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Overblown and Underrated

Houston is a place where reputations are made and lost each day.

Come to think about it, so is just about every other place in the country. Nevertheless, our city produces events, people and trends that make their mark in history, one way or the other.

But do these things necessarily deserve the place in history that they hold? Surely some have too good a reputation, while others are wrongly neglected.

Taking an idea from American Heritage magazine (it's an homage, not a rip-off, dammit), we decided to see which things or people in Houston's history are overrated and which are underrated.

We chose some categories, picked someone as an expert in each, and didn't really argue with their calls.

Some categories had to be ditched when no one could be found who was willing to stand up and declare something or someone "overrated." Architects and criminal defense lawyers, it seems, are more worried about future paychecks than they are the glorious search for truth. (There's a certain very well known name who regularly came up as most overrated criminal defense lawyer, but apparently no one wanted to cross him.)

These picks aren't intended to be the last word on the subject, of course. Feel free to disagree -- unless you're a lawyer or an architect, in which case you've forfeited your right to complain. And now, the envelopes, please:

Space Mission

Houston has always been fiercely proud of its space heritage, even as the rest of the country thinks about shuttle missions only on very, very slow news days. We've heard so often about "Houston" being the first word spoken on the moon that we kind of wish Neil Armstrong had said "Wasssup!" instead.

The rockets may take off from Florida, but the training, the planning, the supervision and the life-and-death decisions are made right here. Or in Clear Lake, if you want to get technical.

Our expert is Cooky Oberg, who has been writing about the space program for years. She's authored three books and hundreds of articles about space, science, technology and medicine. Her selections:

Most Overrated: John Glenn's return to space

The space shuttle program had long been relegated to the back pages of the nation's newspapers when -- perhaps in response to that situation -- NASA announced that Senator John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth, was going back to space in 1998.

The weeks preceding the liftoff were filled with glowing coverage of the 77-year-old Glenn and his trip, and the nine-day mission was a public relations coup for NASA.

The only trouble is, Oberg says, nothing much of importance occurred.

Glenn purportedly was on board to explore the effects of weightlessness on older people. But, says Oberg, "there was no science involved -- they hadn't even done any basic animal experiments to lay the groundwork for such an investigation."

She says Glenn flew only because he had used his Senate post to block investigations of President Clinton. "The flight was a useless, tax-wasting exercise in public relations, and underneath it all, a cynical payback for Glenn's services to Clinton," she says.

Most Underrated: Apollo 8's trip to the moon

The early Apollo flights have been overshadowed by the missions that resulted in moonwalks, but they included much daring and audacity as NASA tried to learn on-the-go how best to put a man on the moon.

The 1968 Apollo 8 flight -- crewed by Frank Borman, Jim Lovell (later of Apollo 13 fame) and William Anders -- was perhaps the riskiest. Never before had man gone beyond the gravitational pull of the earth; Apollo 8 left the planet behind and headed out 230,000 miles to the moon, trusting that the navigational schemes involved would work -- including an engine burn on the dark side of the moon that sent the capsule home.

The crew members were the first humans to see an "earthrise" as they circled the moon ten times at a height of 60 miles. The mission is likely best remembered for the Christmas Eve broadcast when the astronauts read from the Book of Genesis, but the science accomplished on the trip was integral to the success of Apollo 11 seven months later.

"Apollo 8 is sort of forgotten … but it was a mighty feat," Oberg says. "They had to test all that navigation, all the equipment on the flight. It was the first manned flight of the Saturn V rocket, too, and a great accomplishment."

Athlete

Except for the WNBA Comets and two championships by the NBA Rockets, major-league sports in Houston tends to provide as much heartbreak as thrills. Still, some pretty big names have played for the city's teams, Hall of Famers such as Earl Campbell, Hakeem Olajuwon and Nolan Ryan.

 

Lance Zierlein, our expert, has seen a bunch of them. And as co-host of the morning show on all-sports KILT-AM, he has never hesitated to offer an opinion.

Most Overrated: Carl Mauck of the Oilers

The Houston Oilers of the late '70s and early '80s enthralled Houston as perhaps no other sports team has. A colorful cast of characters and a blue-collar mentality endeared them to fans. The epochal Luv Ya Blue moment was when the team returned after yet another playoff defeat to the legendary Pittsburgh Steelers; before a packed late-night Astrodome crowd, coach Bum Phillips famously said the team had knocked on the door the first year, hit it a little harder this year, and "next year we're gonna kick the sumbitch in." (The sumbitch, of course, remained standing.)

