100 Years Ago – February 11, 1909

Houston, Tex., Feb. 11, 1909: A meeting of International & Great Northern freight men from around the country gathered for a meeting in Houston. The freight men dined at the Richelieu Cafe, and received souvenir menus printed in the form of a railroad car waybill:

The car was weighed at “Destination” and the marked capacity was shown to be “Size of waistband.” The car was stopped only one time en route, and that was “The Richelieu” for “Drink and water.” The consignor was shown to be “Hunger and Thirst Company of Houston,” and the consignee and destination “E Nough (incorporated),” of “Good Night, Texas.”
. . .
The “Articles and Classifications” were as follows:
Martini Cocktail
Oysters on the Half Shell
Olives, Celery, Salted Almonds
Mock Turtle Soup
Spanish Mackerel, Potatoes Duchess
Sweet Breads a la Richelieu
Broiled Chicken on Toast Stripped with Bacon
Peeled Tomatoes Stuffed with Lobsters En Mayonnaise
Ice Cream, Assorted Cakes
Cafe Noir, Cigars

The Richelieu Cafe was located on Congress Street, and does not appear to have been open long.

Houston, Tex., Feb. 11, 1909: That night, a member of the Houston Heights Vigilance Committee was “escorting a young lady from the street car to her home” when the pair were accosted by a “would-be highwayman” with a gun. The committee member drew his own gun, and was able to turn over the attacker to the police at the Houston Heights Drug Store. The recently-formed Vigilance Committee had been patrolling the Heights every night, and the arrest was the eighth it had secured.

Bulletin of Pharmacy (1909)
[Bulletin of Pharmacy (Sept. 1909)]

Houston Civic Club Cook Book (1906)

Houston Civic Club Cookbook (1906)
[Cover of Houston Civic Club Cook Book (1906)]

Thanks go to Google Books for making this gem available online. This is the cover of a cookbook that the Houston Civic Club published in 1906. The cookbook includes many period advertisements, a short write-up of the Houston Civic Club’s history (it was founded in 1901) and mission, a list of club officers, the club bylaws and constitution, and an unsual ghost-story introduction (called “The Story of a Cake”).

But the most interesting aspect of the cookbook is the glimpse it provides into how Houstonians were cooking and eating 100+ years ago. Below is a sampling of some of the recipes included in its pages:

~SOUPS~
This section includes recipes for Turtle Soup, Oyster Soup, Gumbo, Crab Gumbo, and Crab Bisque. Also appearing in the Soups section are a number of non-soup oyster recipes: Scalloped Oysters, Oysters au Gratin, Broiled Oysters, Oyster Omelet, Oyster Pie, and Oyster Loaf.

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The Galveston Daily News observed in 1876: “Where crab and shrimp can be had so readily as in Galveston, every one should know how to make the inimitable French gombo.”

~FISH~
This section includes recipes for Fish Chowder, Deviled Crabs, and Baked Red Fish. There are a few other recipes as well, but it’s a pretty lean section.

~MEATS~
This is one of the more interesting sections. It begins with the extravagant-sounding “Steak with Oyster Blanket”. It also includes “Veal Doub”, Goulash, “Opossum and Potatoes”, and “Stewed Brains”.

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Opossum was not only not an unusual dish at the time, it was considered a delicacy. In 1907, the American magazine Collier’s, in an article about the German practice of eating horse and dog meat, observed: “There is apparently no reason why the flesh of the horse should not be cleaner and more palatable than the meat of the hog; or why even a fat dog should not be quite as tempting as a table delicacy as a fat opossum. Such matters are determined largely by custom and sentiment.”

~SAUCES FOR MEAT~
Included are four sauces: a caper sauce, a mustard sauce, a parsley sauce, and a cream sauce. The book does not say which goes best with opossum.

~ENTREES~
An odd short section that might have been better titled “Croquettes and Chili”. It encompasses only Salmon Croquettes, Dressing for Salmon Croquettes, Potato Croquettes, Chicken Croquettes, and Chili. (By 1905, chili was already so popular is was being canned by the Houston Packing Company.)

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~SALADS~
One notable salad is the Tomato Jelly Salad. The salad dressings all call for eggs.

~VEGETABLES~
This section gets off to a good start with a recipe for “Kartoppleklosse” (i.e., Kartoffelklosse, or German potato dumplings), and also features Sweet Potato Cakes, Sweet Corn Pudding, Potato Balls, and “Cabbage a la Cauliflower”. In addition, the Vegetables section is where you will find the obligatory macaroni-and-cheese recipe (“Baked Macaroni”).

