Posts Tagged ‘Pecan Park’

Some Pecan Park History Notes

March 10, 2011

Once upon a time, in the late 19th century. there really was a rather large Pecan tree orchard in the area southeast of downtown Houston. As the city grew in that direction, the demand for residential space resulted in the purchase or managerial acquirement of the orchard area for the purpose of building and selling homes. The Magnolia Land Company sat in the middle of this new enterprise and began plating the land for individual property and street construction n 1925. Shell was the original building material for new streets and roads, but asphalt and concrete took over as the major infrastructure upgrades by the mid-1930s..

The larger region soon became known and was advertised as “Pecan Park,” and it covered an area that basically stretched out through multiple smaller neighborhoods that shared these current informal borders: Griggs Road boundaried the northern line; Broadway stood as the eastern wall; and old Winkler Drive and now the Gulf Freeway (I-10 S) covering the southern boundary and, curving around, and also becoming the western frontier of the area.

Most of the homes of Pecan Park were built during the 1930s and 1940s, with all of the original construction of usable space tapping out about 1955. Lot size typically fit into the 5,000 square feet zone, with houses ranging in size from 1,100 to 1,600 square feet. Almost all of them were one-story wood or brick bungalows, with styles ranging from Tudor, Cape Cod, and Ranch class architectures being the preferred choices. Homes typically had two, and sometimes three bedrooms, with a living room, kitchen, one bath, and a one-car garage, Hardly anyone had a “den.” For those of us who grew up there, “dens” and multiple bath rooms were simply an upscale concept, amenities to expect, if you lived in River Oaks, but not in Pecan Park.

My family of origin lived in Pecan Park at 6646 Japonica Street from 1945 to 1958. Mom and Dad paid $5,000 for our little 2-bedroom house when we moved in, but Dad added another bedroom when my little sister was born in 1949. My folks kept the place for a few years as a rental house after we all grew up and moved out. I don’t recall what Dad got for the place when he sold it in the mid-1960s, but it wasn’t a lot. Now I look on the Harris County property valuation site and see that the house is currently appraised at $89,000.

How can that be? With some homes in the nearby neighborhood literally falling down, how can that be? Apparently, it’s mostly, if not all, about location, location, location. The people who now own my childhood home seem to be doing a good job on its upkeep, but that may not be the big deal. Fifteen years ago, the house, and others around it, were appraised in the low 30K range, but something has happened since then.

Some Houstonians apparently are moving back inside the loop from the far suburbs these days. OK. So, Pecan Park is only seven miles from downtown Houston, tops, from my old place on Japonica. The location of these homes is driving up the cost of the land upon which all the old homes still rest. You will even see some evidence of new construction in Pecan Park now, and to the extent that some people are razing older houses and putting up two-stories in their places.

I should have bought my old house back at 30K when it was on the market for same a few years ago, but that thought rests among the least original I’ve ever embraced. When it comes to the “Land of Real Estate Deal Passovers,” how many of us have subsequently found ourselves lost in the land of “Woulda’, Coulda’, Shoulda?”

The shakier our dollar becomes, the harder it gets to think about where we should put the ones we have left, but real estate has a special attraction for me. Unlike stock values, real estate doesn’t disappear with the dawn. You might wake up one morning and read that your land is no longer worth anything, but, at least, you can still look out the window as the sun rises higher in the sky and see that it’s still there.

Being able to see it still counts for something.

As for Pecan Park, she will always be home to me, even if I didn’t buy my old house back when I had the chance, and even with all the changes the neighborhood has gone through over the passage of time. There’s just a part of my early years there that soaked into my bloodstream and never went away.

Have a nice day, everybody, and save some time for your own favorite healthy passions and reveries of life. Pecan Park covers a lot of that ground for me. In many ways, Pecan Park is simply the shell that once held the yolk of everything I am. And I like that idea.

Why Was The Sandlot So Joyful?

November 23, 2009

Our Eagle Field (1950) is Now Called Japonica Park.

The Pecan Park Eagles were real. Back in 1950, we played on an East End site in our neighborhood that we called Eagle Field. We played other places too, but this was our turf, our home field, our hatchery for every baseball dream that any of us ever knew. We had no lights at this sacred ground, but we didn’t need them. At a time in our young lives when summers meant we owned the place from from dawn to dusk, we didn’t need night baseball. Besides, night time was Houston Buffs time, a time for all of us to either be at Buff Stadium in the Knothole Gang, or else, to be listening tight to Loel Passe broadcasting the games over AM radio station KTHT, 790 on the dial.