Center Carl Mauck exemplified the team. Blunt-spoken and irascible, he looked and sounded like an offensive lineman should. He recorded "The Oiler Cannonball," sung to the tune of "The Wabash Cannonball," and sold thousands of copies despite having a voice like a downshifting 18-wheeler.

But, says Zierlein, on the field his contributions were less stellar. Zierlein's dad has long been an offensive line coach -- he currently has that job at the University of Cincinnati -- and back in the day Zierlein père et fils would bond over game film.

"My dad kept pointing out to me how Mauck was getting beat quite a bit," Zierlein says. "Every game, it seemed, Carl didn't play all that well. People just got caught up in the hype and the Luv Ya Blue and his character. He was this lovable offensive lineman, but it seems somewhere along the line people have just assumed he was better than he really was."

Most Underrated: Astro Bill Spiers

Zierlein doesn't reach too far back in Houston history for this name -- he picks someone who is still playing the game.

"I'd put Billy Spiers up against anyone on that team, and anyone in the league in the last 15 years, when it comes to being a clutch hitter," he says.

Spiers, 34, has been a jack-of-all-trades in his five seasons with the Astros. A utility infielder, he was one of only four major-leaguers to play six different positions during the 1999 season.

But on a team where runners get stranded on base with frustrating frequency, Spiers makes his mark mostly with his bat. He hit .301 last year with 43 runs batted in during the Astros' disastrous season-long meltdown.

Spiers is never going to make the Hall of Fame, but he quietly has made major contributions to the Astros -- even when they were having good years. (Like the Oilers, the Astros -- even in their good years -- leave all sumbitches in pristine condition.)

Spiers might be better known, Zierlein says, if he could put together a full year: He's been prone to injuries.

"For some reason, he just has a hard time staying healthy," he says.

Civil Rights Moment

When the noble history of the nation's civil rights movement is written, it usually bypasses Houston.

City fathers like that just fine. The local news media played along in the '60s, promising not to cover any events as restaurants, hotels and theaters were quietly integrated.

Houston's history has not all been smooth -- one of the most famous race riots of the first half of the last century happened in 1917, when black soldiers protested against unfair treatment at Camp Logan.

Roger Gray, political columnist for Inside Houston magazine and longtime radio talk-show host, wasn't around for the Camp Logan riot, but he's watched a lot of other Houston history since then.

Most Overrated: The Moody Park riot

The 1978 Cinco de Mayo celebration at Moody Park came one year after the infamous drowning of Joe Campos Torres. Torres had been beaten by Houston police officers and thrown in a bayou.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the 1978 celebration became violent as tempers flared between protesters and the cops on hand to keep an eye on things. Police cars were overturned and burned, $500,000 in damage was done, 15 people were hospitalized and 40 arrested.

Travis Morales, who still pops up manning the barricades when there are fights to be fought, became the leader of the Moody Park Three, defendants who faced felony charges of inciting a riot (newspaper ads and shop-window signs saying "Free the Moody Park Three" briefly brought the '60s back to late-'70s Houston). Their convictions were later reversed, and they pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges.

 

To Gray, the riot served no purpose, had no lasting effect.

"Although my old friend former reporter Jack Cato of KPRC-TV [now Harris County treasurer] was stabbed covering this event, it still remains a solidly forgettable community snit led by Travis Morales, the Quanell X of the '70s and '80s," Gray says.

Morales's role in the riot, Gray says, seems to have grown as the years have passed.

Most Underrated: Election of Lee Brown

Throughout the '80s and '90s, Houston minorities had been exercising more and more power at the ballot box, electing a slew of local officials. But the mayor's office seemed out of reach.

State Representative Sylvester Turner seemed to have the prize in his grasp in 1991, when he was favored to beat businessman Bob Lanier in a runoff election. But days before the vote, KTRK-TV aired a report linking him to an insurance fraud, crushing his chances (and, incidentally, sparking a landmark libel suit).

The 1997 race to replace Lanier was uninspiring, with the stiff Brown facing pretty boy Rob Mosbacher. But at the end of it, Houston finally joined a long list of other large American cities by electing its first minority mayor.