~OMELETS AND EGGS~
Includes three different “Stuffed Eggs” recipes.

~BREADS~
The entire list of recipes in this section is: Biscuits, Drop Biscuit, “‘West-Tide’ Corn Bread”, Graham Bread, Muffins, Boston Brown Bread, Spiced Coffee Cake, Cheese Straws, “A Nice Way to Use Stale Bread” (i.e., French Toast), Grits Bread, Honey Muffins, Brown Bread, and “Wafles for Four”.

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~PIES AND PASTRY~
This section would have been more appropriately titled “One Puff Pastry Recipe and Several Pie Recipes”. The varieties of pie are: Chocolate, Lemon (x4), Molasses, Grape, Currant, Transparent, and Vinegar.

There is no pecan pie recipe, but that is not surprising. A 1910 article in the Galveston newspaper article about the “Texas pecan” suggests that pecan pie was not yet a Texas specialty – unlike pecan sodas: “Go into any soda fountain and you will see the word ‘Pecan’ on the soda bill of fare. You find it in cakes and in candies. They stuff dates with it. Why, they even make a pie of it. Never ate a piece of pecan pie? Lots of us are in the same fix, but those familiar with the pecan say there is nothing more delicious.”

~PUDDINGS~
The pudding varieties include: English Plum (x2), Woodford, Suet, Chocolate, Orange, Cream Apple, Cabinet, and Baked Apple.

~DESSERTS~
There is a whole world of desserts presented beyond the pie, pastry, and pudding categories. Such as Jellied Apples, Orange Marmalade Parfait, “An Easter Dessert” (eggs suspended in gelatin), Prune Whip, and Russian Cream. The Google Books file skips a page in this section.

~CAKES~
Yet another desserts section, and it’s a big one because it also includes cookies. Among the more exotic entries are “Suabian Wine Cakes”, Russian Honey Sticks, “‘Wenget'”, Lep Cake (a German Christmas-time tradition) (x2), and Leps (x2).

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~ICE CREAM AND ICES~
The desserts keep coming. Includes your choice of “New York Ice Cream” or “Philadelphia Ice Cream”. The ice cream sundae is called a “French Sundae”.

~CANDIES~
Early Houstonians plainly liked their sweets. The first recipe listed is for Sugared Pecans: “Take 1 pound of pecan meats, 2 cupfuls of sugar, 2 cupfuls water; place on stove and boil till thick; pour over pecans and stir till cold.”

~SPECIALS~
This appears to be the section for recipes that were hard to include elsewhere, like baking powder and pickle recipes. Here you will find Chili Sauce (an 1897 advertisement in the Galveston paper advised those recovering from Dengue fever that “chili sauce will give taste to your meat”), “Jambolaya” (x2), “Brain Cutlets”, and yet more Chicken Croquettes.

The San Antonio Daily Express told its readers in 1910: “Jambalaya is another Creole dish, the origins of which are unknown. Its essential ingredient is rice. With the rice may be cooked a dry stew of chicken, or sausage, or shrimp, or ham, or tomatoes. In Louisiana rice is used as a vegetable, and may appear upon the table three times a day.”

~BEVERAGES~
This section includes more pickle recipes, and a variety of non-alcoholic “cocktails”. No recipe for ice tea, but perhaps that’s a recipe every Houstonian is born knowing. (The “Ice Cream and Ices” section includes a recipe for a “Tea Frappe” that is essentially frozen ice tea.)

~YEAST~
Three yeast recipes: Yeast, Yeast Cakes, and Potato Yeast.

A few of the Houston Civic Club Cook Book’s many advertisements:

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Highland Park

Highland Park
[Highland Park promenade (postmarked 1908) – University of Houston Libraries postcard collection]

Highland Park
[Highland Park “lake” – HoustonHistory.com]

Highland Park
[Highland Park – HoustonHistory.com]

Highland Park, which opened in Woodland Heights in 1903, was developed by the private Houston Electric Company, which then controlled Houston’s streetcar system, to encourage ridership on its new extension up Houston Avenue. At the time, Houston’s first public park, Sam Houston Park, was the only other large park in Houston. Highland Park would ultimately become Houston’s second public park – the park now known as Woodland Park.

