Best of Houston

The Changing Face of Houston - The Old Sixth Ward

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The Sixth Ward was a desirable area during the late 1800s until the 1920s, having street car service, and other amenities that marked it as an upscale area of town. There was a building boom during that period that saw many larger and more elaborate homes built, with modern features such as electricity and indoor plumbing. The prominent architectural styles of the neighborhood encompass several periods of building trends, and there are Greek Revival, Queen Anne and Folk Victorian homes built between the 1850s and into the first decade of the 1900s, as well as later Classical Revival homes and early 20th century Bungalows.

Fortune took a turn for the worse beginning in the late 1920s, when newer suburbs began to appear on the edges of Houston, catering to people entering the automobile age who were lured away from Houston's older central neighborhoods in favor of more modern homes further out. The Sixth Ward entered a long period of decline. Many of the old originally single family homes were turned into multi-tenant rentals run by landlords living in other parts of town.

This was a pattern seen in many of the city's older neighborhoods, and as the decades wore on, the perception of the Sixth Ward became one of poverty and crime, regardless of how fair that reputation was. For many years, Houstonians who had the resources to do so usually chose to live in newer neighborhoods that were usually a considerable distance away from the downtown area and its surrounding inner city neighborhoods. Suburban living was in full swing by the second half of the twentieth century, and it was not fashionable to live in the wards or surrounding neighborhoods like The Heights or Montrose unless a person had no other choice.

Houston has always been a city more focused on looking into the future than one interested in preserving its past, but despite being largely rundown by the 1970s, the Sixth Ward was awarded with the distinction of becoming Houston's first National Historic District in 1978. Despite that honor, positive changes were slow to come about, and my friend Joe Morrison remembers living in the area in the early '90s:

"It wasn't the type of neighborhood where you wanted to walk around outside after dark. There were a lot of cool old homes, but most of them were in really bad shape. The place next to mine was probably 100 years old, but the people living there sold drugs out of the place."

I myself remember an ill-advised night time walk down Washington Avenue after my car broke down during that same time period, and it was far from relaxed. The few people still out on the street were not people I wanted to meet face to face.

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Chris Lane is a contributing writer who enjoys covering art, music, pop culture, and social issues.