Still Standing

South Park has gone from a sheltered suburb to a crime-ridden war zone to a near wasteland. And Burger Park has managed to survive it all.

"It kept the police hoppin' and busy," says Straughan. In 1973, he and his partner were called to a drugstore where a man robbing the pharmacy for drugs started pistol-whipping patrons at the counter for extra money. Straughan and his partner got there while the man was still inside; a chase and gunfight ensued. Police cornered the robber at a nearby gas station and shot him to death. "He made a last stand and he lost. Poor people on the Loop had to see it all," he says sadly.
_____________________

Burger Park started out differently as well. Founded in 1968, it was originally called Bonus Burger. It sold cheeseburgers for 25 cents and was owned and run by an older white man named Harry Reesby. It was more than 20 years before ­Reesby put burglar bars on its windows for the first time — the neighborhood violence in the '80s prompted the change.

The Kims bought Burger Park in 1995, after Reesby had passed away. The Kims had originally run a cafeteria in the Heights, but were looking for a busier restaurant that would allow them to support their college-aged kids. Although the parking lot wasn't as large as Oak would have liked — "We have a small parking lot — five or six cars and it's full — so sometimes they park double. We try to buy next-door property, but they don't want to sell it." — they settled in and quickly became fixtures in the South Park neighborhood.

The Kims turn out 400 to 500 burgers a day.
Troy Fields
The Kims turn out 400 to 500 burgers a day.
Burger Park offers a $4.32 cheeseburger combo with fries and a slush.
Groovehouse
Burger Park offers a $4.32 cheeseburger combo with fries and a slush.

They didn't make too many changes to the existing operation.

"I add on chicken nuggets and chicken sandwich [to the menu]," Oak says. "When I took it over, they don't have anything else, just hamburger and French fry. Slushes were there, but only one machine. Right now I have two machines." They churn endlessly throughout the day, dispensing a drink that can best be described as a slightly softer New Orleans-style snowball in a cup. Strawberry is the best-selling flavor.

Their other two changes involved the burger recipe: Reesby used 75/25 beef. Oak uses 85/15; less fat, but without sacrificing flavor. And, more important, the meat is never frozen. "They used frozen meat, but I use fresh meat. I pay more," she says, "but they deliver it every morning."

Inside, the quarters remain cramped, the ordering line snakes around a single metal bar mounted to the floor. Three successive layers of floor have been worn down over the last 42 years, back to bare concrete in places. Paint on the metal bar and the metal grate that separates customers from the cashier has worn away, too.

It's a cash-only place where almost everyone gets the cheeseburger.
_____________________

By the late 1980s, South Park was no longer considered a suburb, as neighborhoods that close to the Loop had more or less become consumed by the larger urban cityscape. Instead, it was dominated by drive-by shootings and drug dealers, especially along Burger Park's street: Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Gonzales, who retired as a Houston Police Department sergeant after 30 years on the force, describes a very different South Park during that time from the neighborhood he knew as a child.

"In the '80s and '90s, it was bad. HPD was chasing guys up and down Bellfort and MLK. Folks were knocking over liquor stores, hijacking people," he says. Neighborhood Nights Out, organized to help residents prevent crime by getting to know one another, were rarely attended as people were too afraid of leaving their homes at night. Violence pervaded the entire community. Deaths grew increasingly random and senseless.

Three days before Christmas in 1989, Howard Garrett Jr., not yet 19 years old, was shot to death after a fight at a car wash on MLK. He was just blocks from his home on Pershing. Barely a year earlier, another 18-year-old had been found beaten to death in his very own home, just off MLK. Kenneth James Moore had laid undiscovered in his small apartment until a security guard found him one night during rounds. A year prior, a 36-year-old nurse named Barbara Jean Johnson and her 63-year-old mother were shot to death in their car on the South Loop that forms South Park's northern border, as Johnson's children — only ten and 16 years old — watched from the back seat. The violence was everywhere, rampant.