The park was operated by Fred Bishop, who leased the property from the streetcar company. The park was scheduled to open to the public on July 4, 1903, but the opening was postponed a day due to rain. A large crowd was guaranteed because both the clerk’s union and the Woodmen of the World (Magnolia Camp) held their annual picnics at the park that day. The Galveston newspaper reported that: “A programme of interesting events fully a yard long had been prepared and kept up interest at a high pitch from the opening of the festivities until the day was at an end.”

Other groups holding picnics at the park in its opening weeks were the Painters Union and the Houston Civic Club’s First Ward Division. The Painters Union’s entertainment program included James E. Black, a “singer, dancer, and acrobatic high kicker without legs”; and Charlie Ward, described as “Comedian: blackface specialty.” However, dancing was the evening’s main feature.

In its early days, the park’s primary attraction was a dance pavilion, where patrons would waltz and two-step. The park had its own band, the Highland Park Band, made up of about 20 musicians. By August 1903, a gravel path had been added between the streetcar stop and the pavilion, but work continued on the park. In the winter months that followed, most press coverage related to the park was devoted to the Highland Park Gun Club, which held shooting tournaments at the park’s gun range.

Highland Park
[Boat House at Highland Park (postmarked 1908) – University of Houston Libraries postcard collection]

By the time the park reopened for warm-weather use in 1904 – again for the Woodmen of the World annual picnic, complete with “minstrel performances” – a lake (formed by damming Little White Oak Bayou, sometimes called Hollywood Bayou), bridges, boats, fountains, and a cafe had been added, and the pavilion (which doubled as a summer theater) had been renovated. The Galveston newspaper described the park as follows:

Adding grace and beauty to the park are great, tall, towering majestic pine trees and shrub oaks, wierdly beautiful with a fantastic drapery of moss suspended from their branches and festooned around their boughs, bidding a fond welcome to the visitor and offering a cooling retreat from the burning rays of Old Sol. Situated on a grassy eminence fifteen, feet higher than any other spots in Houston the first structure that meets the eye is a large and commodious cafe and buffet building with a capacity to feed and entertain 1,000 people. Broad, wide galleries surround this building on all aides, where cooling drinks and refreshments are served at all hours at reasonable prices. This building commands a fine view of the park and adjoining country and its galleries rest on the edge ot a bluff overlooking the valley wherein sparkle the waters of a lake, dotted here and there with islands, while a gasoline launch and numerous pleasure boats dart hither and thither, forming a scene of animation and enjoyment exquisitely beautiful. Nestled between the hills fifty feet below the cafe and buffet building, with the rays of the sun glittering and sparkling upon its clear transparent surface is a lake of exceptional beauty and picturesqueness. Surrounding the lake on all sides are comfortable tree seats and rustic benches where the pleasure seekers, wishing to rest, may have ample opportunity. Special anangcments have been made with the United States Government whereby 50,000 fish, including the big-mouthed bass and trout, are to be shipped from the United States fish hatcheries at San Marcos to stock the waters of the lake and bayou. In a year or two, when these game members of the finny tribe have attained their full growth, the lake will afford the finest fishing to be had in this section. A few yards from the edge of the lake is an artesian well 478 feet deep, which has a flow of 75,000 gallons daily, furnishing patrons of the park with pure crystal mineral water. The water was tested by a chemist and found to contain a certain per cent of lithia, thus giving it curative properties of exceptional value. Arc lamps are distributed throughout the grounds, and thousands of incandescent lamps are suspended from wires overhead, lighting up the lanes and places of amusement and sparkling like millions of fireflies in the darkness. The surface of the lake, shining and glimmering in the moonlight, reflects the myriad electric lights, the pleasure boats with their gay occupants and the shadows of the great pine trees lend a touch of mystic enchantment to the scene. On the largest Island, which is situated in the center of the lake, is a circular band stand connecting with the main land by rustic bridges, which span the lake on either side.

Some of these park features can be seen in the Highland Park postcards above. Houstorian has found no online photographs of Highland Park, though some may exist in a library collection and/or Houston newspaper archives. Also, a 1904 newspaper article about the park noted that an automobile party that included Baron Masanao Matsudaira and Harvey T.D. Wilson (who had an interest of some sort in the Japanese colony in Webster) took “kodak pictures” of the park, using Mr. Wilson’s camera, on June 19, 1904. So photographs of the park may exist somewhere.

