Union Station 1912

Union Station in Houston, 1912.

Last night I attended the Second Annual Knuckle Ball, the benefit that honors the late Joe Niekro in the fight against brain aneurysms. This year it was held in the great hall or rotunda of Union Station in Houston or, as it is better known today as the administrative offices of the Houston Astros and the opening face on Crawford Avenue for Minute Maid Park, home field of our National League ball club.

The place reeks with Houston history.

I thought last night, as I often do whenever I’m in that place long enough to be reminded of its full context for me as a kid who grew up in Houston: “This is where we used to come pick up Papa when he came to visit us from San Antonio.”  It was a happy memory. Papa was my grandfather on my mother’s side

If you got here early for a train back in the day, you were supposed to wait on these long wooden benches in the Great Hall until it got here. As kids though, we had to move around. We also enjoyed testing the echos of our loud calls against the hard marble walls of the place. As best I remember, nobody tried the echo trick at the Knuckle Ball last night.

Drayton McLane, Jr. and the Houston Astros have done a wonderful job of preserving an important Houston architectural structure in the way they have restored Union Station to much of its former glory. It probably looks better now than it did in the first place, when it served as Houston’s rail window on the rest of the country.

In 1928, you could take the interurban line from Union Station to the baseball games at Buff Stadium.

Long before Union Station ever became the hub of our Houston baseball world, it served as the central depot for taking people the four miles or so they needed to travel to reach the new Buffalo Stadium that first opened n Houston on April 11, 1928.

If we had a time machine cranked up and were ready to go, wouldn’t you love going back there at least once to take that same train out to the ballgame on the first Opening Day of the new ballpark? The Buffs were opening against Waco in 1928. Branch Rickey, General Manger of the Cardinals, and Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis were going to be there too.

Buff Stadium. Don’t you want to go there now? What a trip that would be! And what a great opportunity to see how Houston actually looked, smelled, and tasted back in the late halcyon days of the so-called Roaring Twenties.

I would have been tempted to also take a 1928 side trek to the Heights and check up on how a certain little 12-year old girl was doing. In 1928, that little girl would have been my future mother. Then I get to thinking harder about why mass time time travel probably never will happen, and for reasons that go way beyond the Laws of Physics governing time/space worm holes that impose certain barriers in reality that fail to dampen our theoretical attraction to the possibility. That being said, if millions of us suddenly became like a legion of time-traveling Marty McFlys, bouncing “Back to the Future,” we would probably manage to change enough destiny to assure that many us were never born, anyway. Once establishing a case for altering history and assuring our own states of non-existence in the future, we would simply disappear completely, having never existed in the first place.

I cannot believe all of that stuff now pours out of my brain on a Sunday morning after simply sitting in an historical spot for one brief evening last night. Now I need to grab some oatmeal and a firm anchor on the fact this is Sunday, November 14, 2010.

Have a peaceful and restful Sunday, everybody.

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5 Responses to “Union Station 1912”

  1. Bob Hulsey Says:

    First, thank you for all these historical vignettes. They take me places I’d long forgotten or never considered.

    As to time travel, I have my own fantasies. Like this recent movie where some guys in a hot tub return to the 1980s. I would have done some things different, all right. I would have taken what money I could and flown to Vegas. I would have bet Miami to upset Nebraska in the Orange Bowl and I would have bet the house on Villanova to beat Georgetown in the NCAA basketball finals, then I would have taken those winnings and bet the house on James “Buster” Douglas to beat Mike Tyson.

    I would have invested most of those winnings in largely-unknown businesses named Apple and Microsoft and then Google.

    Then I would have located the prettiest woman I have ever met in my life and convinced her to marry me.

    But this is why mass time travel will never work. Most of us would use it to become wealthy or famous and marry that elusive perfect mate. And, simply, we can’t all be so fortunate or we’d corner the market on money, fame and beautiful spouses so there’d be none left for the poor schlubs living in their proper time. Yes, it would alter everything.

    So, I’ll just take my life as I lived it, warts and all. It really hasn’t been all that bad after all.

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Bob:

      Those were wonderful reflections on why mass time travel would never work. Greed would get us all.

      That movie “Time Cop” was about this very thing. The time cop goes back in time in one scene to Black Tuesday in 1929. He’s there to stop a time travel thief from buying up all the failed stock of companies that he knew would survive the great market crash.

      You’ve got the right idea: We need to be happy with the lives we have – without resentment or regret for what did and didn’t happen.

      Have a great Sunday!

      Bill McCurdy

  2. Wayne Roberts Says:

    Very good piece. As a newcomer to Houston (1958) my family didn’t pick up visitors at Union Staton very often, in fact I only recall once when my grandmother arrived from Florida. After that, she occasionally flew into the then unrenovated Hobby Airport. I remember watching her through the terminal window as she disembarked on the tarmac wearing one of those “old-timey” veils under a hat covering her blue hair. Other family visitors flew in as well since air travel was becoming more common and we were disbursed around the nation far from Houston. Air travel was formal, too. People bathed and dressed up to fly, not like now when it’s more similar to dirty bus travel than the classy mode of transportation it was then.

    The first time I reentered Union Station in 2000 the memories got pretty thick.

    Wish I had a copy of that postcard.

  3. Hazel Camara Says:

    Back in the 1940’s; my father took my brother, sister, mother and me to the Union Station to see a “NEW” train called the BIG CHIEF. I don’t recall getting on the train but my father did; just for a look around. It was such a big event that people dressed up just to go see a train.

    Then in late 1958, some friends and I went to Union Station to see one of our girlfriends off to a military base. It was hard for graudates of the class of 1958 to find a job as the country was in sort of a recession and jobs were hard to come by; so Margie joined the army. Only her family and a few friends saw her off to a new phase of her life.

    In 1962, my daughter Terri Lee, our landlady, Eva Voorhees and I rode the train to Galveston. The train went so slow that when we looked out the window we could see my husband and the the landlady’s husband in the car keeping pace with the train. Althought Terri was only 2; as parents we wanted her to have a train ride experience since the train to Galveston was going to be discontinued.

    My mother, sister, brother and I rode the train to see our grandmother in Corrigan, Texas several times but we did not leave from the Union Station but from the Southern Pacific Railroad Station. Now, you talk about a train station that was really a station and getting to the trains was even more exciting……at least for a kid it was exciting. Do you have any information on the history of this landmark station?

    Thanks for the history lesson on the Union Station.

  4. Mark Wernick Says:

    In July of 1961, my mother, sister and I departed from, and returned to, Union Station around a three week train trip to New York City. The train ride took two days each way. We traveled economy class: no sleeper berth. It wasn’t easy sleeping in the chairs, and I remember being very cold overnight, but I loved walking through the train as it whisked along the tracks and eating in the dining car. I also liked observing the countryside as it shot past my window, and looking at the cities we went through and stopped at along the way. I can still visualize St. Louis, where we changed trains, and Akron, Ohio, for no special reason. The St. Louis station, as I recall, was very impressive. It was on that trip that my Uncle Harry took me to a 4th of July double-header at Yankee Stadium vs. the Tigers. I have such vivid memories of that day.

    Thanks for yet another pleasant jostling of my long-ago memories, Bill. They’re getting longer-ago all the time.

    Mark

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