris County, Texas]

Some maps of the Houston area identify a location on Highway 290 – across 290 from the Compaq campus, and just short of Cypress – called “Hot Wells”. See, for example, this Mapquest map of Hot Wells (Hot Wells appears in the bottom right corner of the map). This map marking is a reference to a hot artesian well once located in Harris County.

The artesian well was discovered by wildcatters, in 1904, on the heels of Humble Oil’s major oil discovery at Moonshine Hill (near Humble). The wildcatters lost their drill bit and, in the course of a two-week search for the bit, chanced upon the artestian well. It didn’t take long for someone to see the well’s money-making potential, and soon there was developed on the site the Houston Hot Well Sanitarium – a hotel resort of sorts where Houstonians and others went to enjoy the allegedly theraputic hot mineral waters. The resort was conveniently located right next to the Southern Pacific line that still runs parallel to 290 in that area. In addition to large concerte basins of mineral water in which guests would soak, the sanitarium also featured an Olympic-size swimming pool and a dancing/bingo hall. The resort appears to have been the only one of its kind ever developed in the Houston area.

While today the site is occupied by the Hot Wells Shooting Range, there are still some vestiges of the old Hot Wells to be seen. Some can be seen in the above satellite photo – or by switching the above Mapquest map to satellite view, and centering and zooming in on the “Hot Wells” site.

More information:
CFISD.net, “History of CFISD”

Wolf Corner

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[Red Wolf – WildlifeScienceCenter.org]

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[James Audubon print, “Texas Red Wolf”]

Per Wikipedia:

Langham Creek High School is a high school located near Cypress, which is an unincorporated community in Harris County, Texas, near Houston. . . . The mascot is the “lobo”, Spanish for “wolf”, and the school’s motto is “The Power of the Pack is the Lobo. The Power of the Lobo is the Pack.” The “lobo” mascot may have been selected as an homage to the red wolves that were hunted for bounty in the area during the 1950s and 1960s. Carcasses of the wolves were strung along the fences at the nearby intersection of FM 529 and Texas State Highway 6, which became known as Wolf Corner.

Wolf Corner started with Charles Hans Grisbee. By 1958, dairyman Grisbee had been hunting wolves on the prairie outside the city limits for decades – first for food; but later as a hobby, and for a $5-per-wolf bounty paid by Harris County. He started hanging the wolf carcasses on a fence at Wolf Corner. Houstonians would make special trips to the spot in the 1960’s, just to see the dead wolves on display. Grisbee continued to hang carcasses at Wolf Corner into the early 1970’s.

There have since been questions raised as to whether there were any pure wolves remaining in Harris County in the relevant time period, with some speculating that Greer may have actually been killing coyotes or coyotes interbred with wolves. Wolf Corner and the area surrounding it are now heavily developed, and there is a “Wolf Corner Golf Course” not too far away, at Houston’s Hearthstone Country Club.

There are no wolves currently living in the wild anywhere in Texas. While once abundant in east Texas, red wolves had become at best very scarce in the area by the 1960’s. There were reports of a handful of red wolves killed in Chambers and Kenedy Counties in the first half of the 1960’s, but no red wolves have been documented in or near Harris County since. The red wolf was believed to be nationally extinct in the wild by 1980, though there have since been some releases of red wolves into the wild (but not in Texas) as a result of captive-breeding programs. Gray wolves were also once common in Texas. However, the last two authenticated sightings were in 1970, in west Texas. It is beieved that the disappearance of gray wolves from Texas has resulted in problems with overpopulations of deer in several areas.

More information:
Sablatura, B., “Big Bad Wolves No More”, Houston Chronicle, Dec. 29, 1998
HAIF thread re Wolf Corner
The Mammals of Texas – Online Edition, “Red Wolf” and “Gray Wolf”
Manning, J., “The Wolf in Texas”, The Wild World of Wolves