By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
By Angelica Leicht
By Jeff Balke
By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Jeff Balke
Appraisal district records show the street's first mini construction boom in the '30s, with a second round of home-building in 1945. There are several small apartment complexes on The Street today, a few up-and-down duplexes and two wooden one-story anomalies, but the defining forms are the old two-story bricks. While most county records define the lots as belonging to Albemarle Place, a few hang on to an identity as the S.H. Brashear subdivision. So old Sam Brashear, the first to move onto the block at 2115, roomer H.R. Miller in tow, back in 1928, must have been a developer. Appraiser James confirms it, and remembers Brashear further as a judge. His name has faded to a cryptic "S H BRASHEAR S/D" in the legal descriptions of three properties on the block.
Sixty-year-old Franklin Olson is the son of John Olson and the nephew of Albert Olson, which sibling team developed much of the Rice Village area and the Greenbriar Center (now Shepherd Square). Olson can't remember for sure if Lexington Street was ever part of his family's holdings, but he thinks John and Albert may have had a hand in building some of the 2100 block's houses. The brothers at least owned much of the land encircling it, including that which supported Lionel's Flame Room, an early upscale restaurant boasting a chef direct from Galveston's Balinese Room, which space has long since devolved. Phil's Diner came in later. The 59 Diner is there now.
Lexington, as Olson remembers it, was from the start a small residential pocket with no room to grow, separated from Richmond Place by Shepherd, on the wrong side of the tracks to connect with Southampton's money, padded with retail property on the north. Lexington was subdivided and orphaned from planned development early, but it wasn't until U.S. 59 arrived that it started to get weird.
Houston's daily newspapers of the mid- to late 1950s were filled with a barrage of notices about the piecemeal acquisition, by grant, gift and purchase, of the corridor of land that would hold the Southwest Freeway and its easement. Neighborhood associations and civic leaders banded to lobby for overpasses and feeder access rights for their undeveloped property, or to lobby against them in their quiet neighborhoods. Little Albemarle Place got nailed. Danville Street -- 50 percent of Albemarle's residential acreage -- was dug up and overlaid with 59 itself, cementing the disjuncture with Southampton, and leaving Lexington's southern-side backyards abutting the feeder. The shadow of the highway took a chunk out of Lexington's residential appeal, and the highway department's disallowance of feeder access between Shepherd and Greenbriar turned the crippled neighborhood commercially marginal.
The stretch of 59 between Spur 527 into downtown and Shepherd opened as a ten-lane roadway in July 1961, furthering the goal one headline trumpeted as a "superhighway linking Houston to East Texas," and the 2100 block of Lexington began a slow metamorphosis. The 1967 City Directory lists 17 addresses on the block, with Edward Seaman and Leroy Schecke the only original residents, three decades after their 1937 appearance. The 1974 directory still has Schecke, but by now he's an obvious anachronism. Small businesses have started to move in around him. A home at 2120 shelters Screen Arts Company, Paper Clip Inc., and Rapid Printing and Advertising Company. A realtor lives at 2121 (today he owns 2116). Insurance agents do business at 2129. Jerry's Cabinet Shop operates out of 2133. The 1974 rolls identify 2140 as Studio Erotica.
Neighborhoods, like kids, don't always turn out the way they were first imagined.
The 2100 block was evolving into its own distinctive ecosystem, shaped by its location -- one that's not ideal for traditional residential living and not ideal for mainstream commercial use. Smack in the middle of everything, but isolated from all of it. Think of 59 as a river. Think of the divergent and opposing traffic flows of Shepherd and Greenbriar as creeks feeding the river (forget that one creek flows the wrong way). Think of 59 Diner and Star Pizza and Whataburger as occupying a small concrete island upstream. The result is The Street as eddy, swirling in the backflow, quiet water not going anywhere fast. The eddy, as any riverman knows, is where floating detritus collects, bobbing in weak whirlpools. And river detritus, as any scavenger knows, is a remarkably reliable source of random, unexpected treasure.
Lexington's '70s history is hinted at in newspaper clippings and foggily remembered by a very nice married couple who lived that decade and more there. The Nice Couple, oddly, don't want their names or identifying characteristics printed even though they have nothing but nice things to say about persons and goings-on that would have any self-respecting neighborhood association secretary phoning the lawyers. Studio Erotica and its across-the-street compadre, The Foxy Lady at 2135, were "modeling" studios where clients paid to "photograph" models. Both were closed down for prostitution in 1974. The Nice Couple remember strangers knocking on their door after the bars closed, looking for love in the wrong place. They remember Marvin Zindler arriving at the curb in a white limo in the middle of the day to sting The Foxy Lady. Later, the Foxy Lady II opened across the street. After it too was ordered closed, The Nice Couple remember a fire and flaming mattresses thrown from windows. There are still projector holes in the closets.