"Maybe it's his management style, which makes G.W. Bush seem like a dynamo, and maybe it's just that the time had come with little fanfare," Gray says. "But the election of our first black mayor met with surprisingly little hoopla considering Jim Crow was still our governing principle just 30-some-odd years earlier."

Brown, preternaturally low-key -- if not excruciatingly boring -- hasn't made much of a splash in office, and is likely to face serious opposition this fall.

But, Gray says, his election was a watershed in the city's history. "Now," he adds, "if only the Phantom of Smith Street could figure out the budget."

Novel

After agreeing to pick the category of novel, former Houston Post book editor Elizabeth Bennett realized she had her work cut out for her: There just aren't many to pick from.

The city has been a major character in some classic nonfiction books, like Tommy Thompson's Blood and Money, but the shelves of Houston-related novels are not quite as full.

Most Overrated: Terms of Endearment

Thanks to a successful Hollywood treatment, Terms of Endearment is, along with The Last Picture Show and Lonesome Dove, the best known of Larry McMurtry's extensive oeuvre.

The movie wasn't the most faithful book adaptation ever done, but as in the film, the 1975 novel follows a River Oaks widow with a rebellious daughter.

"I think McMurtry's a great storyteller and he invents great characters and he makes me laugh," Bennett says, but Terms of Endearment's renown is probably more than it deserves.

"I liked it, but it's a bit overrated," she says. "It's just sort of a good read, not really much more than that."

Although it doesn't deal strictly with Houston, there is a special place in Bennett's heart for James Michener's Texas, a jaw-droppingly long historical best-seller packed with clichéd characters and stilted dialogue.

"It's my all-time favorite worst book," she says.

Most Underrated: Baby Houston

If you've heard of writer June Arnold -- and that's not very likely -- it's probably in connection with her founding the publishing company Daughters Inc., which specialized in lesbian literature and published the classic Rubyfruit Jungle.

But Arnold's mother was a member of Houston's legendary Wortham family, and the author, as she was dying of cancer, decided to come home and write a book about her mother and her city.

Arnold the author had been a debutante here, attended The Kinkaid School and received a master's in literature from Rice.

Set around the middle of the last century, Baby Houston has thinly disguised versions of luminaries such as Gus Wortham, and it features real-life characters such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Oveta Culp Hobby. The witty book concerns a young widow who is financially dependent on her brother and includes scenes of the nightlife at Galveston's Balinese Room and the smoke-filled power enclaves at the Lamar Hotel.

"It's just a wonderful book; I went to the library to check it out because I had forgotten it, and I stayed up half the night finishing it," Bennett says.

Baby Houston was published in 1987, five years after Arnold's death. It's out of print but can be found for sale on such rare-book sites as www.alibris.com. The novel is a small gem for local readers, a chance to peek inside a city that no longer exists but whose influence is still felt today.

(Side note: In a lengthy 1987 story about Arnold and Baby Houston, the Houston Chronicle couldn't bring itself to mention the "L" word, simply noting that the twice-married Arnold became "a feminist in her later years [who] founded Daughters Inc. to publish the work of women writers.")

 

Restaurant

If there's a trend out there in the restaurant industry, it will make its way to Houston -- eventually.

Our city is known perhaps more for its steak houses than for its cutting-edge dining. But restaurants come and go with alacrity here, trying out all kinds of new cuisine on residents who want to be seen dining at the latest hot spot, the kinds of places where the boldfaced types go.

The city also has a wealth of neighborhood joints where the boldfaced types wouldn't dare be seen, but which offer the best of any of the countless cultures that have made this city their home.

Alison Cook has written about Houston restaurants for just about every local publication that's existed. She's now the regional restaurant critic at Gourmet magazine.

Most Overrated: Ruggles

Ever since taking over Ruggles Grill 15 years ago, chef-owner Bruce Molzan has been consistently praised for his establishment, which remains popular with the BMW/Jaguar crowd long after a string of competitors has bitten the dust. He's opened spin-off restaurants in the Galleria area and even at Enron Field.

Don't ask Cook why, though. "Okay, I respect Ruggles as an urban institution, but what are those great Zagat ratings all about?" she says, referring to the noted dining survey. "I've never really 'gotten' the busy, busy food. There's too much going on on the plates. The kitchen invariably seems to add when it ought to subtract. I find the famous desserts way too sweet and heavy."

It's not only the food -- Cook also faults Ruggles for being way too noisy and snobby. "Factor in the logjam at the door, the lack of a welcome unless they know you, and the general racket, and I end up feeling pummeled by the whole experience," she says.

