Posts Tagged ‘Houston’

Our Hermann Park/Rice Legacy

December 6, 2010

This iconic statue of General Sam Houston has marked the entrance to Houston's Hermann Park since 1925. It was designed and constructed by Italian-born Texas sculptor Enrico Filberto Cerracchio for $75,000 in post World War I dollars.

A legacy is only as valuable as the care it receives from its recipients. So far, the 1914 gift of land for a park and medical center south of downtown Houston by early local philanthropist George H. Hermann seems to be surviving as valuable to the City of Houston beyond anyone’s earliest 20th century dreams.

Were it not for the 445-acre donation of land by Hermann, and the adjacent earlier donation of acreage and endowment funds to the contiguous west of the park for the start of Rice (Institute) University in 1912 from funds donated by another local giver, William Marsh Rice, the southern exposure of this city’s non-zoned real estate might have grown as nothing more than a hodge-podge of homes, business, and billboards, the way much of our city grew until we awoke from what we were doing. That kind of force for conservancy wasn’t necessary south and immediately west of General’s Sam’s statue. The gifts of Messrs. Hermann and Rice had set a legacy in motion that the people of 20th century Houston had gratefully accepted, developed, and improved.

The Texas Medical Center south of Hermann Park is now the arguably finest in the world. The art, civic, and science museum district immediately north of Hermann Park is now one of the finest in the nation, if not the entire world – and these all flow further north through the reviving mid-town redeveloping residential area and into the traditional downtown/uptown (depending on your point of view) business district that also now preserves classic structures like the iconic Gulf and Esperson Buildings, the ancient LaCarafe Building on Market Square, while also serving as the promotional environment for the growth of the classical performing arts, major league baseball, and professional basketball. Throw in downtown also as the home of the central branch in one of the finest library collections and systems in the nation.

Houston values culture. Houston has class. And the seeds of it all may have been the early donations of two men named Hermann and Rice. These gifts to the people just seemed to set in motion an appetite and an attitude about learning, preservation, beauty, and accomplishment that permeates the air of our community to this very early dawn in the 21st century.

The future of Houston is right over there, just beyond the dawn. All we have to do to make our best future most likely is to lean into tomorrow by living fully today and in total respect for the many personal and community gifts of our storied local past.

How long has it been since you’ve visited the zoo, attended a concert at Hermann Park, checked out the Science Museum, visited the Houston Museum of Fine Arts or one its many local exposition cousins, or simply taken a continuing education class through the Rice University Adult Studies program?

Well, maybe it’s time you did something along those lines. We keep the legacy alive through our personal participation in whatever’s available. And we’ve got a lot of worthwhile stuff filling our cups of opportunity to the brim here in Houston. It’s up to each of us to either use it or lose it.


Starting Nine for the Houston Natives: A Work in Progress

December 3, 2010

Who should take the field for the Houston Natives?

Latest Change Now Updated Below, 12/04/2010: All one has to do to qualify for this club is be born in Houston. We forgot about Curt Flood, who was born her, but grew up in Oakland, CA. Thanks to the memory of Mike McCroskey, we have now added Flood to the outfield as a replacement for the now departing Steve Henderson, Left Field (11/18/1952) (Jack Yates HS) (.280 BA, 68 HR, 79 SB). I still don’t see even Curt Flood replacing Michael Bourn defensively in center field, but he definitely is an upgrade from Henderson.


Here’s a project for all of us, but thanks to early contributions of Dr. D. (Will Rhymes at 3B) and Shaun Bejani (Joel Youngblood at 3B) and the partial return of my own earlier absent memory (Craig Reyn0lds at SS), we, at least, now have all nine positions filled.

A lot of good ballplayers have come out of Houston over the years. Maybe it’s time we tried to put together our choices for the best starting lineup of native Houstonians that this city has ever produced. Off the top of my head, I came up with six players that would be my choices, but I had struck struck out on names for three positions until the names of Rhymes, Youngblood, and Reynolds came streaming back into the bright of day.

Can you think of anyone who might be better suited to play any of the nine positions with greater skill and production? It’s not always as easy as it looks – and sometimes we assume that a player is a Houston native when he really isn’t. Wayne Graham would have been a natural thought for 3rd base, but he wasn’t born in Houston. Neither were Roger Clemens or Andy Pettitte. Those famous Houstonians were born in Ohio and Louisiana, respectively.