In the late 1980s, a Houston Chronicle article looked at reasons why blacks chose to remain in increasingly dangerous neighborhoods like South Park. One resident, Ernest Blackmon, told the reporter how he felt more comfortable in a "mixed environment" with both whites and blacks — which South Park still had to some degree back in 1987 — but that "the primary advantage of living among whites is that such an area is less likely to fall into poverty and disrepair."

Blackmon further stated, "The chances are better that your children won't be eaten up by rats and roaches. If you live in an all-black neighborhood, the people downtown want to do very little for you, even in this which is an historical area." He had no idea how right his statement would turn out to be only six years later.

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
27 comments
Darryle Green
Darryle Green

As a licensed Realtor, I feel quite a few tax paying homeowners in "South Park" are quite offended as I am. I really did not appreciate your comments and I disagree with you totally.

Avgarcia55
Avgarcia55

Katharine, My sister Alma, worked at Burger Park in the early 70's through the 80's. She could have given you greater insight to the real drama that unfolded during that time. She was left in charge of Burger Park when Harry couldn't work anymore. I remember thinking how brave my sister was and how she never was afraid to go to work. She carried a gun with her at all times. Harry offered to sell the place to Alma, but the bank didn't want to finance the risky business. She quit working when the new and now owners took over.

texasmamma
texasmamma

ever heard of Detroit, Michigan? Unfortunately, factions in Houston could care less if parts of our city fall into the urban decay that defines the once-great, once-thriving "Motor City".

It's disgraceful and worse: NO ONE wants to discuss the "whys" and "wherefores" of these travesties. It's easier to pretend or suggest by innuendo that it's the result of racism, overt or implied.

texasmamma
texasmamma

Kudos to author Katherine Shilcutt for an excellent attempt at the touchy/feely cum socio/anthropological genre. Shame on her editors.

Pros: 1) stepdad sound like a smart, together guy who has authentically been through the “wars”, but retains his sanity and humanity. He, his experience, and his insights were good for the story.

Cons: 1) Korean family (whose story it obstensibly is) only touched on lightly at beginning and end of story – we don’t learn enough about them. 2) middle part of the story highlight problems in South Park, especially regarding housing and education, but never explores failures that led to its current plight..

The story fails to offer any reasons for the decline of the neighborhood over the past decades, other than that “whites moved out” and “Hispanics are moving in”.

A few pertinent, unasked questions: could the welfare program be to blame for people who move into housing that they can’t afford? – people who don’t have jobs often, who never work, but who rely on government checks for all their income? On the education topic – could it be that people who run the school system are more concerned with “running the system” and keeping the “educators” in their comfortable status quo, than they are concerned about the students?

Big questions, totally ignored in this, basically, bleeding-heart, “feel-good-in-perverse-way” story about which no one should feel good. Yes, a typical American neighborhood at one point – now another area condemned to obsolescence, due to . . . nebulous, unknown, unidentified “various factors”. What you ignored, Houston Press and Ms. Shilcutt: WHY?

You’re both either willfully blind, ignorant, or partisan.

Pamela Lewis
Pamela Lewis

Wow how would have thought Burger Park would be noticed or South Park for that matter. Great article about a great place to eat and the great people who have kept Burger Park running for years.

Dream
Dream

really awesome article. another reason to love htown.

dream

Mary
Mary

This is a great article!

Jrexer
Jrexer

Really fantastic article! Thanks!

Terence
Terence

It's awesome how you took a burger place and made a feature story about it that encompassed the whole neighborhood. Bravo. Bravo.

Gil Velasquez
Gil Velasquez

You know the husband is a cool guy because his name is Gil.

Fatty FatBastard
Fatty FatBastard

Well, an address would've been nice, but I suppose I can find it online easy enough. I'm always up for trying out a new burger, so I will get over there for lunch. And where did you find the housing listings for this area? I saw nothing pinpointing where it was on HAR.com.