Most Underrated: Otilia's

There are people who can get into lengthy arguments about Mexican food versus Tex-Mex, but whatever they choose, they'll find a place in Houston to fit their tastes.

There are famous Mexican restaurants, there are très expensive Mexican restaurants, and there are hundreds of local mom-and-pop joints that people drive by every day. One of those ignored places, Cook says, serves some of the best Mexican food in the city.

It's Otilia's, which occupies a former fast-food restaurant at 7710 Long Point, a definitely ungentrified section of the northwest part of town.

"The Mexican food here takes my breath away," Cook says. "Every time I go, I wonder why I don't go more often -- or why the place isn't jammed. I think the problem is the esoteric Long Point location, the shabby neighborhood, the ex-Whataburger building."

Those who find their way there will discover it's worth the effort, she says. "The enchiladas, the posole, the chiles en nogada, the tampiqueña-style steak, the chilaquiles, could hold their own anywhere in the country," Cook says.

Movie

Houston has such an Anywhere, USA, feel to it that a lot of movies are filmed here even though they're set somewhere else. (Perhaps the only entertaining thing about the supposed thriller Arlington Road was watching Jeff Bridges race to get to the FBI building in downtown Washington, D.C., by way of Memorial Drive.)

But there have been more than a few films where the Houston area plays as big a role as the lead characters -- most famously, Urban Cowboy; most tepidly, Blake Edwards's remake of The Man Who Loved Women.

Joe Leydon has seen 'em all -- from his stint as film critic for The Houston Post to his current gig as regional correspondent and critic for the showbiz bible Variety.

Most Overrated: Five Wives, Three Secretaries and Me

Perhaps it's hard to think of a film as overrated when chances are you've never heard of it; Leydon notes, however, that this documentary by Tessa Blake did receive some good notices.

The New York Times called it "oddly charming"; the Fort Worth Star-Telegram said it was "an often funny inside look at Texans who played by the old rules"; and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences named it one of the Outstanding Documentaries of 1999.

Blake returned to Houston to film a documentary about her relationship with her father, a curmudgeonly womanizer who made millions back in the days when Houston was booming and newly minted millionaires did whatever the hell they wanted.

Some critics thought the film succeeded in presenting the nuances of a complicated relationship (Blake was born when her father was 60 years old and married to wife no. 4), but Leydon says it was awful.

 

"It might be a little bit unfair to name it, because it's not a big-budget movie, but it's one that is just incredibly self-indulgent," he says. "It gives a whole new meaning to the term 'vanity movie.' It's revealing in ways that I don't think the filmmaker intended -- you would think she would be embarrassed about some of the stuff in there, but I don't think she has any sense of shame, so she can't be embarrassed."

Five Wives has been airing lately on cable's Sundance Channel, if you want to take a look.

Underrated: Sidekicks

A movie that stars Chuck Norris and Joe Piscopo? One that was produced by Jim "Mattress Mac" McIngvale and directed by Norris's brother? Could such a thing be underrated?

Absolutely, says Leydon.

"It's a charming combination of The Karate Kid and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," he says. "And there's a good use of Houston as a location, which a lot of movies don't do. For instance, there's a good use of the Water Wall at [the former] Transco Tower."

Sidekicks centers on a bullied, asthmatic kid who idolizes action star Norris. (Leydon says Norris "does a gentle spoof of himself.")

The kid, played by Jonathan Brandis, takes up karate in hopes of meeting his idol. The climax involves a big tournament where the kid finally summons the courage to battle his demons, only to get absolutely crushed like a grape by the bully and then go on to become a sociopathic loner.

Well, maybe not. We're betting the ending is somewhat more predictable, but Leydon isn't backing down.

"Sidekicks is really a charmer," he says.

Music or Musician

Anyone living in Houston for any length of time will hear people bemoaning the local music scene. The word "sucks" frequently comes up, and this in a city that has produced the likes of Kenny Rogers.

But Houston's contributions to the music world are not limited to the Gambler, or even Destiny's Child. There have been times when Houston's music scene has garnered intense interest among the cognoscenti, for better or worse.

Rick Mitchell has written often about Houston music, most recently as a critic for the Houston Chronicle. He's now the artistic director for music for the Houston International Festival, which this year celebrates Ireland.