Some players were either born nearby Houston – or else, they simply became so identified with Houston that we all mostly assumed that the were  born here too. Watty Watkins is a good example. He was a Houstonian, all right. He just wasn’t born here. Others include people like pitcher Josh Beckett, born in Spring, Texas, and fabled Houston high school pitching phenom David Clyde, born out of state,

I don’t have time to research every question that comes to mind to me here, so, I thought some of you might enjoy searching with me for the best lineup of native Houstonians we can put together, The guys I’ve listed are my choices for those spots, but some of you may have other nominees. I considered a few at pitcher, but I chose Red Munger over either Scott Kazmir or Woody Williams because I basically felt that good old Red Munger was better than both of those guys put together.

Send in your comments and let’s see what we can build together. Meanwhile, here’s what I’ve come up with for starters:

Incomplete Starting Lineup for the Houston Natives

(1) George “Red” Munger, Pitcher (10/04/1918) (Sam Houston HS) (77 W-56 L, 3.83 ERA)

(2) Frank Mancuso, Catcher (05/23/1918) (Milby HS) (.241 BA, 5 HR, 2 SB)

(3) James Loney, First Base (05/07/1984)  (Elkins HS) (.288 BA, 55 HR, 353 RBI)

(4) Will Rhymes, Second Base (04/01/1983) (Lamar HS) (.304, 1 HR, 19 RBI) *

(5) Joel Youngblood, Third Base (08/28/1951) (Austin HS) (.265 BA, 80 HR, 422 RBI)

(6) Craig Reynolds, Shortstop (12/27/1052) (Reagan HS) (.256 BA, 2 HR, 58 SB)

(7) Curt Flood, Left Field (01/18/1938) (Oakland Tech HS, Oakland, CA) (.293 BA, 85 HR, 88 SB)

(8) Michael Bourn, Center Field (12/27/1982) (Nimitz HS) (.263 BA, 11 HR, 173 SB)

(9) Carl Crawford, Right Field (08/05/1981) (Jeff Davis HS) (.296 BA, 104 HR, 409 SB)

Have a nice Friday, everybody – and Happy Houstonian Hunting too!

* Will Rhymes was suggested by Dr. D.

It’s Not The End of The World

November 22, 2010

If you're a Houston sports fan, however, it often feels that way!

Experts in my field are constantly writing books on how nothing in life, except for death itself, is the end of the world and that even that one is superseded by a strong faith in God and life in the hereafter. Problem is, most of these mental health professionals are not Houston sports fans and have no idea what it’s like to die a thousand deaths on the field with our teams to the familiar tune of the most painful last second results ever churned up in the script cauldrons of hell.

It is currently the season for the Houston Texans of the NFL to pull out our community toenails with a pair of psychological pliers, but they are only carrying forward with the rich tradition already laid out for the football fans of this area by the team formerly known as the Houston Oilers.

Remember Pittsburgh in the late 1970s? How about “Stagger Lee” in Denver during the 1980s? Or, the worst – a certain monumental “El Foldo” game up in Buffalo back in the early 1990s? No, the Texans still have some considerable ground to cover to equal the hope-dashing destiny of their professional football predecessors in Houston.

Being fans of college football at UH, Rice, or TSU isn’t much relief either. Once Rice pulled away from the ancient Jess Neely days, they sunk into an academic/athletic mire on the field. Rice got good at producing football players who graduated, but couldn’t play winning ball on their ways to getting their degrees. They were simply too much student and not enough athlete.

TSU just never seems to get their winning plane off the ground for long. It’s kind of hard to build much of a reputation for success when you possess only the flight range of the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk.

My old school, the University of Houston, has come closest to mimicking the heartache patterns of our professional clubs. The Cougars enjoyed a brief surge of success when they joined the Southwest Conference in 1976 and promptly won or tied for conference football titles in three of their first four years in the league. UH also put together the famous Phi Slamma Jamma basketball club of Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, but then stumbled into that horrible heartbreaking buzzer loss to North Carolina State in the 1983 national championship game. The basketball debacle came on the close era heels of the UH collapse in the 1979 Cotton Bowl football game. Leading Notre Dame and Joe Montana by 34-14 with seven minutes to play, the Cougars managed to convert this advantage into a 35-34 loss on the last play of the game.

