Oscar Martin Carter was approaching his 50th birthday in 1891 and he could look back on a remarkable life. He was born in Salem, Massachusetts and was orphaned at an early age. He ran away from his abusive foster parents and joined a pack train heading to Colorado. In Nebraska Carter cooked for an ox-team, learned to be a tinsmith, ran a hardware store, managed political races, worked as an Indian trader, tried his hand at mining and invented a drill bit that made him a fortune, and served as president of a string of Omaha banks. He had been married for half his life and fathered six children but never owned a house, living most of the time in one of his stores or hotels. In his 49th year Carter had recently sold his Omaha interests on behalf of his American Loan and Trust Company and brought millions of dollars to Houston where he acquired both the Houston City Street Railway Company and the Bayou City Street Railway Company.
In 1891 Carter bought 1,756 acres of land four miles northwest of Houston with the intention of developing the town’s first planned suburb and one of the earliest in Texas. The land was about 23 feet higher than downtown Houston so it earned the name “Heights.” As the Omaha and South Texas Land Company laid out the new streets there was hardly any elevation change in the Heights. Houston Heights was its own municipality until 1919 when the town was gobbled up by the growing city of Houston.
From its beginnings in the 1890s Houston Heights was designed as a residential enclave. The target market for the developers was the emerging middle class of white-collar workers and skilled craftsmen. These new home owners built comfortable, but not ostentatious, houses in the then-popular Queen Anne style. Later arrivals constructed Craftsman bungalows and cottages across Houston Heights. Most of the community was built up by 1930 and retains much of its same appearance today.
Our walking tour will traverse the main north-south artery through Houston Heights and we will begin where the first house was constructed back in 1893...
1802 Heights Boulevard at northeast corner of 18th Street
Daniel Denton Cooley was born in Binghamton, New York in 1850 and migrated to Omaha, Nebraska as a young man. When the American Loan and Trust company bought a chunk of land northwest of Houston in 1891 it sent Cooley down to develop the property. He laid out Heights Boulevard and constructed the first house in town on this corner in 1893. The corporation was dissolved in 1895 but Cooley remained as Houston Heights was incorporated the next year. His Victorian house stood until 1965 when his family, unable to sell it, tore it down. The small park was created in 1979 but instead of carrying the name of Cooley, “the Father of Houston Heights,” it is named in honor of the last mayor of Houston Heights, J.B. Marmion. The Kaiser Pavilion, however, was designed in the image of the turret on the old Cooley house.
WALK ACROSS THE MEDIAN IN THE MIDDLE OF HEIGHTS BOULEVARD TO THE OPPOSITE CORNER.
1801 Heights Boulevard at northwest corner of 18th Street
The Burge-Huck company was a premiere manufacturer of wood and glass showcases in Illinois in the late 1800s. Robert Burge was dispensed to Houston to build the business in Texas and while here he constructed this stand-out Prairie-style residence infused with Colonial Revival elements in 1910. The Burge family left Houston Heights in 1922.
FACING BURGE HOUSE TURN LEFT AND WALK SOUTH ON HEIGHTS BOULEVARD.
1703 Heights Boulevard at northwest corner of 17th Street
Architect C.N. Helson designed this eclectic brick sanctuary in 1927 as the first home of the Heights Christian Church. The price tag was $39,904 and thirty cents. The building served the congregation until 1967 when it was transformed into a community events center, taking the name of the first pastor of the church, Clark W. Lambert. It survived an arson attempt in 1996 and has been renovated by its most celebrated patron, the Opera in the Heights performance company.
Reagan Masonic Lodge
1606 Heights Boulevard at northwest corner of 16th Street
The world’s oldest fraternal organization, the Masons, made its first move out of downtown Houston to the suburbs here on December 12, 1910 when Reagan Lodge 1037 was chartered. In his long life John Henninger Reagan had served as a judge, Postmaster General for the Confederate States of America, a United States Congressman and Senator and the first chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission. Historians have included Reagan, who died in 1905 at the age of 86, among the four most important Texans of the 19th century. His namesake lodge began assembling in rented space above the volunteer fire department until its first permanent lodge building was constructed in 1930. The mortgage was lost during the Depression and it was not until 1948 that the Reagan Lodge could once again call a hall its own, designed by Master Mason L.R. Hayes.
