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

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.

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."

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. We've added in business names for each block from the 1949 Houston city directory.

For this pin, students focused on the history of  Two Birds Restaurant and Company, though this was also once the site of Rettig's Ice Cream. Businesses on the 2900 block of Dowling (near Anita) based on 1949 city directory: Emancipation Park, Rettig's Ice Cream, Bessie's Beauty Shop and Park View Barber Shop.

Businesses on the 3000 block of Dowling (between Anita and Rosalie) based on 1949 city directory: Modern Barber Shop, Your Tailors & Cleaners, Dowling Feed Market, Emancipation Park Club House, Emancipation Park Swimming Pool and City of Houston Public Library (colored br).

UH students focused on a different era in creating the map pin for 3003 Holman, though the site housed Your Tailors & Cleaners in 1949.

Businesses on the 3100 block of Dowling (between Rosalie and Elgin) based on 1949 city directory: Bennett's Liquor Store, Sam's Place (restaurant), Sandy Bar Cafe, Dowling Hotel, Dowling Cafe, Albert E. Bowie (physician), Andrew A. Allen (dentist), Hogrobrocks Cafe and Caliente Cafe.

Businesses on the 3200 block of Dowling (between Elgin and Stuart) based on 1949 city directory: Trocadera Club, Eldorado Drugs, Tom Tom Liquor Mart, Shep's Liquor Store, Shepard & Lambert Paint Co., Black & Tan Shoe Shine Parlor, Marjorie's Milliner, Lone Star Enterprises Ins., Dowling Employment Agency, The Famous Kitchen and Caraway Cleaners. 

Businesses on the 3300 block of Dowling (between Stuart and Francis) based on 1949 city directory: Griffin's Service Station, Griffin's Drug Store, Frank Cleaners Serv., Jimmie's Paint & Tire Shop, Huckle Buckle Inn, Victor Barber Shop, Althea's Beauty Shop and Odie D. Simpson (taxi service).

Businesses on the 3400 block of Dowling (between Francis and Holman) based on 1949 city directory: Waltman Furniture Co. No 2, Hewett's Cab Line, Marlin's Tavern Beer, Frierson's Beauty Parlor, Black & White Cafe, Bronze Beauty Salon, Oleander Pharmacy, Scardino Grocery, Ted's Barber Shop, Gammage Cafe, Iver Lee's Hat & Dress Shop and Minkler Studio (photographer).

UH students designed their pin for 3520 Dowling and photographed it at 3518 Dowling. Both addresses were listed as private residences in 1949.

Businesses on the 3500 block of Dowling (between Holman and Berry) based on 1949 city directory: Hofman Liquor Store, Luerenza Beauty Shop, Busy Bee Hamburger Stand, Thomas Radio Shop, Hester's Drive In and Shaw's Shoe Shop (repairs).

Businesses on the 3600 block of Dowling (between Berry and MacGregor) based on 1949 city directory: Liss Grocery & Market, Narvie Hotel and Clarence J. Jarvis (auto repair).

Businesses on the 3700 block of Dowling (between MacGregor and Alabama) based on 1949 city directory: Square Deal Wood Yard, Bluebonnet Flower Shop, Tip Top Sandwich Bar & Grill and Two Sisters Night Spot.

According to the Texas State Historical Association, Benjamin Covington was a prominent black physician who practiced in Houston from 1903 until his death in 1961, having helped found the Houston Negro Hospital (later Riverside General). It is reported that he and his wife, Jennie, helped to organize an African-American branch of the YMCA and the Houston Settlement Association. They attended Antioch Missionary Baptist Church and hosted distinguished guests in their home, including Marian Anderson and Booker T. Washington.

Businesses on the 4000-4500 blocks of Dowling (between Alabama and Eagle, past Barbee and Wheeler, down to Rosewood and Ruth) based on 1949 city directory: Launder Inn, Lipp Cleaners & Tailors, Semora Brothers (upholstery), Saks Beauty Salon, Permanent Stainless Steel Co., Wimbish Hilton (mfrs agt), Tote Away (grocery), Martin H. Byron (drugs), Bagdad Bar & Lounge and Essen Delicatessen.

After photographs of the pins were taken at the Third Ward sites, many were returned to the University of Houston's Blaffer Art Museum as part of the School of Art Student Exhibition (which ended May 14). This pin remained in place at the site of Ennis Washateria, 3112 Ennis.

For those interested in this subject, the artists and curators at Project Row Houses are actively involved in the Third Ward community, and the work they create is important to continuing the discussion. Their mission is to "be the catalyst for transforming community through the celebration of art and African-American history and culture."

The Emancipation Economic Development Council also is making headway in shaping future development to address the needs of the community. The EEDC is made up of residents, church leaders and local organizers who want to influence the direction in which the neighborhood is redeveloped. They have been in dialogue with Project Row Houses and the University of Houston, and the UH graphic design students are working on designing their identity and branding.

Perhaps the heart of the region is Emancipation Park, which is nearing the end of its $33 million renovation project, which includes new performance and recreation spaces. According to the Friends of Emancipation Park website, this year's Juneteenth Festival (June 17-19), which celebrates the abolition of slavery in the United States, will be held at another location owing to construction delays with this year's heavy rains.

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