By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Every culture regards certain places as special, distinct, transcendental, holy. They are the wellsprings of a community's myth and legend. A cave, whence imagined ancestors first strode forth into sunlight to populate a valley with offspring. A mountain, its summit trodden by watchful gods. A riverbank haunted with antique memories of murder. Points on the map where geography and geology and history and happenstance join to define a place as more than just a place, as a psychosocial repository of collective hope and fear and curiosity and respect. Points on the map that once served -- in older days, when there was still such a thing as folk music -- as fitting subjects for balladeers rooted like turnips in a particular patch of soil. Here, mere cartographical convergence of latitude and longitude, gossamer webs, are laden with abstract weight. Some such places are reasonably permanent -- Jerusalem, the Chisos Mountains, Altamira -- and can carry the load. They are their own monuments. Others are fragile -- College Station, Woodstock -- and eventually collapse, degenerating into status as "states of mind." Worse still, places are designated as "historic," just a fancy way of saying, Don't touch this, it's dead. Thus the market for secondary monuments, in stone or song.
Houston -- young, thoughtless, hyperactively transient and historically amnesiac Houston -- cradles one of these temporary places: the 2100 block of Lexington Street. But because its defining characteristic is that of the city itself, transience, leaving no monuments but memory, it will never be listed in any guidebook, will never display a historical marker. This is as it should be. To the extent that Lexington lingers as a state of mind, it's just mulch, decaying in the memories of the people who have, over the course of the past 70-plus years, made it what it was, what it is and what it will become, which is almost certainly something else entirely. To call it historic is absurd. To call it important stretches the definition. To recognize it with a small monument is the least, and probably the most, that can be reasonably asked, but its nature is too fleeting for stone.
To look at a map it seems insignificant, lost in the grid, the smallest section of a minor east-west street, not even rising to the relevance of a thoroughfare, abbreviated on both ends, trapped, isolated, laboring in obscurity, its structures and physical addresses brief footnotes to a neighborhood itself a forgotten, stranded reference.
But to the working-class renters and the speculating landlords and the budding strivers and the aimless graduates and the communists and the runaways and the artists and the hangers-on and the fallers-off and the whores and the junkies and the speed freaks and the rehabbers that have shuttled on and off the 2100 block of Lexington Street over the years, defining the place as it defined them, creating a culture, it is simply The Street. Its special contribution has been its music, born of a communal constellation of low-rent musicians and rock and roll bands.
They congregated here because the evolutionary arc of Lexington has long defined the block as one of those certain places. Think of this as one of its songs.
Today the 2100 block of Lexington runs parallel to U.S. 59, one block to the north, bound by the Southwest Freeway feeder on the south, Shepherd on the east, Greenbriar on the west, and the snaky connector of Farnham to the north, but in the beginning it was just empty land. A 1913 city map shows Shepherd's Dam Road (at least one copy in the library's Texas Room labels it "Shepherd's Damn Road," with the "n" apologetically crossed out) running from Buffalo Bayou to a dead end at the western terminus of Richmond. It is walking distance north from where Lexington would be, but was then well west of the city limit. Nothing but the San Antonio and Aransas Pass railroad line (it's still there, that roller-coaster hump on Greenbriar at the entrance to the Southampton neighborhood south of 59) stood between Richmond and the fledgling Rice Institute to the south.
By 1928, Lexington appeared on maps as a nub between Driscoll Street and Shepherd/ Greenbriar. It was in '28 that the Houston City Directory marked the first appearance of addresses on Lexington's 2100 block. No one yet lived at 2103. S.H. (Sam) Brashear lived at 2115, with an H.R. Miller residing in the "rear," conceivably Lexington's first garage apartment. A street called Danville then ran where 59 runs now, parallel between Lexington and the SA&AP line, which marked the northern border of the tonier neighborhood developing around Rice, with its ostentatious North and South boulevards.
By 1935, Lexington reached eastward to Mandell, and the 1937-1938 directory shows a 2100 block filled out with nine residential addresses: those of Edward Seaman, Roy Brunt, Leroy Schecke, William Parker, Andrew Graves, Mary Barber (another "rear" dweller), Miles Burton, Henry Plaster and Paul Goodrich.
The development was called Albemarle Place, though the only two streets named Albemarle in Houston are far distant. Meredith James, a retired octogenarian land appraiser, remembers that it was customary in Houston neighborhoods developing at the time to "sort of arbitrarily pick an English word that sounds high-class." Turns out an Englishman by the name of George Monck, 1608-1670, retains currency as the First Duke of Albemarle in certain biographical dictionaries.