Houstonians are well aware of the “urban revolution” happening in the city and its close-in neighborhoods. Articles and news pieces are shared daily about the changing face of the city. The press often lauds the positive impact that new development can have for once struggling neighborhoods. But there is another story that isn’t told, this is the story about how much has been lost to discriminatory practices and the bulldozer over the last five decades that have made this re-imaging possible.
Underscored by a push for new and expanded park space, transit options and increased housing supply, the march towards densification, beautification and world class status is racing onwards, perpetuating a history of exclusion and inequality on the politically and economically marginalized. Vast areas of the city fabric are being wiped clean and re-visioned in the all-familiar story of new investment sparking much-needed change to areas still lacking many essential services, while longtime residents are priced out of their homes, their communities, and their roots. The cost of this rapid pace of development is the loss of rich and complex urban and cultural traditions that are embedded in a place over time, where residents are under siege of displacement, and in fact the entire neighborhood’s identity is at risk of being erased.
One example is the mile long Dowling corridor, between Pierce Street to the north and Alabama Street to the south, the once thriving and mixed-use commercial spine of the resurgent Third Ward. According to the historical Sanborn maps of 1950, the street had a tapestry of functions, the epitome of a bustling neighborhood, and the 1949 Houston City Directory tells the same story.
The catalogue included 114 stores; 59 homes; 29 restaurants; 9 auto repair shops; 6 gas stations; 6 apartment buildings; 3 dry cleaners; 3 churches; 3 rooming houses; 2 movie theaters; 2 drug stores; 2 hotels; and a furniture store, bathing house, lodge hall, office building, printing shop, electric repair, radio repair, vacuum repair, private school, barber college, night club and lumber yard.
In contrast the same corridor in 2015 had just 5 stores; 11 homes; 4 restaurants; 4 churches; 4 office buildings; 2 gas stations; a barber shop; hair salon; bar; dental office; boxing center; and historic ballroom—the Eldorado. There are currently more empty or vacant lots (69) on Dowling Street than occupied (38).
Considered by many as the center of African-American culture for Houston, the neighborhood is deeply rooted in the history and traditions of people of African descent. It was in the Third Ward that residents purchased 10 acres of land at Dowling and Elgin Streets to be designated “Emancipation Park”. Not only was this the first public park in the state of Texas, it was also the only place for people of African descent to gather and celebrate their freedom from slavery on Juneteenth. Today, construction is well underway on the $33.6 million Emancipation Park re-design. The new, towering and all too contemporary structures rising from what was once simply a park has sparked a resurgence of interest in the area, new luxury multi-story town houses are rapidly replacing the traditional shot-gun structures and commercial buildings of the neighborhood.
As we look forward we ask how can we encourage (or even design) new types of development that will bring much needed services to the area without displacement, or the loss of the rich cultural traditions and mixed land uses that once thrived there. Could we start by creating new models of analysis that study a place at a finer grain, learn from the historic character (and in fact the historical record), and encourage greater diversity of both strategies and solutions—instead of wrongly thinking that a new CVS, HEB, or Chili’s, with their seas of asphalt parking, would create the wanted and necessary change?
What was there according to the 1949 Houston City Directory:
