Third Ward Was Once a Bustling, Vibrant Area; What Will It Take to Return to Glory?

Knoll's Drug Store [based on 1949 city directory], 2602 Dowling, Site 16 pin by Laura Hagen and Davy Zhu, part of University of Houston's "Animating History" project.EXPAND
Knoll's Drug Store [based on 1949 city directory], 2602 Dowling, Site 16 pin by Laura Hagen and Davy Zhu, part of University of Houston's "Animating History" project.
Courtesy of University of Houston

Students and faculty at the University of Houston recently completed a project that compared Third Ward's past with its present, adding graphic and type treatments to oversized map pins for select businesses, then photographing the pins at the sites.

In the joint venture between the School of Art's graphic design program and the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design, under guidance by graphic design associate professor Fiona McGettigan and architecture professors Susan Rogers and Ronnie Self, their initial research (based on the 1949 city directory) showed a vibrant and active region of our city. Professor Rogers pointed us to a Wordpress post by Adelle Main recapping the project:

One example is the mile long Dowling corridor, between Pierce Street to the north and Alabama Street to the south, the once thriving and mixed-use commercial spine of the resurgent Third Ward. According to the historical Sanborn maps of 1950, the street had a tapestry of functions, the epitome of a bustling neighborhood, and the 1949 Houston City Directory tells the same story.

The catalogue included 114 stores; 59 homes; 29 restaurants; 9 auto repair shops; 6 gas stations; 6 apartment buildings; 3 dry cleaners; 3 churches; 3 rooming houses; 2 movie theaters; 2 drug stores; 2 hotels; and a furniture store, bathing house, lodge hall, office building, printing shop, electric repair, radio repair, vacuum repair, private school, barber college, night club and lumber yard.


After reviewing the same region in 2015, the findings of the students and faculty were more sobering. They counted 69 vacant or empty lots on the same stretch of Dowling, compared to the 38 occupied lots, only five of which contained stores.

In contrast the same corridor in 2015 had just 5 stores; 11 homes; 4 restaurants; 4 churches; 4 office buildings; 2 gas stations; a barber shop; hair salon; bar; dental office; boxing center; and historic ballroom—the Eldorado. 

As much of the history for this project takes place B.G., or the time before Google, the facts are sometime sketchy when dealing with this period of time (1930s to 1950s). Research takes the curious to dusty books relegated to the back rooms of libraries, and the testimonials of historians who have been able to preserve some of the history: Texas State Historical Association, the Grand Court Order of Calanthe and student essays, among others.

Corner of Francis and Dowling, Site 7 pin by Karl Gobaton and Alexandria Sholtis, part of University of Houston's "Animating History" project.EXPAND
Corner of Francis and Dowling, Site 7 pin by Karl Gobaton and Alexandria Sholtis, part of University of Houston's "Animating History" project.
Courtesy of University of Houston

However, by looking at the spirit of this project, which hopes to shape future development by looking at the needs of the community, it seems quite successful. The graphics, color palette and type treatments for the map pins are in keeping with the era, and the residents of the neighborhoods were excited about and interested in the project.

"Obviously there were a lot of questions about what we were doing, then a lot of interest," says Professor McGettigan. "The narrative within the pins themselves, questions about what exactly was on the pins in terms of history." McGettigan says that some residents knew a lot about the historic locations and the history of the Third Ward, and some did not, but it made for lively discussion. The results were positive, "in terms of reanimating the neighborhood, reactivating it, so people in the community could have memories of what was there in the past."

2320 Elgin Site 8 pin by Alexa Dominguez and Mark Phillip Ojeda, part of University of Houston's "Animating History" project.EXPAND
2320 Elgin Site 8 pin by Alexa Dominguez and Mark Phillip Ojeda, part of University of Houston's "Animating History" project.
Courtesy of University of Houston

McGettigan goes on to say that the collaboration between the fifth-year architecture students and the third-year graphic design students added depth to the project. "The architects brought the context. We used mapping in the collages, [which was] important to tell the historical story. The maps were historic Sanborn maps, based in the 1930s to the 1950s, which actually pulled the story of the neighborhood of that time.

"From the standpoint of really understanding the history of the Third Ward, the loss of what was there, economy and services. Certainly in terms of single family homes," says McGettigan. "It was a very active and important time period from the African-American community perspective. They had things like movie theaters, certainly restaurants, the washateria; they had detective agencies. The Eldorado [Ballroom] was there, a lot of economy-based services that were there."

University of Houston shared some of their research with the Houston Press: the 1949 Houston city directory. It's fascinating to see the many types of businesses, as well as some of the business names, and so we've listed them here.

2206 Dowling, Site 18 pin by Jewel Gallagher and David Alexander Osorio, part of University of Houston's "Animating History" project.EXPAND
2206 Dowling, Site 18 pin by Jewel Gallagher and David Alexander Osorio, part of University of Houston's "Animating History" project.
Courtesy of University of Houston

Businesses on the 2300 block of Dowling (between Hadley and McIlhenny) based on 1949 city directory: Welcome Inn, Sportsman's Shine Parlor, Edwards Liquor Store, Grovey's Barber Shop, Freddie M. Brooks Detective Agency, Monk's Inn, Weiner's Dry Goods Store No. 4, Elsie E. Reed (dressmaker) Stroud Flower Shop, Shelton Beauty Shop, Lone Star Barber Shop, Thomas A. Fletcher (physician), Costromer T. Ewell (dentist) and Eureka Pharmacy.

