The Changing Face of Houston - Meyerland

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In the postwar years of the early '50s, Houston was experiencing enormous population growth and a surge in development. Americans were in love with their cars, and new subdivisions and planned communities were being constructed further and further away from the city's downtown and the neighborhoods immediately surrounding it. It was during that time period that George Meyer decided to develop 1,200 of the 6,000 acres of rice fields, which his family had owned for decades, into the Meyerland neighborhood. In 1955, the first section of the new subdivision on the southwest side of Houston became available, celebrated by a ribbon cutting ceremony presided over by then-Vice President Richard Nixon. The single family homes in Meyerland were popular, and there was no shortage of people interested in moving into the new development.

A couple of years later, in 1957, Meyerland Plaza Shopping Center opened in a gala event, themed as an "Around the Shopping World in 80 Acres." While not exactly an amazing sounding event name, it was still very successful at introducing the new multi-store shopping center to Houstonians who were eager to experience it for themselves.

Meyerland promised, and delivered on, post war suburban dreams of quiet neighborhoods, with nice homes that were located just close enough to Houston's central areas for convenient commutes to work, but far enough away from the growing perception of inner city noise and dangers.

In the '50s, the neighborhoods on Houston's southwest side began to see large numbers of Jewish people moving in. Some relocated from early Houston Jewish enclaves such as Riverside Terrace, while others were newcomers to the Houston area. As a result of that migration, Meyerland became a central hub of Jewish life in the Bayou City, with several synagogues being established, along with other institutions serving Houston's Jewish community.

On March 15, 1961, a Texas Air National Guard pilot, Captain Gary L. Herod, experienced catastrophic engine failure after take off at Ellington Field, and elected to stay with his aircraft rather than ejecting to safety, so that he could steer it clear of crashing into the homes of Meyerland or the surrounding area. He tragically lost his life in doing so, but died a hero, managing to prevent his jet from harming anyone else. Later that year a "Hero Tree" memorial was dedicated to Captain Herod near the Meyerland Plaza.

Meyerland has always maintained a reputation as a relatively safe and prosperous neighborhood, with residents ranging from the upper middle class and beyond. Many of the original homes are still standing, and are nice examples of ranch style homes of several variations, including Tudor and Colonial. About 15 years ago, my friend Bill Cobb bought his home just north of Braes Bayou, and he has this to say about the reasons Meyerland drew his interest:

"We had just sold our house in Montrose, and had done well on that sale. We wanted to live outside the loop, but not too far outside, because me and my wife both worked downtown back then. I'd always liked the way Meyerland felt when I would drive through the area, and I liked the homes, which had enough years on them to look "old" in an interesting way, but were very different from most of the older homes you see in neighborhoods inside the loop. It's just from a different generation of building styles, and one I've always liked. we got very lucky finding our place, which has a pool and feels very private and secluded despite being so close to 610 and downtown. Home prices here seem to always be going up, so it's not a bad neighborhood to invest in a home."

And visiting Bill, it's hard to argue with his assessment. Some developers are tearing down the older homes in the area to build very expensive and huge newer ones, but the older Meyerland homes still give the feeling of small town life that makes some older neighborhoods feel safe and pleasant to be in.

Over the years, Meyerland has prospered as a community, and its residents have tended to be upwardly mobile. Because of the community's location and other factors, that trend doesn't seem likely to change anytime in the near future. While Meyerland Plaza saw some dark days in the early '80s, Meyerland itself has never really experienced the decades of decline that many other, previously prosperous Houston neighborhoods experienced before re-gentrification made them desirable areas again.

I expect that Meyerland will continue to be a major area of importance to Houston residents, and particularly to the city's Jewish population, because of the neighborhood's many ties to their community. And it's difficult to foresee any force at play that could adversely affect Meyerland in any really major way. Houston survived the worst national economic crash in memory without suffering the way most of the country did, and if neighborhoods like Meyerland weren't devastated by that financial calamity, then I can't see anything else that could make a relatively wealthy community just outside the 610 Loop less desirable.

And driving through Meyerland, it's easy to envy those who are able to live in the neighborhood. It's very pretty, and like all of Houston's great neighborhoods, is possessed of a character that feels unique to it.


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