By June 1904, a number of unions had placed Houston Electric Company on their “unfair” list, and begun fining members seen riding the streetcars or visiting Highland Park. One of the unions’ complaints against the company was that it was not hiring union labor at Highland Park. On July 7, 1904, a streetcar returning from Highland Park was dynamited. The car was thrown from its track, one of its wheels was blown off, and its glass windows shattered, raining glass on its full load of passengers. Remarkably, though, none of the riders was injured, a fact deemed “little short of miraculous.” The attack was one of a number of similar incidents around the same time period, all of which were blamed on union interests.

Highland Park
[“Shoot the Chute” at Highland Park]

Despite ongoing labor problems, including a strike of streetcar operators and workers, improvements at Highland Park continued. A “shoot the chutes” attraction was added in 1904, as pictured above. A “museum of natural history” – sometimes referred to as the Natural History and Fish Museum – was also added in 1904.

In October 1904, charges were filed against Fred Bishop, the park’s manager, for allowing a theater production to be presented on a Sunday. A newspaper account noted: “The laws covering the case are peculiar and prosecution difficult if any offense exists.” The charges were ultimately dismissed on the grounds that no admission had been charged for the theater production.

The 1905 season at Highland Park opened with a hot-air balloon ascension plus parachute descension. The park also touted games of “water baseball,” using floating rafts as bases. However, the crowds came for the new construction – the “scenic railway” called the “figure 8” or “roller coaster”:

The “roller coaster” was the leading attraction. The cars were filled from the start, and be it known that boys were not the only patrons, for many men of various ages clamored for seats in the “coasters.” The ride is thrilling in the extreme, but is so smooth and pleasant that there is never a jar of the nerves, though they are essentially tense. The coasters are hauled up a steep incline about fifty feet by a chain belt run by an electric motor. The coaster is then released and Newton’s law does the rest. You plunge forward at a most thrilling gait and many are the ups and downs, ins and outs, but all pleasant, before the end is reached.

The ride is calculated to cure a malady of most any kind, mental or physical. It simply puts new vigor in the heart and new speed through the veins. Its exhilirating effects are almost instantly noticeable. Should a patron mount a car with his blood flowing sluggishly, his heart beating slowly and away down in his shoes, when he whirls through the air up and down, round and round, and alights from the car he will be a new man, and his best girl will be in love with him. It is a panacea for almost any trouble, mental or physical.

In November 1905, Houston Electric Company sued Highland Park manager Fred Bishop for past-due rental payments, plus $30,000 in damages for violation of the parties’ lease agreement. The alleged violation was supposedly Bishop’s “admission of improper characters to the park.” M.C. Michael took over the lease in 1906.

The park continued to operate as Highland Park until no later than June 1908, when it was reopened as “San Jacinto Park” under the auspices of the Houston Civic Club. The new name was confusing because there was already a park at the San Jacinto battleground, and it does not appear to have gained acceptance.

The city of Houston purchased the park in 1911. In 1914, residents of the Woodland Heights neighborhood, which was platted in 1907, successfully petitioned to have the park’s name changed to Woodland Park.

There are still reminders of Highland Park in Woodland Heights today. There is of course Woodland Park itself, which Houstonians continue to enjoy. But there is also, a block to the west, a nursing home named “Highland Park Care Center”. And a Highland Street a few blocks to the north.

For more information:
Steven M. Baron, Houston Electric: The Street Railways of Houston, Texas (1996)

1890 Map of Houston

An exciting addition to the Library of Congress’ online historic maps collection is the William W. Thomas & Co. large-format street map of Houston dated 1890. A large jpg version has been posted here).


[William W. Thomas]

According to the Houston Fire Museum website, William W. Thomas, a volunteer fireman, was elected to Houston’s Board of Aldermen in 1900 and chaired the board’s fire committee. Thomas appears to have served as an alderman until 1905 and, judging from newspaper reports from the time period, he was very active and outspoken in proposing and promoting city improvements. In lobbying for a new Harris County courthouse, he called the exisiting courthouse an “old shack”.

The 1890 map is especially interesting when viewed in comparison to the large-format 1913 J.M. Kelsen map of Houston.