Businesses on the 2400 block of Dowling (between McIlhenny and McGowen) based on 1949 city directory: Neyland Laundry, Square Deal Taxi, Chic Cafe, Virginia's Beauty Shop, Kemper's Hall, Zion Hill Baptist Church, Charles B. Johnson (dentist), Live & Let Live Cleaners, Mitchell Printing Company, Maenett Beauty Shop, Senate Grill, Rose Lee Liquor Store, Carmita's Beauty Shop, Juanita's Millinery & Dress Shop, Charles W. L. Johnson (physician), Third Ward Fish Market, V. L. Franklin (barber), Johnson's Shine Parlor and Turner Tire Service.

According to the Grand Court Order of Calanthe website, the organization was formed in 1897 out of the need for burial insurance for black people. The organization eventually grew and built a home office at 2411 Dowling, often used for church services and medical offices. Directory listing for 2411 Dowling, based on 1949 city directory: Grand Court Order of Calanthe Ins., plus telephone listings for the following courts (some of which were Knights of Pythias) Wisteria, Rhoda, Camelia, Carr Lula B., Labitha, Mt. Olive, Friendship, Virgin-Ro, Timberlake, Lucas A. A., Golden Gate, Collins Cora, Pride of Houston, Royal Circle, Zenith, Lovely Chrysanthemum, Fannie Alice, Palm Beach, Harper Frances, Gardenia, Mayflower, Victory, Evening Star, Markham Rose, Ray Violet, Ferrill Ida, Cornish Sisters, Stellidas Pride, Azalia, Sunshine, Dixon, Hermoine, Olive Branch, Mary's, Almenia, Ann Ruth, College, Clinton Park, Southern Daughters, Gladiola and Busy Bee.

Site 4 pin (2309 Holman) by Ben Alcaraz and Maria Fernanda Charles, part of University of Houston's "Animating History" project.EXPAND
Site 4 pin (2309 Holman) by Ben Alcaraz and Maria Fernanda Charles, part of University of Houston's "Animating History" project.
Courtesy of University of Houston

The UH students found evidence that the S&S Domino Parlor was once located at 2309 Holman. 

Businesses on the 2600 block of Dowling (between McGowen and Dennis) based on 1949 city directory: Dowling Service Station, Knoll's Drug Store, Dowling Junk & Supply Co., Bartholomew Shoe Repair, M&M Optical Co., Ann Beauty Shoppe, Bryant's Poultry Co., Loyal Barber Shop, Henderson Auto Repair Shop, Mills Studio Photographers, Welcome Barber Shop, Hooper's Bakery, Schwarz Grocery, Roquemore & Graham Hardware co., Webster Appliance Co. (household appliances), Walls Beauty Shop, Spiller's Shoe shop (repairs), Walls-Hammond Trade School, White Kitchen Cafe and St. John Baptist Church.

2894 Dowling, Site 13 pin by Dominique Gutierrez and Carlos Sotelo, part of University of Houston's "Animating History" project.EXPAND
2894 Dowling, Site 13 pin by Dominique Gutierrez and Carlos Sotelo, part of University of Houston's "Animating History" project.
Courtesy of University of Houston

Upcoming Events

The People's Party II headquarters, located at 2828 Dowling, made the news on July 26, 1970, during a clash with police leading to more than 50 arrests and the death of 21-year-old activist Carl Hampton. The pin created by UH students lists the site as 2894 Dowling.

Businesses on the 2700 block of Dowling (between Dennis and intersected by Drew) based on 1949 city directory: Woolworth Dry Goods Store, Johnson's Dinette, Nanking Food Market, Martin's Photo Shop, Public Laundry, People's Foot Health Shop, Avalon Barbecue, B&M Grocery, Shirley Woolridge (shoe shiner), Nathaniel L. Burch (dentist), Corilee's Beauty Shop and E-Tex Liquor Store.

(L) 2122 Dowling, Site 17 pin by Lauren Thawley, Hibah Osman and Jordan Vazquez; and (R) Park Theatre [based on 1949 city directory], 2813 Dowling, Site 14 pin by Jessica Rennie, Laura Hill and David-Aleksander Ramirez; part of University of Houston's "Animating History" project.EXPAND
(L) 2122 Dowling, Site 17 pin by Lauren Thawley, Hibah Osman and Jordan Vazquez; and (R) Park Theatre [based on 1949 city directory], 2813 Dowling, Site 14 pin by Jessica Rennie, Laura Hill and David-Aleksander Ramirez; part of University of Houston's "Animating History" project.
Courtesy of University of Houston

Businesses on the 2800 block of Dowling, based on 1949 city directory: Sea Food Inn, Triangle Taxi Line, Quality & Quantity Cafe, Tyler Barber College, Super Sandwich Shop, Bill's Fun House (amusement machines), Hou-Tex Liquor Store, Rhumba Boogie Bar, Dickerson Recreation Hall (billiards), Park Theatre, Ding Dong Diner, Park Theatre Barber Shop, Page's Sandwich Shop, Shelton Beauty Shop, Eddie's Record Distributing Co. (photograph records), S & P Cab Line, Buck's Drug Store No. 1 and Hatch's Prescription Laboratory.



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