History in the Unmaking

The remaining wards of Houston don't seem to be included in much publicity from the chamber of commerce or other civic organizations promoting the Diamond Buckle of the Sunbelt. Yet if one wants to explore the city's past, these four surviving neighborhoods present richer findings than all of the out-of-the-Loop parts of the city put together.

In 1952 Hank Green built a brick-and-iron barbecue pit in the back of a small building located at 2020 Dowling Street, at the corner of Gray Street in the Third Ward. The place sat only 50 patrons but did a good business thanks to Green's skill. In a city where most practiced the mesquite-smoking techniques developed in the Texas Hill Country, Green's offered barbecue done in the other great Southern style, a sort of Highway 61-revisited version centering on pork rather than beef, served with a sharp, vinegary sauce and cooked over oak wood. The loose-packed pork links were, and are still, prepared daily. The ribs are moist and tender, again a more East Texas than Hill Country approach. In the past half-century, hecatombs of cattle and swine have passed through the pits on the way to the tables; a forest of oaks has fired the blackened pits and perfumed the air of the neighborhood.

Green's Barbecue played a larger role in Houston's history than that of provider of first-rate barbecue. "It was a place where the white politicians, especially the City Hall politicians, would go to eat and listen to the issues that were being discussed in the Third Ward and the Houston community," recalled Hobart Taylor III, a Houston Chronicle reporter whose family has been involved in politics on a local and national level for over a century.

When Green retired, the business passed on to Thomas Prevost, a relative of Green's. Prevost's sister, Eunice Prevost Drexler Scott, then took over. Her oldest son, James Drexler, changed the name from Green's to Drexler's in 1981. Twenty years later, he still creates the unique links and secret recipe sauce from scratch every day. Around 1993 the building housing the pit was enlarged to accommodate more than 100 customers at a time.

Drexler's barbecue was getting more and more famous and popular because James's younger brother, Clyde, had forsaken working in the barbecue pit as a teenager. It seemed he'd rather practice shooting hoops.

Clyde's interest in basketball paid off. From Ross Sterling High School's team he went to the UH Cougars, where, with Hakeem Olajuwon, he brought championships and fame to the school as part of the "Phi Slamma Jamma Fraternity." Drafted by the Portland Trailblazers in 1983, Clyde the Glide became an internationally famous shooting guard and finished his professional career playing for the Rockets, back in the city where he started. And Drexler's became famous as a place to see members of the Rockets enjoying a brisket sandwich and lemonade, dubbed the Clyde Special.

Despite the downturn in much of Houston's restaurant business, Drexler's has announced plans to move to an enormous building on Bastrop Street around the corner from the original Green's. "We're waiting for some permits from City Hall to get started," says James Drexler. "I have a sister in the construction business, so we have that part of it taken care of." There are, in fact, four Drexler sisters, two of whom also work at the barbecue emporium. Drexler hopes to have the new location up and running by January.

The only question for devotees of barbecue, the semireligious kind, is what will happen to the historic pit built by Green 49 years ago? Eunice Scott laughs and replies, "No, we're not going to move the pit."

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George Alexander