Imagine Houston's Future
Imagine a time when Houston preserves its history and buildings
March 2, 2036
It has long been accepted that everything's bigger in Texas, and that certainly holds true for the bicentennial celebrations being held today from Brownsville to Dalhart. Here in Houston, events around the city will mark the official kickoff of history observations that will culminate with the 26th annual Houston History Symposium in early November.
The city will pay official honors to the establishment of the Republic of Texas on the steps of historic City Hall, a building that will turn 97 years old this December. It is an apt setting in a city that has embraced its rich past over the last few decades. Joseph Finger's City Hall Building is recognized as one of the best preserved examples of Art Deco architecture in the United States.
Among those in attendance will be fourth grade students from 10 area schools who won a contest entered by Texas History classes across the city. Long a staple of the state curriculum guidelines, Texas History has been joined by elements teaching the value of preservation of the built environment. Introduced through workbooks modeled largely after the introduction of recycling to school children 50 years ago, historic preservation has become the norm among area youth.
Study after study shows that interest in Texas and local history has been rising since new web and video based programs became available to students and adults alike. Non-profit groups such as Houston Arts and Media have produced full length documentaries and hundreds of short video snippets on a wide array of local subjects, while websites such as www.houstonpreservation.org have brought home the message that it takes tangible history for people to connect to their past.
Other celebration sites include a Texas Independence Day ceremony at Founder's Memorial Park on West Dallas. The city's oldest cemetery is the resting place for men who signed the Republic's Declaration of Independence two hundred years ago today, as well as some two dozen veterans of the Battle of San Jacinto. The burial ground and the adjoining interpretive center have become linchpins of Houston's history tourism industry.
After long taking a back seat to Galveston and San Antonio, Houston has become a popular destination for history and architecture aficionados. In addition to oak-lined streets faced by stately Beaux Arts homes and districts of Victorian or Art Deco commercial buildings, the city has proved especially popular for lovers of the mid-century modern architecture that abounds here.
A special exhibit, Houston 1836, will open this morning at the Houston History Institute. Housed on the bottom three floors of the classical 1915 Texaco Building at 720 San Jacinto , it has proven to be one of the most visited museum attractions in the city since its opening in 2014.
Many of the city's more than two dozen historic districts will be holding their own small neighborhood parades this afternoon, taking full advantage of the warm and sunny forecast. The historic districts, several of which have long been known as the most stable and affluent in Houston, will revel in what all agree is a small town feel that can still be found inside the Loop. Since the establishment of city historic districts just over forty years ago, every single designated neighborhood has enjoyed a higher gain in property values than adjoining non-designated areas.
Many residents of the city's many warehouse districts will be spending this Sunday afternoon taking part in community barbeques sponsored by the Houston Parks Department and local grocery chains. An especially large cookout will be held in Mason Park on 75th Street. Attendees will reflect the diverse culture of the East End, drawing from traditional Hispanic communities such as Magnolia Park, upper middle class enclaves like Idylwood and bastions of young, creative professionals who populate the many lofts to be found in renovated industrial buildings from EaDo to Lockwood. All of them will be representing neighborhoods that boast well over 100 years of Houston history.
In addition to the planned events, hundreds of thousands of Houstonians will observe the Texas bicentennial in smaller ways. Some will enjoy quiet reflection in one of the city's many historic churches or at places like Olivewood Cemetery, Houston's oldest African-American burial ground, now a park-like oasis along White Oak Bayou.
Others will head to one of several launch areas along Buffalo Bayou, the most popular being the Buffalo Bayou Partnership's facility in the old William D. Cleveland Warehouse next to Allen's Landing. From there they can head either upstream or down to see public art, water features or the Gardens and history exhibits to be found at Frost Town, another settlement from the 1830s. It is all part of a sunny day on the most popular recreational urban waterway in America.
So we urge you to celebrate 200 years of Texas in your way. Take a walking tour with the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance, with the Heritage Society at Sam Houston Park or at the Yates Museum Complex in Freedmen's Town. Bicentennials only happen once, so embrace your past while you have the chance.
Mike Vance is the executive director of Houston Arts and Media and a new member of the Harris County Historical Commission.