Epsom Downs and Arrowhead Park


[Epsom Downs]


[Epsom Downs newspaper advertisement]


[A.J. Foyt at Arrowhead Park – foytracing.com]


[Monorail prototype at Arrowhead Park – Monorails.org]

Pari-mutuel wagering was first legal in Texas from 1933 to 1937, during which time the two top horse racing tracks in the state were Arlington Downs, between Dallas and Fort Worth, and Epsom Downs in Houston. Arlington Downs was constructed and opened in 1929 by William T. Waggoner, at a cost of $3 million. Between 1929 and 1933, Waggoner used the park for prize races and civic events, and participated in the lobbying efforts that helped bring about the Texas state legislature’s legalization of pari-mutuel betting. Waggoner lived to see Arlington Downs’ early success, but died in 1934.

Epsom Downs was built at a location off Jensen Drive, then known as the Humble road, about six miles outside what were then the city limits. It was named after the famous Epsom Downs in England, site of the English Derby – the San Antonio paper did not think much of the name, opining that “Houstonians could have picked better.” The park was built by Montreal turfman Lou Smith, who had built the Rockingham Park track in Salem, New Hampshire. Epsom Downs was a replica of Rockingham Park (though papers often reported it as being a replica of the English park), and was built – in a hurry – for somewhere in the range of $400,000 to $600,000 (reports vary). The grandstand seated 4,000, and a terrace in front of it provided standing room for 25,000.

The inaugural race at Epsom Downs occurred on Thanksgiving Day, November 30, 1933, just after the end of a successful meet at Arlington Downs. The feature race was the six-furlong Thanksgiving Day Handicap. Governor Miriam A. “Ma” Ferguson attended with her husband, former governor Jim Ferguson, skipping the annual U.T./A&M football game. Approximately 30,000 other spectators were also in attendance to see Gift of Roses win the handicap.

The Epsom Downs meet lasted 27 days and featured a “Galveston Day”, a “Port Arthur Day”, a “Beaumont Day”, a “Fort Worth Day”, a “Dallas Day”, a “Waco Day”, a “Temple Day”, an “Austin Day”, a “San Antonio Day”, and a “Corpus Christi Day”. More than 1,000 throroughbreds pariticipated.

Opponents of pari-mutuel wagering were successful in having the betting laws repealed in 1937, but the pari-mutuel wagering lobby did not abandon its cause. In the 1940’s, Houston oil man George H. Echols joined the fight. By 1947, a bill was introduced in the Texas legislature that would again make betting on horses legal in Texas.

Like Waggoner before him, Echols began building his horse track while pari mutuel wagering was still illegal. A February 9, 1947 newspaper article reported: “A racing plant estimated to cost $1,250,000 will open [in Houston] late in May, George H. Echols, Houston oil man, announced today. He said he expected to offer a year-round sports program with quarter horse races, rodeos, trotting races, horse shows, and cattle shows.”

An article published the next day suggested that Echols’ plans were unrelated to the bill pending in the Texas legislature, saying that Echols planned to build the race track regardless of the bill’s outcome. “Echols isn’t concerned over whether the bill passes or not; he’s going to conduct his racing strip for the sport that’s in it.” Echols was quoted as saying: “For a long time, it has been my ambition to build a race track for quarter horses. Those are the horses that had so much to do with building Texas. Quarter horses, sometimes called range horses or cowponies, are dear to the heart of all true Texans.”

The park would be called Arrowhead Park. It would encompass 121 acres, and the track would be a half mile oval with three-eighths of a mile straightaways. The grandstand would seat 3,450, the bleachers 1,500, and the clubhouse 300. Echols was installing a $68,000 light system so that events could be held at night.

A March 7, 1947 newspaper article reporting that the pari mutuel wagering bill was having a difficult time getting out of committee put a rest to any notion that Echols was building Arrowhead Park purely for the love of the sport. The article noted that Echols “already is building Arrowhead Park, a $1,250,000 racing plant on Old Spanish Trail six miles from downtown Houston.” If the Texas legislature did not pass the bill, said Echols, he would go forward with a plan to build a horse track just across the Louisiana border: “Then the Texas money can continue to flow out of Texas and the Baptist preachers can continue to stick their noses into politics, instead of staying in their pulpits.”

Arrowhead Park was built, but the pari-mutuel wagering bill did not pass. The park hosted quarter horse racing starting in June 1947. However, without betting, the venture was apparently not successful. By September, it was reported that Echols had leased the park to “miniature auto racing interests”. In 1954, ran for state representative, campaigning “on a platform of liquor by the shot and local option for horse racing,” but did not win.

Arrowhead Park would become known for auto racing and not horse racing. Indeed, Heights-born A.J. Foyt raced (and crashed) his father’s midget car at Arrowhead Park in 1955.