Most Overrated: The Urban Cowboy craze

There was a while when the rest of the nation thought everyone in Houston rode mechanical bulls, wore expensive cowboy hats and listened to Mickey Gilley. This was known as The Dark Time.

The soundtrack that accompanied the 1980 John Travolta movie was a phenomenal best-seller. It became difficult to escape the strains of "Looking for Love," by Johnny Lee, Gilley doing "Stand By Me" or Charlie Daniels and "The Devil Went Down to Georgia."

More importantly, the album ushered in a movement that dominated country music for the next five years, taking its name from the movie even as it overshadowed it. Critics never much cared for the Urban Cowboy craze -- which lasted until the New Traditionalists like George Strait came to the fore in the mid-'80s -- but the American public loved it, and country stars racked up gold and platinum albums with ease as they went pop.

"I don't know if you can call it 'overrated,' because a lot of it was never 'rated' very well at all by critics," Mitchell says, "but it was very, very popular for a brief period, and it gave music executives in Nashville these crossover dreams of getting into the pop world. When those dreams were over, country music was in worse shape because it had lost touch. And Houston was seen as the heart of all that."

The Urban Cowboy fad set country music back a decade, he says. "If you look at what Houston has to own up to and accept responsibility for, it was really a blot on our culture," he says.

Most Underrated: Joe Medwick, bluesman extraordinaire

Houstonians have to be constantly nagged to remember that this city was once a thriving center of blues and R&B music. Before Motown emerged in the '60s, the most famous black-owned record label in the country was Duke/Peacock Records of the Fifth Ward, which featured artists like Bobby "Blue" Bland, Johnny Ace and Big Mama Thornton.

"Houston has a long list of black blues and jazz musicians who are better known elsewhere in the country or in Europe than they are here," Mitchell says.

 

And one of the best, he says, was Joe Medwick. Medwick wrote such tunes as "Further On Up the Road," later made famous by Eric Clapton, and "Turn On Your Love Light," recorded by the Grateful Dead, among others. He wrote "I Pity the Fool," which Mitchell calls "one of the greatest R&B songs of all time," a song that has absolutely nothing to do with Mr. T.

"He wrote some of the greatest R&B songs ever recorded," he says. "He was one of the best lyricists in R&B, and no one's ever heard of him."

Medwick sold his songs to publisher Don Robey for 50 bucks a pop and he died poor in Houston, but he wasn't bitter, says Mitchell, who interviewed Medwick shortly before the bluesman's death in 1992 at age 59.

"He told me, 'Don't you write nothing bad about Don Robey. Don Robey was a businessman, and he gave me what I wanted: money to go out and buy booze,' " Mitchell says. "And he had a flask in his pocket when he was telling me this."

Celebrity Court Case

Houston's courtrooms have provided some entertaining spectacles through the years, everything from the Cheerleader Mom to the bloody battles between divorcing River Oaks types.

We've experienced the Selena murder trial, where the courthouse was ringed by dozens of satellite-broadcast trucks from seemingly every news station in North and South America; we've had a string of visiting athletes dealing with the fallout from partying too hard or too lustfully.

Houston journalist Gabrielle Cosgriff, now a reporter for People magazine, has often followed the ups and downs of celebrities at the courthouse.

Most Overrated: The Christopher Sarofim divorce

All of River Oaks, and all of the large community of River Oaks wanna-bes, salivated palpably last May as the gavel was about to open on the divorce trial of Christopher and Valerie Sarofim. Christopher is the son of billionaire Fayez Sarofim; Valerie claimed that his fling with Courtney Lanier, the mayor's daughter, broke up the marriage.

The biggest junkyard-dog names from the divorce bar were lined up and ready to go to the wall for their clients. Fascinating scraps of pretrial filings leaked out, with allegations of cocaine abuse and child neglect.

Jurors had been picked, after filling out a 25-page questionnaire. Judge Annette Galik, who has gathered ink on her own for her romantic misadventures, was ready to pound the gavel to start the show last May 23.

And then -- damn it all to hell -- the two sides settled that day.

"What a shame we never got to hear all the juicy details of the son's divorce that were just starting to surface when they settled," Cosgriff says. "How funny that he married the Lanier daughter so quickly afterwards -- there's got to be lots there that we don't know."

And apparently never will. In fact, the prospect of the harsh light of publicity shining on their most intimate affairs is what drove both sides to a settlement, leaving Houston all primed up for a show that never took place.

