Posts Tagged ‘street names’

Historic Houston Streets: Just To Name a Few.

April 20, 2010

Gulf Freeway 1952: Two Lanes North. Two Lanes South. Who could ask for anything more?

A few light years ago, a fellow named John Churchill Chase wrote an entertaining book on the origins of street names in New Orleans. Entitled “Frenchmen Desire Good Children and Other Streets of New Orleans,” the book was a popular hit in the Crescent City, where colorful events and the names of its roads and avenues usually sparked of mystery and adventure. Heck! During the time I worked for Tulane Medical School in the mid-1960s, I lived in Pirate Alley. Hard to top that one for color anywhere.

Now a fellow named Marks Hinton has written a book about the history of Houston street names. It’s called “Historic Houston Streets: The Stories Behind the Names.” It’s not nearly as extensive or colorful as the New Orleans book, but so what? We’re Houston. We were never the home of famous buccaneers like Jean Lafitte. We are what we are – and it’s still interesting to know how we got some of the street names we still use. The book falls far short of explaining many that I personally would like to know about, but let’s take a quick look at some of the bigger ones it covers.

Crawford: Today this north-south downtown street is most famous as the namesake of the seats that sit perched a mere 315 feet down the left field line at Minute Maid Park. These so-called Crawford Boxes are all that stands between a right-handed batter’s home run swing and Crawford Avenue or Street that lays just beyond the Minute Maid Park exterior. It was always called Crawford Avenue when I was a kid, but today I hear and read a lot of references to it as Crawford Street. Pick which you like better, I guess. At any rate, Crawford was named for Joseph Tucker Crawford, a British agent who was sent to Houston to evaluate the developing situation in the newly formed Republic of Texas back in 1837. According to Hinton, Crawford’s mission wasn’t to explore ways of making Texas a British colony, but to see how Texas could usefully help block America’s expansion westward. So, what it comes down to is this: Crawford came here to try to get Texas to help England throw a monkey wrench into the American Manifest Destiny and our city’s pioneer leaders ended up naming a major downtown street for him. Go figure. Or else use this little known information as a part of a local parody of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

“…Buy me a seat in the Crawford Box; that guy came here an American Pox.”

Cullen Boulevard. It is the main street at the University of Houston and it once served as the main drag beyond the right field line at Buff Stadium on the Gulf Freeway. Most people know this one, but it bears repeating for the sake of remembering one of Houston’s greatest philanthropists. Hugh Roy Cullen is the namesake person here. Cullen was the wildly successful oil man who gave millions to Houston charities over the years – and especially to the University of Houston, Baylor University, and most of Houston’s major hospitals. They threw away the mold for generosity when Mr. Cullen departed this world years ago.

Kirby Drive. Named for John Henry Kirby, a very successful 19th century Houston lumberman and capitalist, this is the street that runs directly beside the Reliant Stadium-Astrodome complex in a very appropriate way. In 1895, when professional baseball was struggling for a breath of fresh sustaining life in Houston, Kirby headed up a small group that established the “Houston Baseball Association” to keep the city on its feet in the new Texas League. The “HBA” capitalized the Houston baseball club with $3,000 in operating funds and installed Kirby as its first president. Because of Kirby, early professional baseball in Houston survived the turn of the 19th into the 20th century and set all in motion for the long banner life of the Houston Buffalos through 1961.

Westheimer Road. Named for Michael Lewis Westheimer, who immigrated from Germany to Houston in 1859, the namesake here was a diversified buusiness entrepeneur who bought and developed a 640-acre tract of land west of Houston. If you know Houston, you’ve already heard enough to get where this is going. Most famous locally for his Westheimer Transfer and Storage Company, Westheimer Road followed from here where Mr. Westheimer went, becoming to this very moment the other major artery alternative to Memorial Drive and the Katy Freeway as the major corridor to  Houston’s forever expanding western growth. Memoril, of course, is assigned as a name to honor all men and women who have given their lives in defense of this nation; Katy Freeway and old Katy Road before it were named for the little city they once approached to the west of Houston.  That same Katy, Texas was swallowed long ago as one of Houston’s present and major bedroom communities.

Gessner. August Gessner also migrated from Germany to the United States in 1886. He fought in the Spanish-American War with Teddy Roosevelt and later built a monument to the Rough Riders in Puerto Rico before coming to Houston and establishing himself in business as a cabinet-maker. Years later, when Harris County built a north-south way that covered a lot of ground on the then unincorporated west side, they needed a name. Longtime Commissioner Squatty Lyons raised his hand and offered something like the following, “Hey! I went to school with this nice guy named Gessner. We could name it for him. His family are all good people.”

Sometimes it is who you know that matters, but I would like to see us do more to name our city streets for people who have made some particular contribution to the city. Holcombe Boulevard was a great pick, deriving its name from longtime former Mayor Oscar Holcombe, a politician who stood up to the Ku Klux Klan back in the 1920s, loosening their hate-mongering control of things and freeing Houston for future growth. We’ve also named a number of streets for Houstonians who served in World War I. The later wars could use a little better presence on the naming list.

Hey. All that’s good. I’d just like to see us make better use of street-naming as a way of remembering the many others who have made significant contributions to the history of the city.

For example, Allen Russell, the 1946-1952 President of the Houston Buffalos who really put our city on the map for major league baseball expansion, tops my list of people who are most deserving of a  significant street name. I’m sure we have others in the fields of sport, education, business, space, and the arts who are just as deserving too. In fact, if you have a favorite candidate for a Houston street name, please list it below with a brief statement of why you think that person deserves the mention.

At any rate, the little reference book on local street nmes is a fun read for Houstonians. One of its sidebar features is a display of interesting street intersections. Someplace in town, the streets of “Mutiny” and “Bounty” intersect. We may not have much of a local histroy in piracy (excluding mention of some closely similar practices in the oil industry), but we do apparently have some recollection of major conflict on the high seas, even if quite a bit of it was fictional in content.

The least we might do is to get rid of that practice of allowing developers to build new neighborhoods with all those cute-sounding similar names that just make it easier for our postal service to fail us. Know what I’m talking about? Try sorting the mail for a neighborhood that includes Westwick, Wickwild, and Wild West, for example. I think I made up the “Wild West” street, but you get the idea. We do have a Wilcrest, a Wickchester, and a Wilchester  that are all  pretty near each other. Maybe it’s time to finally simplify the things that can be simplified.