Too many other instances of the Cougars snatching defeat from the jaws of victory are citable here. It’s enough for now to say that the experience has been overwhelmingly disappointing for those of us who have been following the Cougars forever. And this season’s loss of highly touted quarterback Case Keenum to in jury in the third game and the subsequent implosion of our season has not helped Cougar spirits. Our football pass defense is almost as bad as that bunch that plays for the Texans.

The Rockets did provide for a brief departure from “Choke City” name-calling by taking the “Clutch City” route to the 1994 and 1995 NBA championships, but they have long since returned to their hiding spot in the land of mediocrity. How a club can hide itself anywhere when one of their players is 7’7″ tall is hard to conceive until you remember that this particular player is capable of huring himself when he picks up the morning newspaper and is then perfectly capable of hiding hmself.

The Astros? Don’t get me started. As a baseball fan, I will never totally recover from the disappointments we suffered in 1980 and 1986. Both of those near pennant misses hurt worse than our four-game sweep loss in the actual World Series to the 2005 Chicago White Sox. They still hurt too much to go over the details again of how we lost to the Phillies in 1980 and the Mets in 1986. – We were right there – RIGHT THERE – and we couldn’t reel it in.

So, my question of the day is about how the general Houston sports experience has shaped your own personal attitude about the possibility of a “Houston Curse.” Of course, some of you soccer fans have seen some championship action lately with the Dynamo – and old Aeros fans may recall some of those early hockey crowns of the minor league type, but how has this overall fairly regular rendezvous with last minute team loss pain affected your own belief system about Houston sports.

It’s not the end of the world – and living in Houston may have nothing to do with our pattern of frequent disappointment in the cruelest of ways on the playing fields of our various teams, but what do you think, and please dig down deep for honest answers to these questions:

When it comes down to the last play, the last out, the last second play that’s going to determine whether Houston wins or loses, what is it that’s going on inside you in that moment? Are you confident and hopeful? Are you simply neutral? Or do you find yourself lapsing into something like, “Oh No! Here we go again!”

Yesterday’s last few seconds loss by the Texans to the Jets as a result of that completed long pass is a beautiful reference point to the above questions. How many of you started out thinking about that pass: It’ll never happen? How many of you simply didn’t know? How many of you saw that pass by the Jets working out before it was even thrown?

Please post your comments below as responses to this column. And have a nice day.

Union Station 1912

November 14, 2010

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.

Old Houston Car Dealers

November 11, 2010

“take the wheel…make a deal…on a beautiful Rocket Oldsmobile”

Important Notice: This column thread is closed from further reader comment at this site, as of February 12, 2018, due to a volume of interest that exceeds our particular aims at The Pecan Park Eagle. We are appreciative, however, of the apparent high interest in a site that is designed to keep this ball rolling.

Reader John Landeche has created a new site at Facebook for everyone who wants to stay in touch as connected members of this new “Old Houston Car Dealers” location on FB.

We do NOT have the link. For further information, contact John Landeche at his e-mail address,

Thank you all for support here. And please know that we will do all we can to help the group connect at their new base.


Bill McCurdy, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

Most to all of the Houston car dealers that I shall mention here are long gone. I’m presuming they all are, but with the caveat that one or two may still exist on a low-advertising budget during an era in my life which finds me less involved with car dealers than I ever was as a kid and young man.

I grew up with cars and car dealers because cars were my my dad;s business. Dad had a Dodge-Plymouth dealership in Beeville, Texas back in the 1930s. In fact, when Dad opened his doors there in 1936, he was briefly recognized as the youngest car dealer in the United States at age 25.

World War II ended our family-run dealership and we moved to Houston on my fifth birthday, December 31, 1942, spending our first Houston night at the old Big Chief Motel on South Main and celebrating New Year’s Eve with burgers at the Prince’s Drive Inn at the South Main/OST “Y” connection of those two old city roads.

