Bellaire lies on the southwest side of Houston, straddling 610 just to the south of I-69. Bellaire Boulevard divides it horizontally, with the southernmost border stopping at Beechnut Street. Despite being completely enveloped within the Houston city limits, Bellaire is actually a separate city. It has its own parks and recreation, fire, and police departments—though its public schools are a part of the Houston Independent School District.
So how did Bellaire become a city within another city? Come with us on a journey through Bellaire’s history to find out.
Bellaire: The “City of Homes”
Bellaire was founded in 1908 by William Wright Baldwin, who was the acting president of the South End Land Company at the time. He also had deep ties with the railroad and served as vice president of the Burlington Railroad. He purchased just under 10,000 acres of ranch land about six miles west of Houston with the intention of building a community that was close but separate from the nearby established city. There are a couple of different stories on how the town got its name, but advertisements from when the town was first established say it was named after the pleasant Gulf breezes blowing through the area. It is also possible that Baldwin named the town after Bellaire, Ohio, which was located along his railroad line.
The South End Land Company focused much of its advertising efforts on Midwestern farmers, who were looking to get away from the harsher winters. This resulted in a district that was largely residential but also served as an agricultural trading center. Baldwin ensured an electric streetcar line was built down Bellaire Boulevard for more convenient transportation into Houston. It was known as the “Toonerville Trolley” and ran from December of 1910 until September of 1927 when it was replaced by a bus system. A replica of the old trolley station was located at S. Rice and Bellaire from 2000 to 2008 and included parts of the original building. It was eventually torn down due to issues with its structural integrity.
The city of Bellaire was officially chartered in 1918 with a small population of just 200 people. By 1940 it had barely exceeded 1,000. The town did start to see a population boom following World War II. As Houston began expanding further, its proximity made it an ideal suburb for the larger city. Though Houston began rapidly annexing the unincorporated lands around Bellaire, the city of Bellaire remained independent. Eventually all of the surrounding land was absorbed by Houston, and by 1948 Bellaire was no longer able to expand its boundaries any further.
Teas Nursery opened in 1910 and was the city’s first business. Edward Teas, a well-known horticulturist, moved his nursery down and began working on various projects within the town. The nursery was responsible for landscaping many of the historic neighborhoods around Houston, including Bellaire Boulevard’s esplanade and Rice University’s lush grounds. It’s been estimated that the Teas family was responsible for planting over a million trees in the Houston area, helping transform what was once prairie land into what it is today. Edward Teas also lent a hand in laying out and naming the streets of the city, which is why so many streets in Bellaire are named after trees. The nursery closed in December of 2009 after almost a century of business, but the five-acre site has since been given new life as Evelyn’s Park.
Bellaire got its first school in 1911 with the assistance of Alfred Condit and his wife, early homeowners in the town—it was a one-room affair with one teacher to serve the town’s twenty students. It was the second house from the corner on Third and Cedar and also served as the town meeting hall and Sunday school for a time. In 1914, a new brick school was built on Laurel. After Condit’s death in 1927 the school was renamed for him and soon after Bellaire’s schools joined the Houston school system.
Today the city has a total area of 3.6 square miles with a population of around 17,000. While it is known as the “City of Homes” due to its mostly residential nature, city zoning does allow for some commercial and light industrial sections creating a pleasant mix. The city takes pride both in its history and its dedication to natural spaces within the cityscape, something that’s carried through from its earliest days.