I grew up in southeast Houston during the fifties and sixties. It was a quiet, family oriented suburban area back then that boasted post World War II homes as well as high end designer houses that were featured in architectural magazines. The area was the home of the first shopping center in the city and later the first air conditioned center filled with everything from dime stores to elegant department stores, bowling alleys to boutiques. It was a little slice of heaven for those of us who lived there.
My family had been shopping for a new home in a part of town that was the mirror image of southeast Houston back then. My father and mother were leaning towards purchasing a new home in Braeswood on Bluebonnet Lane, but my father’s unexpected death put that house out of my mother’s new economic range. She instead moved us to a small but sturdy wooden house in a neighborhood called Overbrook nestled long Simms Bayou.
It was a wonderful place for being a child. Our church and our school was within walking distance of our home. There was a neighborhood grocery store at the end of our street. Children were everywhere and it felt as though we knew everyone who lived there. It was a place that might have been featured in shows like Happy Days or Wonder Years. While there may have been darkness or sorrow hidden inside some of the homes, for us kids it felt like the safest happiest place on earth. Indeed most of the people there were good hardworking and loving souls.
People stayed put back then, so the kids I knew in fourth grade were still attending classes with me when I was a senior in high school. We spent our growing up years riding our bicycles up and down the streets and across the bayou on a bridge that led to Garden Villas, a tree lined haven of older homes with huge yards and a beautiful park. A bookmobile came there often enough for me to have a constant supply of books to entertain my love of literature. Classes at the park introduced me to art and dance.
On Saturdays we traveled a short distance to Telephone Road where the Santa Rosa movie theater hosted a Fun Club just for children. For twenty five cents we got admission and were able to purchase popcorn and candy. There were games and a double feature that kept us having a good time for hours while our mothers went shopping or just enjoyed some quiet time back home. Sometimes my brothers and I would meet our cousins there which made the event even more fabulous.
Just down the street from the theater there was a bakery called the Kolache Shop where my mother purchased our birthday cakes and some of the delightful Czechoslovakian pastries filled with apples or cherries. In travels all over Texas I have yet to find kolaches as delicious as the ones we purchased there and I recently heard that it is still open and run by the same family. I suspect I will have to return there soon.
As is often the case in Houston one day a particular area is in and the next day it’s out. When I was a child my cousins who lived in an old home in the Heights were envious of our new bustling neighborhood in southeast Houston. Today the place where I lived is old and mostly unwanted while the Heights has experienced a renaissance making it one of the most sought after areas of town. If I tell the untutored about growing up in southeast Houston they can’t even begin to imagine how vibrant and beautiful it once was.
My city has grown by leaps and bounds, becoming the fourth largest metropolitan area in the United States. It is also the most diverse city in the nation with citizens who came from virtually every corner of the world. That neighborhood where my father had found a house on Bluebonnet Lane is prestigious while homes of the same kind in southeast Houston have little value. It is the nature of real estate to choose some locations over others. As the city stretched farther and farther out, my once thriving neighborhood was ignored and even forgotten. When I speak of it now, only those who lived in that part of town understand my rapturous descriptions of the once enchanting place.
Those who were our parents are mostly gone now and the rest of us have traveled to the seven winds. A few like me live only minutes away from the old haunts in little towns like Pearland and Friendswood or out by the NASA Space Center in Clear Lake City. The rest are spread across Texas and the rest of the United States. We have moved on from our childhood homes, but we still retain the precious memories of growing up in a magical place. That part of Houston became part of our DNA. It molded us and made us strong. It was a very good place to be.