Houston Heights Church of Christ Building
1548 Heights Boulevard at southeast corner of 16th Street
Alfred C. Finn was born in Bellville, Texas in 1883 and came to Houston as a teenager to work as a carpenter and draftsman for the Southern Pacific Railroad. Beginning in 1904 Finn was working in the Fort Worth shop of Maurice Sanguinet and Carl Staats, the leading architects in Texas. After transferring to the firm’s Houston office Finn hung out his own shingle in 1914 and designed some of the town’s most beloved landmarks for the next fifty years. This Neo-Georgian composition for the Houston Heights Church of Christ from 1925 is a Finn creation. The congregation was organized in 1915 and most of the tab for this church building was picked up by benefactor Emerson Francis Woodward who was co-founder of the company that brought in the Spindletop oil field that spawned the Texas oil industry.
B.F. Coop House
1536 Heights Boulevard
Another expansive Prairie Style house from the early 1900s, this one was constructed for B.F. and Eletha Coop. He was a physician and she was an influential school board member into the 1940s. It served as the cover house on the Houston Heights sales brochure for many years.
Heights Neighborhood Library
1302 Heights Boulevard at northeast corner of 13th Street
Books were lent around Houston Heights from a perpatetic collection that operated from the Baptist Temple Church and the Heights Senior High School before land was purchased on this corner for $7,000 in the 1920s. In 1925 architect J.M. Glover provided an elegant Italian Renaissance design dressed in pink stucco and crowned with a red tile roof. Although the library has been tweaked and picked up a modern expansion in the 1970s it remains the architectural centerpiece of the community.
AT 12TH STREET TURN RIGHT.
Houston Heights Fire Station
northeast corner of Yale and 12th streets
The town’s first paid firefighters operated out of a building located on this block behind the home of J.L. Durham who functioned as fire chief. In 1914 this brick building rose on the ashes of Fraternal Hall that had burned two years prior. Built on plans drawn by architect Alonzo C. Pigg, it served Houston Heights as a city hall, jail and fire house. The last fire trucks departed in 1995 and the two-story structure carries on as a community center.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS BACK TO HEIGHTS BOULEVARD AND TURN RIGHT, CONTINUING SOUTH.
1101 Heights Boulevard at northwest corner of 11th Street
It was relatively common for houses to be moved around town in the 1800s before the creation of complicated wiring and indoor plumbing systems. All you needed was a team of strong oxen. This 1901 frame house was built by C.L. Sumbaro as a wedding gift for his daughter, Ava, who married Philo Perry. It was jacked up and moved one lot to the north for a 21st century reason never contemplated in the days of its construction - more parking.
1102 Heights Boulevard at northeast corner of 11th Street
John A. Milroy was born, raised and educated in upstate New York. After marrying in 1889 at the age of 27 he set out for Seattle, Washington and entered the real estate business. He arrived in Houston Heights with the first wave of Omaha and South Texas Land Company men and remained the sales agent for the company until 1917, just a year before his death. He was elected as the second mayor of Houston Heights and was re-elected seven times before begging out of the job. This 1898 house was constructed from a plan in a pattern book published by Tennessee architect George Franklin Barber. In 1888 Barber, an Illinois native, relocated to Knoxville, hoping the mountain air would restore his declining health. While in town he mastered the technique of mail order architecture, issuing Tin 1890 with 59 house plans. Barber’s designs have resulted in houses in all 50 states and 17 in Houston Heights. The Milroy House has been meticulously restored, right down to the wooden fence that was a popular style along Heights Boulevard one hundred years ago.
1015 Heights Boulevard
George W. Hawkins of the Hawkins-Halff Auto Company was one of the pioneering dealers in the horseless carriage trade in Houston. He owned Harris County license plate #1 until the governor of Texas got a car and decided he wanted the plate. Hawkins had this Spanish Colonial house constructed in 1911.