Dad spent World War II working as a welder at the Brown’s Shipyard and then went to work as manager of the parts department for the Jess Allen Chrysler-Plymouth dealership near the Broadway/Harrisburg “L” link in 1946. He later held the same job for Bill Lee Motors, a Studebaker dealership on Lawndale, east of 75th, from 1950 to 1958. 1958 is also the year that my parents and siblings moved back to Beeville so Dad could go back into business for himself. I stayed here because I was already into my junior year at the University of Houston by then – and because I had been raised as a Houstonian. I didn’t have to leave town to go home. Home was here.

An off-the-top-of-my-head list of Houston car dealers that are no more includes Jack Roach Ford, Sam Montgomery Oldsmobile, Earl McMillan Ford, Jess Allen Plymouth-Chrysler, Bill Lee (Studebaker) Motors, Art Grindle Motors (I forget what he sold), and so many more that now escape easy memory, and they all sold American cars: Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Buick, GMC, Cadillac, Hudson, Nash, Kaiser, Fraser, Chrysler, Plymouth, and Dodge.

There were other American cars and far more now-lost dealerships in Houston that I can no longer quickly recall, but they were once here. And they were real. And they basically drove Houston and fired the horsepower of our mid-20th century American economy. Then along came VW, Renault, Fiat, and Toyota – like so many soldiers from the Trojan Horse belly of our new Post WWII world economy – and it was all but over soon for the dominance of Detroit in the American new car world.

Because of my partiality to Oldsmobile, or maybe “just anyway,” I do still easily remember the jingle that Sam Montgomery used to attract new customers by radio. Sung a cappella by a men’s barbershop quartet, the Sam Montgomery Oldsmobile pitch went like this:

“Go to Sam Montgomery, and climb behind a Rocket!

You will find what’s right for you!

A car to fit your pocket!

Take the wheel, make a deal, of a beautiful Rocket Oldsmobile!

Better talk to Sam! – Sam the Rocket Man!

Talk to Sam Montgomery today!

(He’s in the Village!)

Talk to Sam Montgomery – TODAY!”

… Have a nice Thursday, everybody! If you remember the names of the many other now vanished Houston car dealerships that I have so easily forgotten, please post them below as additions to this piece.

Valian’s Pizza Update

October 28, 2010

Honest Raia Family Wants Whole Truth Known.

We’ve written quite a bit lately about the rediscovery of Valian’s Pizza at Raia’s Italian Market at 4500 Washington Avenue. Many of us have since been to Raia’s more than once to sample the rich goodness of the thin crust and rich marinara and cheeses that together make up the arguably greatest tasting pizza of all time. I’ve even taken Richard Coselli, the fellow who served as the UH student chairman of Frontier Fiesta back in 1957 when Valian’s Pizza was first introduced at our big annual campus show, to try the Raia version with me.

Richard Coselli’s taste buds agreed with mine. The Raia version, indeed, is enough like the original to be accorded the status of Valian’s Pizza Reincarnated, even if there existed for both of us a slight variation in taste due to some changes in herbs, spices, or meat products now available in comparison to a half century ago.

Now it seems that we have jumped to a wrong conclusion on how the item described by the Raia family on their menu as “Valien’s DeLuxe” pizza came about. It turns out that this beautiful restoration of an all time Houston culinary favorite was not the result of some ancient family friendship between the Valian and Raia families and a handing-off of the former’s famous pizza recipe in the name of friendship for the sake of posterity.

That story was the urban legend that I hooked onto when my friend first told me. And, since my friend had never been to Raia’s, that was also the legend that he had hooked onto from someone else. My error was then going to Raia’s to try the pizza and then writing about the experience without checking out the truth of the story about its origins directly with the cafe’s owners, Luke and Kathy Raia.

I still haven’t met the Raia couple, but I have heard from Kathy Raia a couple of times by e-mail. Give me an “F” in investigative journalism this time, folks, but I wasn’t on assignment, looking for a deception that never existed in the first place. The Raia place just reeks with good taste and integrity.

My willingness to accept the story I first heard about how the pizza started at Raia’s, nevertheless, has only reenforced the urban legend version of a delicious replication that deserves the Valian’s pizza comparison in its own right.