In that same year, a monorail prototype created by a Houston company, Monorail, Inc., was exhibited at Arrowhead Park.

The Texas state legislature did not authorize pari-mutuel betting again until 1986.

Original DePelchin Faith Home Building (1913)

As an organization, the DePelchin Faith Home (now the DePelchin Children’s Center) dates back even further than 1913. Houstonian Kezia Payne DePelchin was born in 1828, in the Madeira Islands. She lost both her mother and father by the time she was eight, and was raised from that age, in Houston, by her father’s second wife, an English governess. She married during the Civil War, but the marriage failed. Immune to yellow fever, she spent many years as a nurse. She later became the first female matron at the Bayland Orphans’ Home for Boys.

DePelchin founded the “Faith Home” in 1892. While the home’s original purpose seems to have been to fund the care of two homeless children (elsewhere described as “three unwanted babies”), the home was organized to provide day care for the children of working mothers, charging only those mothers who could afford to pay.

DePelchin’s September 1892 report of donations to the “Faith Home” notes: “We have eight besides the matron, although they come and go. Per week, 75 cents; per day, 10 cents. None turned away. . . . This is for little children.” The report also mentions that “one of our little ones died and the cemetery company gave it a resting place.”

DePelchin herself died just a few months later, in January 1893. In that same month, in honor of her memory and to carry on her work, 100 Houston women organized the “DePelchin Faith Home”, which continued operating primarily as an orphanage.

In 1913, Jesse Jones commissioned a building for the orphanage at 2700 Albany, in the Fourth Ward. Jones also led the fundraising for the project, raising $55,000. The neo-Mediterranean-style three-story stucco building was designed by the St. Louis architecture firm Mauran & Russell, which also designed the Rice Hotel and the Hotel Galvez. The Greater Houston Preservation Alliance notes that “[i]ts broad eaves and sleeping porches were important features in the days before air conditioning when dozens of children lived here.”

Jones continued to raise money for the home after it was built. Copies of some of his fundraising letters, including letters to “Messrs. Neuhaus & Co.”, “Messrs. Sakowitz Bros.”, and Howard Hughes are posted on the DePelchin Children Center’s website. While all are very straightforward, one of the more humorous letters, to “Mr. Bassett Blakely”, reads: “You have not sent me your check for Faith Home. For all I know, you are responsible for some of these unfortunate children, and whether you are or not, you have got to kick in just the same. So come on across for $2,000. I asked you for $1,000 the first time, but you did not hear me.”

The orphanage relocated to its current Memorial Drive location in 1938, and the Albany building was later purchased by Lorraine Priester, who ran a club on the first floor called either the Rams Club or Ram’s Club (depending on the source) from the mid-1950’s to 1970. However, Priester carried on DePelchin’s philanthropic tradition by using income from the Rams Club to care for the elderly residents to whom she gave rooms on the upper floors of the building.

The Rams Club was an upscale private supper club frequented by leading Houston politicians. Houstorian commenter Elizabeth Rinker recalls it as a “fantastic place” featuring “dancing to Jose Ortiz’s orchestra,” and remembers her father being given the microphone “for several songs each and every time we went.” (Pianist and band leader Jose Ortiz was popular in the area as early as the 1940’s – a 1948 newpaper article describes Ortiz and Victor Lombardo (Guy Lombardo’s younger brother) playing together at the Balinese Room in Galveston. Ortiz’s history requires a separate posting.)

Other generations of Houstonians remember the building for the clubs that came later. In the 1970’s, a gay dance club called The Farmhouse was located there. The Farmhouse later became The Officer’s Club, popular during the disco age, and supposedly once visited by Robert Plant.

In the 1990’s, the 1913 building housed the memorable music club Emo’s – and, for a time, the after-hours club Club Some. (In 2000, the Houston Press reported that the building had been sold and that Club Some had already vacated, but that the general manager of Emo’s, which had been there for more than 10 years, promised that “[w]e’ll always be here.”) Reportedly, the swimming pool that Emo’s patrons will recall as a depository for empty beer bottles, remains.

While many Houstonians were sad to see Emo’s leave in 2002, the transformation of the Fourth Ward to “Midtown” was already underway and property values were on the rise, threatening the aging building’s existence.

The former DePelchin Faith Home building would have yet another patroness in Linda Bramlett Stewart. Stewart, along with her partners in HHN Homes LP, acquired the property in 2001 and renovated it to house condominiums. Stewart’s grandmother lived across the street from the building, which is now known as Villa Serena, and she remembered it from visits as a child.

