The Changing Face of Houston - Texas Medical Center

All of the previous entries in this series have covered residential neighborhoods. This one is slightly different. While the Texas Medical Center is a distinct part of the Houston landscape, it is important not as a community of homes and the people who live there, but for the contribution that it brings to Houston and the rest of the world.

Today the Texas Medical Center is a large complex of modern research facilities and hospitals, located about as centrally in the city as possible, and is a vital hub of Houston life. However, the area was very different during the early part of the twentieth century. In the 1920s, the current site of the Medical Center was a large forested area owned by Will Hogg, the son of former Texas Governor James Stephen Hogg. William Hogg dreamed of relocating the UT Medical Branch from Galveston to the Houston area, and he thought it would be ideal to build it across from the newly established Rice University (then known as the Rice Institute), but his plans didn't gain traction, and he eventually sold the land back to the City of Houston.

Another wealthy Houstonian named George Hermann, who had made a fortune with lumber, cattle, and oil ventures, had donated hundreds of acres to Houston to create a city park in 1914. Envisioning that the city should also have a public hospital, Hermann made provisions in his will to provide land and funding to construct one. Hermann died of stomach cancer during the same year Hermann Park opened, and a little over a decade later, the hospital he'd imagined opened nearby.

Behind Hermann Hospital lay the 134 acres that the City of Houston had re-acquired from William Hogg. The land was considered mosquito infested forest land located on the outskirts of town during the 1920s, but it would soon undergo big changes. 

M.D. Anderson Cancer Center
M.D. Anderson Cancer Center

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Monroe Dunaway Anderson was a Tennessean cotton trader and banker who amassed an enormous fortune with his brother-in-law William Clayton. To avoid huge estate taxes and the possible dissolution of their partnership in the event of one of their deaths, the two men formed the M.D. Anderson Foundation. In 1939, Anderson died of a stroke, but had made it known that he wished for his Foundation to support the research and promotion of health. In 1943, after Anderson's death, a campaign was launched to persuade Houstonians to vote to sell the forest land behind Hermann Hospital, since it was owned by the city and required citizen approval to be sold.

The referendum passed, and in 1945, serious efforts were launched to develop the land into a complex of modern hospitals and research centers. A new cancer center named in honor of M.D. Anderson was one of the first research hospitals constructed in the new development, and soon the Baylor College of Medicine and Methodist Hospital were also created. Other early hospitals in the Medical Center included The Shriners Hospital for Children and the Houston Academy of Medicine - Texas Medical Center Library.

Over the following decades, many more medical facilities found a home in the Texas Medical Center, as it developed into the dense landscape of modern buildings that sprung from that mosquito infested forestland on the edge of town.

In the 1950s, the Texas Women's University Nursing Program began, and the Texas Institute for Rehabilitation and Research opened, and in the 1960s the Texas Heart Institute and the Texas Children's Hospital joined the fold. 

The Texas Medical Center continues to evolve, and is now the world's largest medical complex, with an average of well over 3,000 patient visits daily, and contains 21 hospitals, eight specialty institutions, and clinical research and academic institutions. It is a fully realized medical city within the city of Houston, and draws visitors from all over the world. The Texas Medical Center also occupies an interesting space in the city, a sort of crossroads connecting the Rice University campus, Hermann Park and the Zoo, as well as nearby residential communities such as West University and Riverside Terrace.

Driving through the area on Main Street today makes it difficult to imagine that the Medical Center was once an area of undesirable forestland on the outskirts of Houston, and while it is not a residential neighborhood, there are many people working in the medical field who spend an enormous part of their lives in the various facilities that make up the Medical Center. And like almost all older Houston communities, the Medical Center has changed a lot over the years.

Houston as a whole is getting more and more attention as an emerging city. It has always been a dynamic and interesting place for its residents to live, but it didn't always get the credit it probably should have. That is changing, and one of the features that legitimately puts Houston on the map is the Medical Center. It's very special, and a huge part of what makes Houston an amazing place.


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