What none of us knew back there in those innocent days of our young lives seems simple now. No matter what any us accomplished from there, some things would never get any better than they already were back in the summers of 1947 through 1952. Those years, especially the summer of 1950, were the seasons of the Pecan Park Eagles, and Eagle Field is where we all yielded our hearts and best playing efforts to the game of sandlot baseball. Nothing ever, in any form, yielded more pure joy to any of us than those treasured moments in the sun that we Eagles shared with each other on that hallowed turf.

Unfettered by normal adult responsibilities and the kind of cultural cynicism that now seems to ooze from every loose seam in the talking heads media, and also from every social network site on the Internet, we simply lived out the days of 1950 living in the moment of acting out our grandest dreams on a field that was tailor made by God for bare-feet running, heavy sweat bat-swinging, and rag-tag ball catching with hand-me-down gloves on a makeshift diamond that just happened to be available to us at the place where Japonica bleeds into Myrtle Street, one block over from Griggs Road and about two blocks east on Griggs from the Gulf Freeway.

The old place is still there in 2009, but it’s sadly now cluttered with playground equipment that we would’ve hated and probably destroyed sixty years ago. These things would only get in the way of a good game. Sadly too, today’s kids of my old neighborhood don’t seem to need that good game as once we did. They also don’t seem to either need the playground swings, etc., that the City of Houston has so thoughtfully constructed for them. I usually check out the old place about once a year – and I’ve never seen a kid playing there anytime I’ve driven by my oldest and strongest early haunt.

Driving slowly past Eagle Field, I sometimes stop and walk out upon it again, just to note all the landmarks that still remind me of what it was like to play ball there. The telephone pole in deep center field appears to be the same one that was in place all those many decades ago. There’s a big mixed breed dog in Mrs. McGee’s fenced backyard that now barks at me as though it would eat me alive if it could. I can still look over to the front porch of Randy Hunt’s old house. It seems that my presence on the “The Lot” (it’s other name) would bring Randy bounding out the front door to join me with a ball and glove, as it once did, but that never happens these days.

I never leave the place without saying something to Eagle Field like, “Goodbye, old friend, until next time!”

If I really have to explain why my personal sandlot was so joyful, I guess I can’t do it. Just know that some loves never end. And this was my big one.

Houston: A Grocery Store Memoir.

September 26, 2009

Haenel's Groceries

Once upon a time, about 1950, this now fairly abandoned site at the corner of Myrtle and Redwood in Pecan Park thrived as Haenel’s Grocieries, one of the many small family-run grocery stores that threaded their way all over the Houston East End. In fact, Haenel’s was located directly across the street on the Redwood side from Graves’ Groceries. There was room enough for both little stores, in spite of the nearby competitive presence of larger grocers, like Weingarten’s, Henke & Pillot, Piggily Wiggiily, A&P, and Minimax.

Right around the corner from Haenel’s and Graves was the Griggs Road Butcher Shop, where they sold only fresh cuts of meat from beef cattle, chickens, and pigs. You could also buy fish there, sometimes, but special fish markets stores also took care of those items for most people.

Saturday was the big day for family shopping back in that era. Most people didn’t have time to shop fully during the week because of work schedules and limited shopping hours. Most stores opened from 8 AM to 8 PM. Monday through Saturday, with all stores being closed on Sundays. Some of the smaller stores, like Haenel’s, even shut down at 6 PM, Monday through Thursday. So, since most families only had one car that dad used for work during the week, and mom was busy watching kids and fixing meals during the week, most of the family shopping for a whole week pushed toward Friday nights and, especially, all day Saturday.

As a veteran checker, sacker, and stocker at the A&P on Lawndale near 75th, all I can tell you is that there was nothing quite like a Saturday morning at the grocery store back in 1954-56 era I worked the trade. In so many ways, it was the most enjoyable job I ever had – and also the most challenging.

Starting pay back then was  50¢ per hour as a “package boy” (sacker) – with a raise to 75¢ possible upon one’s promotion to checker. That wasn’t bad for the times. Some customers tipped 25-50¢ for help with a heavy load of groceries. What was bad for us was the lesson in economics we faced with promotion. By getting a raise to checker status, we also lost money by losing the opportunity for tips.