Steven
Steven

I was a classmate of Ralph's at Jones High School. I have not been back to the old neighbor since graduation. I have seen it from the air flying into Hobby and I can tell that the area is pretty run down now. Virtually all of the businesses that I remember are gone from OST to Griggs to Bellfort. Use to spend a lot of weekend nights at the King Center Drive-in which was actually a double screen theater.

joel2
joel2

it's always impressive just how desolate the retail landscape is in south park. you can't help but think of it as an endemic cycle of poverty. i guess there's just not enough money to be spent in the area to support anything, but i always wonder where these people work. here's hoping their bus serice isn't cut to pay for the light rails, but i'm sure it will be.

Kixette
Kixette

Katharine, always enjoy your pieces in the food blog, nice to see you doing a full story!

redonthehead1
redonthehead1

Excellent article...very well-researched and thoughtfully written. The burgers AND proprietors sound amazing!

tiffanyinhouston
tiffanyinhouston

I graduated from Jones in 1991, when the Vanguard magnet program was still there. I haven't been back to South Park since but Burger Park made my high school years mighty tasty. Well done article. I will be sure to re-post on my FB page so my classmates can see this.

itsdanilove
itsdanilove

This was a really well-written and thoughtful article, Katharine. Very well done.

Franklin
Franklin

Burger Park burgers are definitely worth the trip! If you have any hesitation about going... go during broad daylight! Good stuff.

DuckDuckGoose
DuckDuckGoose

Heya Darryle, go visit some of the Pacific battle named streets and then report back how the neighborhood is so wonderful.

The area went from moderate-income home ownership to absentee landlord hell. I have known people in the neighborhood since the mid-1960 and that's the way it is.

Kanichi Moji
Kanichi Moji

Hi Darryle !1. Your post does not identify these "falsehoods" so it fails to challenge Schilcutt's post.2. People often have inappropriate enabling attitudes about crummy neighborhoods/small towns. They say "it mat be a piece of crap but it's my piece of crap!"

I am offended that you are offended.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Wow. I wish I could have spoken with her beforehand. It was difficult to find anyone who knew anything at all about the old owner. Has she been back since?

Kanichi Moji
Kanichi Moji

Racism is PART but not ALL of the problem. I am confident that this account makes it clear.

Kanichi Moji
Kanichi Moji

Hi, Texasmamma!1. I agree that I would have liked to have known more about the Korean family2. The article clearly mentions more factors and reasons for the decline than "whites moved out" ("Hispanics moving in" was NOT cited as a factor)* Building of the 610 Loop, which brought the neighborhood in easier contact with other parts of the city* The people who moved in did not maintain their homes well* Telephone Road, a "wild" road, is in close proximity

If you recall what Giuliani did in NYC, it refers to the "broken window" theory.

Now, other points:1. While the people moving in were poorer, is there any evidence that they were on welfare or that the welfare system conditioned them to not maintain their houses?2. The question about the failures of the wider education system aren't pertinent to the specific neighborhood, unless a very incredible example of the wider failure specifically occurred at Jones High. For example, North Forest ISD was hard-hit by people who had the idea that school districts exist to provide jobs for people rather than educate students.

The burden of proof on a claim is on a person who makes a claim. The person who says "welfare system is what did it" or "the wider education system failures doomed Jones" is the person who needs to dig up the evidence himself/herself.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I noticed today that the listing had been taken down. Gus over at Swamplot.com managed to find it (and a photo from the listing) if you want to check it out over there.

Fatty FatBastard
Fatty FatBastard

Always good to know about these things. A friend of mine just purchased the two Skylane Montrose complexes on W. Alabama, an d he showed me what he is doing to clean it up and make it a better neighborhood. And after seeing a "before" and then seeing an "after" I was impressed. Plus he made them go back to monthly rent and kicked almost every drug dealer out. I like seeing folks trying to spruce our city back up. Folks are starting to move back in, and South Park will eventually be prime real estate. Whether that is in 20-50 years? Who knows?

 
Houston Concert Tickets

Around The Web

Loading...