Scene's From A City's Soul

Houston failed to preserve much of its heritage. Now the fight is on to protect the priceless photographic images of that vanishing past from the same fate.

While all that is going on, the terrific resource that is the archive will be out of reach to the public. There will still be the problem of physical deterioration. Even when that's taken care of, the difficulties of organization and access will continue for years to come.

The Bailey archive, that nearly untapped reservoir of Houston's past, has been saved from extinction. It's pretty well off the endangered species list.

But whether it will ever thrive for the benefit of all, or will remain a tightly controlled prize for the few academics and researchers with the patience and the ability to do what it takes to use it, will be a question of money.

Main Street at Lamar, bustling in 1934: The Metropolitan became a parking lot before renewed development last year.
Main Street at Lamar, bustling in 1934: The Metropolitan became a parking lot before renewed development last year.
Bob and Marvin Bailey, shown in their studio sometime in the '60s, recorded a half-century of Houston life.
Bob and Marvin Bailey, shown in their studio sometime in the '60s, recorded a half-century of Houston life.

And unless the world's richest collector of widget photography somehow steps in to save the industrial-catalog portion of the collection, the question will mostly be one of federal money.

Until it's resolved, a part of what we were, and what we are today, is sitting in a bunch of boxes in an Austin warehouse.

Someday, maybe, we'll be able to click on a Web page and browse through it all, looking for lost relatives, for ghosts of glamorous '50s Saturday nights, for skyline shots of a Houston with a half-dozen skyscrapers and no freeways.

Maybe one day Amy Braitsch, by then long gone from her UT internship, will do that too.

And wherever she is when she does, she'll no doubt imagine a strong whiff of vinegar.

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