One Saturday morning, as I was contemplating my lost income to my checker promotion, an elderly woman customer stopped me as I was walking away from my register on break. It was a case of best/worst timing for the question she shouted my way. “Young man,” screetched the woman, “can you tell me where this store keeps its all day suckers?”

“Well, you’re talking to one of them,” I replied.

Unfortunately, our store manager in 1955-56, Mr. Wright was coming around the aisle just in time to hear both parts of our brief exchange. I received a severe lecture for trying to be funny on the job and summarily ordered to finish the afternoon “mopping the slop” all the rest of the day at the freight dock behind the store. At the end of the day, Mr. Wright wanted to know if I still thought that my  grocery store job was a place for funny business. What could I say? Short of “take this job and shove it,” there was nothing funny about “mopping the slop” for several hours in 100 degree temperatures, but I was too stubborn to let Mr. Wright run me off from a job I sorely needed. And I also saw his humorless point and learned more about working with uptight, authoritarian bosses at the A&P than I would ever see anywhere else. It’s also why I’ve spent most of my adult life, as much as possible, self-employed.

Nearing Christmas of 1954, I convinced my previous A&P manager, Mr. Dodgen, that some seasonal music owuld help sales by putting customers in the right buying spirit. Mr. Dodgen allowed me to bring down a record player and put on a little Bing Crosby Christmas album that belonged to my parents. It played very well over the loudspeaker system, bringing praise to Mr. Dodgen from customers – and looks of managerical approval to me. I thought, “Oh Boy! I’ve finally done something that’s going to help me around here!”

Then, one day, Mr. Dodgen had to be out of the store for a district meeting. We used the opportunity to remove Bing Crosby and started playing Little Richard at the A&P. When Mr. Dodgen came back earlier than expected, rock and roll was still blasting away, but the customers didn’t seem to mind. In fact, some of the younger mothers were even bopping in the aisles – and our little adolescent task force didn’t mind that action at all.

Mr. Dodgen was no music expert. If he were, he wouldn’t been down at the A&P, approving checks, but even he knew that some change had taken place in his absence.

“That doesn’t sound like Christms music to me!” Mr. Dodgen said.

“”No, but look at how happy the customers are, sir!” I replied.

Mr. Dodgen looked, smiled, and walked away. After that time, it didn’t matter what we played. We had music in the store. And I’ve always guessed that we may have been the first in Houston to do so.

The store Christmas party of 1954 couldn’t have happened in 2009. Once the store closed, several days before Christmas, all of us employees were invited to stay and help celebrate the season with Mr. Dodgen and our other bosses. Beer and hard liquor was available to everyone, including those of us who were only 16.

Well, everyone ended up grossly overserved and, for me, it was my first experience with having way too much to drink. It was also my first opportunity to slide into a level of thinking that can only come from alcohol or similar mind-altering chemicals. We decided that it would be a good idea to take an unopened bottle of Jim Beam bourbon and stuff it into one of the turkeys we had on sale at the meat counter. My companions and I carried out this immature act – and then spent the next two days waiting to see who actually ended up purchasing our “bonus surprise bird.”

Someone did buy the loaded bird, but we failed to see it happen. Then we started worrying that such a customer might actually bring the loaded bird back to the A&P and start complaining. That didn’t happen either. We never knew who got the bird. We just knew that we were lucky. Had it become public, a lot us could have gotten the bird from A&P. As I matured, I always worried that we may have passed on the loaded bird to someone who was looking for a sign from Heaven that they needed to stop drinking. Hell! What we passed on was the Devil’s green light. All I can say now is – I’m sorry for any real harm we may have caused by our immaturity.

I still loved the camaraderie with my co-workers – and I loved my favorite customers. Fifty-five years later, I still see their faces in the check-out line of my mind, as they waited for me to manually ring up their groceries and make change, using little more than my ability to do addition and subtraction in my head. Hey! I had to have something going for me! Without mathematical accuracy, I wouldn’t have been able to keep my job.

I might have survived at A&P without change, anyway, had Mr. Dodgen remained our manager, but not with Mr. Wright around. Mr. Wright needed to know that everyone at A&P understood that there’s nothing funny or enjoyable about selling groceries. I didn’t get that lesson, but I did learn a lot about taking personal responsibility for my behavior from Mr. Wright. He turned out to be a pretty cool old school guy afer all.