Covington Apartments ● Welcome Inn Restaurant ● Sportsman’s Shine Parlor ● Edwards Liquor Store ● Grovey’s Barber Shop ● Brooks PM Detective Agency ● Monk’s Inn Restaurant ● Weiner’s Dry Goods ● Elsie E. Reed Dressmaker ● Stroud Flower Shop ● Foley Apartments ● Shelton Beauty Shop ● Lone Star Barber Shop ● Thomas Fletcher, Physician ● Ewell Costromer, Dentist ● Eureka Pharmacy ● Neyland Laundry ● Square Deal Taxi ● Chie Café ● Virginia’s Beauty Shop ● Zion Hill Baptist Church ● Charles Johnson, Dentist ● Live and Let Live Cleaners ● Mitchell Printing Co. ● Maenett Beauty Shop ● Senate Grill Restaurant ● Rose Lee Liquor Store ● Carmita’s Beauty Shop ● Juanita’s Dress Shop ● Third Ward Fish Market ● Franklin Barber ● Johnson’s Shine Parlor ● Turner Tire Service ● Knoll’s Drug Store ● Dowling Junk and Supply Co. ● Bartholomew Shoe Repair ● M&M Optical Co. ● Ann Beauty Shoppe ● Bryant’s Poultry Co. ● Loyal Barber Shop ● Henderson Auto Repair Shop ● Mills Studio Photography ● Welcome Barber Shop ● Hooper’s Bakery ● Schwartz Grocery ● Webster Appliance Co. ● Walls Beauty Shop ● Spiller’s Shoe Shop ● Walls-Hammond Trade School ● White Kitchen Café ● John Baptist Church ● Woolworth Dry Goods Store ● Johnson’s Dinett Restaurant ● Nanking Food Market ● Martin’s Photo Shop ● Public Laundry ● People’s Foot Health Shop ● Avalon Barbeque Restaurant ● B&M Grocery ● Shirley Woolridge, Shoe Shiner ● Nathaniel Burch, Dentist ● Corilee’s Beauty Shop ● E-Tex Liquor Store ● Sea Food Inn Restaurant ● Triangle Taxi Line ● Quality & Quantity Café ● Tyler Barber College ● Super Sandwich Shop ● Bill’s Fun House (amusement) ● Hou-Tex Liquor Store ● Rhumba Boogie Bar ● Dickerson Recreation Hall Billiards ● Park Theatre ● Ding Dong Diner ● Park Theatre Barber Shop ● Page’s Sandwich Shop ● Shelton Beauty Shop ● Eddie’s Record Distributing Co. ● S & P Cab Line ● Ruck’s Drug Store ● Rettig’s Ice Cream ● Bessie’s Beauty Shop ● Park View Barber Shop ● Modern Barber Shop ● Your Tailors and Cleaners ● Dowling Feed Market ● Bennett’s Liquor Store ● Sam’s Place Restaurant ● Sandy Bar Café ● Dowling Hotel ● Dowling Café ● Albert Bowe, Physician ● Andrew Allen, Dentist ● Hogrobrocks Café ● Caliente Café ● Trocadera Club ● Eldorado Drugs ● Tom Tom Liquor Mart ● Shep’s Liquor Store ● Shepard & Lambert Paint Co. ● Black & Tan Shoe Shine Parlor ● Lone Star Enterprises ● Dowling Employment Agency ● The Famous Kitchen Restaurant ● Caraway Cleaners ● Griffin’s Service Station ● Griffin’s Drug Store ● Frank Cleaners ● Jimmie’s Paint and Tire Shop ● Huckle Buckle Inn ● Victor Barber Shop ● Althea’s Beauty Shop ● Woltman Furniture Co., No. 2 ● Hewett’s Cab Line ● Marlin’s Tavern ● Frierson’s Beauty Parlor ● Black & White Café ● Bronze Beauty Salon ● Oleander Pharmacy ● Scardino Grocery ● Ted’s Barber Shop ● Gammage Café ● Iver Lee’s Hat & Dress Shop ● Minkler Studio Photography ● Holman Liquor Store ● Luerenza Beauty Shop ● Busy Bee Hamburger Stand ● Thomas Radio Shop ● Hester’s Drive In Restaurant ● Shaw’s Shoe Shop ● Liss Grocery & Market ● Narvie Hotel ● Clarence Jarvis Auto Repair
Above: “Animating History” projects by students at the University of Houston’s College of Architecture and Design and School of Art.
FACULTY: Associate Professor Fiona McGettigan (School of Art, Graphic Design Program); Associate Professor Susan Rogers (Architecture); Associate Professor Ronnie Self (Architecture).
STUDENTS: Ben Alcaraz; Maria Fernanda Charles; Ceci Castellanos; Mathilde E Deboes; Hannah Childs; Benjamin William Lueders; Jordan Compton; Felipe Luna; Victoria Courtemanche; Joshua Naputi; Alexa Dominguez; Mark Phillip Ojeda; Jewel Gallagher; David Alexander Osorio; Travis Gamble; Sunny D Patel; Karl Gobaton; Alexandria Sholtis; Dominique Gutierrez; Carlos Sotelo; Laura Hagen; Davy Zhu; Sophia Hepp; Shane Everett Bourgeois; Ramon Hernandez; Stephanie A Crabtree; Matthew Janik; Altair Galgana; Leah Justis; Stephen J Higginbotham; Luis Martinez; Zerik D Kendrick; Brian Murcia; Hanin Afif Malhas; Victoria Pena; Ami Himanshu Patel; Cintia Quevedo; Mychael A Pham; Jessica Rennie; Laura Hill; David Aleksander Ramirez; Andrea Rivas; Madeleine Sanchez; Austin Markham Rees; Lauren Thawley; Hibah Osman; Jordan Vazquez