An e-mail I received from Kathy Raia last night explains the whole misunderstanding:

Date: Wed, 27 Oct 2010 16:46:36 -0500
Subject: Re: Raia’s

Mr. McCurdy, we appreciate your blog about how good our Valien’s pizza is but we don’t want to create any false impressions.  The store manager you talked to is our son. He knew that my husband went to Valian’s when he was younger. We have never had a relationship with the Valian family nor received any recipes from them.
We named this pizza after one of the pizzas we used to order at Valian’s. This pizza was put on our menu as a tribute to the first restaurant in which my husband was introduced to a pizza.
If you would like to clarify this on your blog, we would appreciate it because we have been getting a lot of phone calls and emails.  My husband has had to expain that we didn’t know the Valian family and this pizza is not their recipe.  We just enjoyed going there.
Please come in again and say hi to my husband so y’all can reminisce about Valian’s.
Thanks, Kathy Raia

And thank you for that clarification, Kathy. You and Luke still deserve Valian’s Pizza status and credit with your tribute recipe version of one of the greatest and most uniquely delicious foods ever produced by a Houston family.

Long live Valian’s! Long live Raia’s!


Valian’s Pizza is Back!

October 16, 2010


Hmmm! Hmmm! Good!

BAD NEWS UPDATE, 8/14/2017. Raia’s went out of business about three years ago and their fair (but not quite as good) rendition of the original Valian’s Pizza went with them. No explanation for the shutdown. Their business traffic, at least, looked good, but you never know. Sorry to have to share disappointment here, but life is like that sometimes, isn’t it?


Do you recognize anything special in what you are looking at in the above pictured pizza box? Well, if you could suddenly inhale the aromas wafting in the air, and gently trial-taste the brick-oven cooked blending of cheeses, pepperoni slices, mushrooms, green peppers, marinara sauce, and unmistakably deliciously light golden brown thin crust, you would recognize that you have just bitten into something many of us remember in Houston from long ago as a Valian’s Deluxe Pizza.

That’s right, their back! All this time we’ve spent here at The Pecan Park Eagle over the past few months bemoaning the demise of Valian’s, a form of the old treasured pizza has been available to us all the time. It simply wasn’t promoted well enough for the word to get out.

Well, we’ll try to fix that little information hole today.

A week ago Friday, I was driving to an alumni luncheon at St. Thomas High School with Delbert “D.D.” Stewart, an old classmate and even older friend. As we drove south on Durham, near the Shepherd-Washington intersection, I just happened to mention our broadly shared regret that Valian’s Pizza no longer existed.

“Oh, but it does,” D.D. interjected. “There’s a place very near here on Washington Avenue that serves it on their menu as ‘Valian’s Pizza.’ It’s a place called Raia’s Italian Market.”


It’s at 4500 Washington, a block east of Shepherd on the north side of the street with ample parking in the back of the building.


I wasn’t able to check out my friend’s tip until yesterday. He had not been there personally and I had to discover for myself if it were really true. I knew that only my taste buds could answer that one.

I finished early at my office yesterday. It was about eleven in the morning. By choice, my days at work aren’t too grueling anymore so I decided to just drive over to this Raia’s place and see for myself what kind of pizza they were offering in the name of Valian’s the Great. The owner of the deli market, a fellow named Luke Raia, wasn’t around, but I learned from his store manager that the clean-looking little deli place had been open in this beautiful new storefront building since the summer of 2008.

I checked out the take-out menu since I don’t enjoy dining alone in public, and because I wanted to take home some goodies to the family anyway. There it was in the pizza section of choices, advertised clearly in a misspelled form of the famous family surname as “Valien’s Deluxe.” A whole pizza is available in one generous size for the going price of nine dollars.

The young store manager had no clue about the misspelling of “Valian’s” as “Valien’s”, but he did know that their offering of that product came from the fact that store owner Luke Raia had been a friend of the Valian family and that he had had obtained their recipe for pizza for use in his new restaurant prior to their 2008 opening.

I put aside my personal amazement over the two years deep misspelling of Valian’s on the menu and ordered a couple of pies to go. I told the young store manager that, if his product turned out to be the real thing, to get ready for the Internet article I intended to write about it. His pizza business was getting ready to really add a few mushrooms. On top of their already very active luncheon deli and evening dinner business, Raia’s was about to plug into a very large market of people who have been figuratively dying for the taste of a good old Valian’s Pizza for way too long.