Most Underrated: The Anna Nicole Smith trial

It's hard to think of anything involving Anna Nicole Smith as being overlooked, but Cosgriff says the bizarre story of the sex bomb's marriage to billionaire oilman J. Howard Marshall II didn't get the coverage it deserved.

Smith, of course, was suing Marshall's stepson over dividing up the dead guy's estate. She dropped her suit after a California bankruptcy court awarded her $475 million, but a countersuit by the stepson remains.

Elaborate preparations were made for press coverage of the Houston trial, but the expected media onslaught never occurred -- and the ranks thinned even further when Smith was absent for much of the trial, owing to the most suspicious injury since Bill Murray's whiplash in Wild Things.

"They were sooo chintzy with press credentials, but no one ever showed up," Cosgriff says.

But by staying away in droves, the national media missed a compelling story about greed and the vanity of once-great men, she says.

"It was a fascinating trial … the sibling rivalry, the old man who was a brilliant, charming guy, and all we know of him is this diaper-clad drooler in a wheelchair," she says. "There were, and continue to be, many days of eye-glazing, mind-numbing, dry financial testimony. So folks shouldn't be running down there expecting a fascinating courtroom drama on any given day -- it's just that the premise has far more to it than Anna Nicole."

Mover and Shaker

More than in a lot of cities, the history of Houston has been a history of Great Men. Or at least self-proclaimed Great Men who shaped the city for good or ill on the way to lining their pockets.

 

Some, like William Marsh Rice and his university, or George Hermann and his tree-filled park, have put their names where history will remember them. Others liked to do their moving and shaking in private, getting mayors and congressmen elected and lucrative construction jobs awarded.

Houston's past is filled with such men -- and yes, it's almost exclusively men. Bob Stein, a Rice political science professor, has studied them all.

Most Overrated: Jesse Jones

Few names are held in more reverence in Houston's pantheon than that of Jesse Jones -- perhaps because Jones's foundation controlled much of the media that put forth such reverence.

Jones is forever extolled as the man who built much of downtown Houston, brought the 1928 Democratic Convention here and was a fervent New Dealer, albeit one thought to be too conservative by many of his colleagues. After being denied the vice presidential nomination in 1940, Jones became an enemy of FDR's.

Jones's charitable foundation, Houston Endowment, for years owned the Houston Chronicle and funded many influential groups around town. Jones Hall, of course, is named after him.

But, Stein says, Jones's reputation has grown enormously since his death, because of the power and influence -- and good works -- of the endowment.

"He may have done much more for the city after his death than he ever did while he was alive," Stein says. "While he was alive, he did more for Jesse Jones than he ever did for the city."

It is the work of the endowment that has given Jones such prominence, Stein says, and all that work came after his death. "He's overrated in the sense that his legacy is much greater in what's happened after his death than it is from what he did during his lifetime."

Most Underrated: The Allen brothers

History tends to look condescendingly on the Allen brothers. The siblings came from New York in 1836 to a swamp near the site of today's Wortham Center, and where others had seen a mosquito-infested muddy bog, they saw a gleaming city.

They advertised the glowing qualities of their jewel by the sea, qualities that were not immediately apparent to the people who succumbed to the ads and found that Houston was not only not exactly a jewel but was 45 miles from the sea.

Augustus C. and John Kirby Allen were not daunted by disgruntled customers, however; they used glowing promises of construction in order to get Houston named the capital of the new country of Texas.

That didn't last long, and the city struggled until the turn of the century, when the Great Storm of 1900 devastated Galveston and oil was discovered at Spindletop.

Stein believes the Allen brothers don't deserve the reputation of being either slick real estate salesmen or wide-eyed quacks intent on widening Buffalo Bayou.

"They're often ridiculed with humor as two guys who thought they could build a city on a swamp, but if they hadn't made those efforts to build that channel, no one would have ever built here," he says. "They made Houston, where it was possible that Galveston might have come back and succeeded even after the storm of 1900. Instead, Houston was there to take over."

"They weren't these brilliant, snappy entrepreneurs who made lots of money," he says, "but without them there's probably no Houston."

Houston is a city that is ever changing, one that often pays scant attention to the past. So if there's one place where reputations should not be set in stone, but subject to constant re-evaluation, it's here, on the swampy bog where space missions are directed, Mattress Mac movies are made, and great bluesmen die unheralded.


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