More information:

M. McDermott Hamm, “Saving a Slice of Houston History – Good Brick Awards Honor Diverse Preservation Efforts”, Houston Chronicle, Dec. 26, 2003.

GHPA, 2004 Good Brick Awards, HHN Homes LP for Villa Serena.

J. Mathieu, “Pam’s Last Stand”, Houston Press, Apr. 25, 2002.

Original Mexican Restaurant

Robb Walsh, the food critic at the Houston Press noted in a 2000 article that:

At the turn of the century, tamale vendors, chili stands and other such street sellers supplied the Mexican food in Houston. But in 1907 a public crusade for better sanitation began to force them out of business. The civic reforms of the Progressive era brought about the first health inspections and rules for safe food handling. William McDuffie Brumby, Houston’s crusading health officer, led these reforms and then went on to become president of the Texas Board of Health, where he wrote a statewide sanitation code. While some tamale vendors and chili stands remained in business after 1910, their numbers dwindled as permanent Mexican restaurants with more hygienic facilities began to take their place.

In the same year that restrictions were placed on Mexican street food in Houston, what history suggests was Houston’s first Mexican restaurant – the “Original Mexcian Restaurant” – opened. Walsh states:

The first Mexican restaurant listed in Houston’s city directory was the Original Mexican Restaurant at 807 Fannin. It was opened in 1907 by George Caldwell, an Anglo from San Antonio. Caldwell was no doubt inspired by the Original Mexican Restaurant in his hometown, which opened in 1900. Caldwell’s place was quite popular and a favorite of mayor Oscar Holcombe’s. Caldwell’s slogan was “Genuine Mexican food, properly prepared.”

A book on Houston published soon after the opening of the Original Mexican Restaurant (Pen and Sunlight Sketches of Greater Houston, an electronic version of which has been made publicly available by Rice University through a Creative Commons attribution license) included the following description of the restaurant:

Of all the first class restaurants of Houston none is better known nor more widely patronized than the Original Mexican Restaurant, which is located at 807 Fannin street, an ideal location for a business of this kind. The place is handsomely furnished throughout in true Mexican style, and the very best of Mexican dishes cooked by native Mexican cooks, are served. While the business has been established only about five years, it has during that time gained fame throughout the state, and is one of the most popular resorts in Houston, being patronized by a large circle of its best citizens. Mr. G. E. Caldwell, the proprietor of the restaurant, is a native of Texas and a former citizen of San Antonio, where he spent the larger part of his life, and where he also learned the ways of the Mexicans and gained his experience in preparing the delicious Mexican dishes. Regular meals are served at 35 cents, all of Mexican dishes, while short orders are to be had at any time between noon and midnight. Mr. Caldwell makes a specialty of catering to parties, and does a big business in this line.

Walsh also notes that Felix Tijerina, the founder of Felix Mexican Restaurant, took a busboy job at the Original Mexican Restaurant in 1918, at the age of 13, and that Caldwell encouraged Tijerina to open his first restaurant in 1929.

In 1922, the Original Mexican Restaurant moved from 807 Fannin to 1109 Main, and is presumed to have closed sometime thereafter.

Busch Gardens (1971-1973)


[Original photo on file.]

[Original photo on file.]

[Original photo on file.]

Houston’s Busch Gardens was around only briefly – the park opened in May 1971 and was closed within two years. It was located adjacent to the Anheuser-Busch brewery (775 Gellhorn Dr.), which opened in 1966.

The Galveston Daily News reported on May 23, 1971:

A $12 million amusements park patterned after Florida’s biggest tourist attraction opens next Saturday in northeast Houston. The 40-acre Busch Gardens primarily has an Asian theme except for an ice cave with a temperature controlled environment for several varieties of penguins, polar bears and sea lions. Otherwise there are islands with monkeys, an elephant compound, deer parks, a Bengal tiger temple, a rhinoceros compound, a bear and cat cub arena, and an area where youngsters can pet lambs, goats and llamas. Other animals include . . . antelope, yaks, Bactrian camels, and lesser pandas. A large freeflight cage with walkways houses over 100 species of foreign birds, hidden wire mesh perches are wired to heat the feet of the birds electrically. Benches used by the monkeys also have electrical heating systems. The park is adjacent to the Houston plant of Anheuser-Busch Inc., which also operates the Tampa Gardens . . . . Transportation in the Houston Gardens include a boat route that covers two-thirds of the grounds, including passages through the ice cave and freeflight bird cage. There also is a train modeled alter the early English steam locomotives widely used in Asia during the I9th century. A 950-seat ampitheater features the trademark of all the Busch Gardens, a bird show with trained macaws and cockatoos. There is an admission charge of $2.25 for adults and $1.25 for children from 3 to 12 but there is free beer for adults. The Gardens started out with no charge but the high cost of animals, birds and labor forced a policy change. The Houston Gardens already have had a $30,000 casualty. One of the two early arriving rhinos became ill and died of what was determined to be acute indigestion. Tampa’s Gardens attract some [2.5] million people a year. Houston expects 700,000 to 800,000 [t]he first year with the annual average leveling out to about one million after three years. With a permanent staff of from 75 to 80, the gardens will have some 300 employes in summer months. The gardens are to open with operating hours of 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., but Busch spokesmen acknowledge late summer heat may force some adjustments for the protection of the animals. Saturday’s opening will follow a Friday dedication luncheon to be given by August A. Busch Jr. for several hundred guests.

A Corpus Christi Caller-Times article that also appeared on May 23, 1971, varied slightly:

The state’s newest tourist attraction, Busch Gardens, Houston, will open at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 29. The 11-million dollar garden and zoo is located adjacent to Anheuser-Busch Brewery. This garden, although similar to the giant complexes operated by Anheuser-Busch in Tampa, Los Angeles, and St Louis, will create a new environment featuring Asian animals, architecture and landscaping. It will actually be two gardens. The large garden and zoo area will cover about 40 acres. Admission fees of $2.25 for adults and $1.25 for children will be charged for this area. A smaller ‘mini-garden’ with various animal and other displays, will be located alongside the larger area. There will be no charge for admission to the mini-garden. One of the principal features of the park will be a canal, in which a series of water-propelled boats provide visitor transportation. Quiet, completely safe and comfortable, the boat ride will take a passenger past about three-fourths of the gardens. Midway in the boat ride guests may disembark to enjoy the animal contact area. For those who want to walk part or all of the way through the entire area, enticing paths allow them to proceed at their own pace. During the summer Houston Busch Gardens will be open seven days a week, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. After Sept 7, the Gardens will operate Saturday and Sunday only. Winter hours will be 9 a.m -5 p.m.

A later Caller-Times piece also mentioned a Sherpa Slide and ferris wheel for children. A Brownsville Herald article referred to the boat-ride canal as the “Ceylon Channel”, stated that the park had “some 30 species of mammals,” and noted that 12 acres of the 40-acre property were devoted to parking.

The park appeared to have been going strong at its one-year anniversary. The Deer Park Progress wrote on June 15, 1972:

Busch Gardens is now open for its second season with new attractions, rides, live talent and extended hours according to general manager Dick O’Connor. The Gardens will be open Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from 10 a,m. to 8 p.m. and Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. One of the new attractions planned this year is an elephant ride for the children. And there will be a live talent show, with various Houston area groups and other talented performers. A special sound stage has been built in the middle of The Gardens. The always popular Bird Show given three times a day in the amphitheater will be repeated this year. Some of the other popular attractions at The Gardens include the Ceylon Channel Boat Ride, the walk through a Free Flight Bird Cage and viewing the antics of Arctic animals in the dome-shaped Ice Cave. The tiger display will again intrigue visitors of all ages. This Asian-themed family entertainment and educational facility, situated next to the Houston plant for Anheuser-Busch off Interstate 10 in east Houston, will be even more colorful and lush this year because of the growth of the landscaping, most of which was planted just a year ago. New additions to the over 30 species of mammals and more than 100 species of birds and water fowl will be seen by visitors.

Sadly, though, as the Victoria Advocate reported on December 23, 1972, “attendance the first year fell far short of the expected 800,000.” Busch Gardens “will shut down most of its wild animal displays next year because of low attendance and high costs,” the article stated. On January 4, 1973, as reported in the Deer Park Progress, August A. Busch, Jr. announced that Houston’s Busch Gardens had been “unprofitable,” that “[a]ll efforts to improve the situation have been unsuccessful,” and that the park would be converted into “a sales promotion facility for the company’s beer sales division.” The Baytown Sun, in a June 3, 1973 article, called the park a “disaster” – noting that “[t]he brewery people lost $4 million on the project in a recent fiscal quarter.”

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

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[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.’”