Raia’s Dining Room: For their service hours, check them out at


Folks, I took my Raia’s-Valian’s/Valien’s Deluxe Pizza home and tried it. Verdict: It’s the real thing. Except for a slight difference that I think is due to the fact these particular meats and cheeses most probably are not coming from the same suppliers that once served the original Valian’s store, this pizza is as good as pizza gets. And the great thin crust is unmistakably Valian’s all the way.

My 25-year old son Neal tried this Valian’s Pizza last night for the first time in his life. After a lifetime of listening to me speak of the original, he couldn’t wait to give it a try. I couldn’t wait to watch.

After he took one bite, I watched Neal’s eyes roll back. A few moments of careful chewing were gradually followed by a one-word response:


He paused a few moments before adding, “So this is what pizza is supposed to taste like?”


The other food choices at Raia’s look delicious too, friends!


Folks, I don’t know Luke Raia, and I have no investment in his business, but I do know this much. He’s done the history of local foods proud by preserving and offering Valian’s Pizza on his menu. For that reason alone, he deserves our initial support. I also have a hunch that we shall find other food reasons for going back.

Thanks for saving Valian’s Pizza, Luke. Can you now do something about the spelling of the family name on the menu? Unless the family name was really “Valien” and they misspelled it as “Valian’s” on the neon sign that once fronted their South Main restaurant, the menu spelling error deserves correction.

Have a great weekend, everybody! And happy food choices too!

If you make it to Raia’s for the Valian’s Pizza, please post your own reviews here as comments on this article. I’d really like to hear what the rest of you think.

Weldon’s: Best Chicken ‘n Dumplings in Houston!

August 30, 2010

Opening in 1949 as Weldon’s Cafeteria, the building at 4916 Main with the classic Frank Lloyd Wright lines has survived to see new life in Houston.

Once upon a time, Weldon’s Cafeteria on South Main in Houston offered the best plate of chicken ‘n dumplings in Houston, along with the full array of Southern Sunday Comfort Food that most of us used to eat after church on the weekends. Fried chicken, mashed potatoes with butter and gravy, and a slice of dessert that covered all the caloric ground that could ever possibly hang upon us as the fat of smiling devil’s food after being first served up as apple pie or peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream heaped on top. These sweet and mouth-watering delights were all part of the family’s, we’ve-just-fed-our-souls-and-now-we’re-ready-to-pig-out-on-happy-people-food inclinations back in the day.

The interior of Weldon’s offered upstairs dining as an option for agile tray carriers.

Weldon’s operated as a cafeteria on this 4916 Main site south of downtown until the early 1970s. The old building with the classic Wright lines was actually designed by MacKie & Kamrath Architects. MacKie & Kamrath did a lot of work in Houston based on the design principles of Frank Lloyd Wright, but much of their local work has either been destroyed by fire or owner alterations over the years.

Not so at 4916.

Almost completely hidden on the south side by a gas station that had been constructed on the south side of the old Weldon’d building, the old building classic survived, either by accident or divine plan. During the years the building served as home to Massey’s Business College, from the early 1970s into the 1990s, the vaulted interior ceiling was hidden by a dropped false ceiling at nine-feet – and the classic exterior lines were hidden by the gas station – that has since been razed.

Since 1999, 4916 Main has shone again as the home of Ray + Hollington Architects.

When Ray & Hollington Architects then restored the building to its original facade and interior design features in 1999, they also moved in to use the place as their home office and design studio. For their grand effort, the Houston Preservation Alliance congratulated Ray & Hollington with an important Gold Brick for their restoration efforts.

We once had a deserved reputation in Houston for tearing down classics for the sake of converting space for use as strip malls and parking lots. As we move into the 21st century, I can’t say that we’ve totally recovered, or ever will, from the forces of greed and quick profit-minded people, but we are getting better at standing up for art, quality, and the preservation of history.

Put the Weldon’s Cafeteria building in the “save” category for now. Just don’t ever take for granted that it will stay there unless the forces for project identification and preservation stay alive, kicking, and wired for action.

The Astrodome: No Way to Treat a Lady!