TURN LEFT ON 10TH STREET.
All Saints Catholic Church
215 East 10th Street at northeast corner of Harvard Street
All Saints was organized in 1908 and a meetinghouse capable of accommodating 300 was raised on this site by the following year. The present Romanesque-styled house of worship, composed of dark red bricks and white stone trim, was dedicated in 1928.
TURN LEFT ON HARVARD STREET AND WALK ALONG THE OAK-DRAPED STREET.
1100 Harvard Street at northeast corner of 11th Street
This Art Deco-inspired building was constructed in 1930 as the Masonic Hall for Reagan Lodge 1037. The lodge boasted a bowling alley among other niceties for the members who unfortunately lost the hall in 1935. Today it does duty as condominiums but you can still look up in the square above the entrance and see remnants of the Masonic symbol.
AT 14TH STREET TURN LEFT.
Odd Fellows Lodge
115 East 14th Street
In the Middle Ages most common trades in England, like carpentry or blacksmithing, had their own guilds. Tradesmen whose jobs were less commonplace formed their own guild that became known as Odd Fellows. The American Odd Fellows lodge is considered to have started in Baltimore, Maryland in 1819. The Thomas J. Rusk Heights Lodge #225 formed shortly after the Heights in the early 1900s and has been meeting in this brick building ever since, even as membership has dwindled.
RETURN TO HARVARD STREET AND TURN LEFT, CONTINUING NORTH.
1602 Harvard Street at northeast corner of 16th Street
This was the first house built by John Milroy in Houston Heights in 1895. Look at the hitch out front for horses on the eclectic Queen Anne-style abode.
1802 Harvard Street at northeast corner of 18th Street
Henry P. Mansfield was born in Virginia and educated as a civil engineer. His work life took flight in Texas in 1886 when he supervised the construction of irrigation systems and lumber mills. He married in 1897 and shortly thereafter constructed this rambling Victorian home whose splendor is matched by its garden. In 1901 Mansfield followed the gusher at Spindletop into the oil business and relocated to Wichita Falls.
Houston Heights Women’s Club
1846 Harvard Street
D.D. Cooley donated the land for this clubhouse in 1912; the Houston Heights Woman’s Club had already been around since 1900. The members agitated for voting rights, property rights and were the force behind the public library. The club is still active today in the maintenance of Houston Heights and championing the rights of children and the elderly.
TURN LEFT ON 20TH STREET.
119 East 20th Street at northwest corner of Harvard Street
As Victorian housing styles disappeared in the first decade of the 1900s they were replaced by bungalows based on the horizontal influence of the Prairie style. This variation executed in brick and concrete features a double gallery on all sides. The name of the creator. J.E. Banta, is preserved in tiles at the front entrance.
Ink Spots Museum
117 East 20th Street
Huey Long was born in Sealy, a farm town 20 miles west of downtown Houston, in 1904. He was shining shoes in the Rice Hotel one day in 1925 when the banjo player for the featured act that night, Frank Davis and the Louisiana Jazz Band, failed to show up. Long jumped into the gig and was off on an 80-year music career. It was another fill-in gig, this time during World War II, that landed Long in the Inks Spots vocal group, where he earned his greatest fame. The musical path blazed by the Ink Spots landed the group in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. By that time Long was back in Houston and living in an apartment across the street. In 2007 his daughter Anita started the Ink Spots Museum here; Huey Long passed away two years later at the age of 105.
Hamilton Middle School
139 East 20th Street at Heights Boulevard
This school named for Alexander Hamilton was founded in 1919. The school building is dominated by Gothic-inspired entrance towers. Through the years the diverse student body has produced such noted graduates as newsman Dan Rather and A.J. Foyt, the only driver to win the Indianapolis 500 (four times), the Daytona 500, the 24 Hours of Daytona, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
TURN LEFT ON HEIGHTS BOULEVARD AND WALK DOWN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.