August 25, 2010

We need to make a clear decision on the Astrodome. The old girl deserves a better fate than the one she's now getting by default. As a big part of our local past, we need to decide her future with a little more dignity than she's so far received.

In the 46 years of her life, the Astrodome spent the first 35 of those years (1965-1999) as home to the Astros, Oilers, Rodeo, and numerous and myriad other notable sporting events and concerts, crusades, and even one national political convention. Everybody from Pastorini to Presley played the house that Judge Hofheinz established once upon a time as The Eighth Wonder of the World.

Things were great at the Dome. Then everything changed just prior to this last turn of the century. The Oilers left Houston without the NFL once the city rejected their bid for major help in building a new stadium. Then the Astros threatened to leave if we didn’t do the same for baseball and, this time, we were persuaded to “step up to the plate” and keep major league baseball from leaving too.

Once the Astros moved downtown to the new baseball retro design park at Union Station in 2000, the Astrodome found itself reassigned to purgatory, if not hell. Local interests led by Bob McNair and the Rodeo got us another NFL team in 2002 by building us a second retractible roof new venue designed mainly for football and things were looking good again, except for one thing.

Everybody, except for the rats and the tax collector, forgot about the Astrodome. For the past eleven years (2000-2010), it’s been allowed to sit and rot away before our “we-don’t-even-want-to-look” eyes as one flamboyant pie-in-the-sky plan after another has failed to fly with iron butterfly wings.

So the Dome sits and rots some more. And we pick up the two to three million dollar annual tab from the county as the tax on our no-decision point of view.

Personally, I agree with the position expressed by Houston Chronicle writer Richard Justice in an article he wrote within the past week on this same subject. We ought to do something to preserve the Astrodome by putting it to some constructive, big plan use. If we’re not going to do anything, then I say, “tear her all the way down and let the pictures and memories we shall always have for her be her last testimony as the first great domed stadium in the world.”

What we are doing now with the Astrodome is no way to treat a lady.

Houston: Where Hope Floats

August 22, 2010

Allen Parkway, 1960.

Allen Parkway, 2010.

You Houstonians already know these facts. Allen Parkway is a short, but important traffic artery leading into downtown Houston from the west at Shepherd Drive and ending 2.3 miles later at the I-45 section that skirts the immediate west bank of the tall buildings at Sam Houston Park near City Hall.

Through the 1950s, this busy, winding travel path to the south bank of Buffalo Bayou was known as Buffalo Drive. The name was changed to clear up confusion with another road in Houston near West University Place that is still called Buffalo Speedway. The name selected for the true bayou partner street fell quickly to “Allen Parkway” in honor of John Kirby Allen and Augustus Chapman Allen, the founders of Houston.

The towers of the 1960 vista are basically now covered by the monsters of the second. Houston has grown so much in the past fifty years – and it hasn’t been all physical. Thanks to the prevailing culture of can-do energy and adaptability, the city has survived wars, a number of economic crises, and important changes in the old culture that kept Houston spiritually small back in the days of racial segregation.

Houston was founded as an inland port and railroad transportation center. It grew as a rice, cotton, and cattle town. Then it leapt into prominence as the oil capital of the world. Now it builds on its still important energy center status as a growing international community manning an ever-diversifying economy in the world marketplace.

At the same time Houston changes, the forces that support our community’s memory and preservation of the area’s history are growing stronger by the day. It is important we adapt and change to both our needs for spiritual growth and the demands of the changing marketplace, but it is also important that we don’t give up connection to where we’ve come from. Our city’s history also contains some discriminatory values and practices in its past that we never want to forget or repeat. We will not forget those either.

For the city to embrace hope, there has to be hope and opportunity here for all law-abiding citizens.

As you’ve probably figured out by now, if you’ve been reading my columns for long, I’m a 100% Houston guy. This city has owned my heart forever and always will. We may not always be right, but we never stop working to get it right for the greater good of Houston, whatever that turns out to be..

Now, if we could just figure a way to dome the city for air conditioning in August each year, I might start believing that we could actually turn this town into the garden spot of the world. Have a nice Sunday, folks. I’m on my way to the take out service at Pappasito’s now. Nobody else around here wants to leave the house.