I recently had the rare opportunity to sit down with a man whose parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and even great-great-grandparents all made their home here in our city. A 5th generation Houstonian, Doug Pecore is often called Mr Houston by his friends. You may assume the moniker to be hyperbolic, that a single man could hardly exemplify a city as rich and complex as this one, but then again maybe you’ve never met Doug.
For five generations now Doug Pecore’s ancestors have been affecting the landscape and the culture of Houston. His paternal great-great-grandfather, John Pecore, migrated from Canada in 1837 and purchased the land which is bisected by I45, containing Hollywood Cemetery along with portions of what is now The Heights neighborhood, including Pecore Street, for whom that road was named.
His maternal great-grandfather, HF Holt, was a well-known merchant in Brenham, president of the bank, as well as president of the Blue Bell Company; and was the man who provided critical financing in the early days of Blue Bell which allowed it to grow into a thriving local business. There are also more recent endeavors, such as Project Row House in our city’s Third Ward, and a sports gym at a small school in Montrose. You don’t have to look long or hard to find the family name around the city. For more than 175 years their influence has been enduring and far-reaching.
The small house in Highland Village where Doug and his brothers grew up is one of the few original ones still standing on that street. Now overtaken by massive new construction and high-end retail, Highland Village is entirely different than it was just a few decades ago.
It was very much the Americana like you hear about in movies. We had neighborhood camp-outs and trick or treating. Our elementary school was a block away. (Back then) It was a neighborhood retail strip center, an inexpensive clothing store, drug store–very much the neighborhood supply line. It was not a high-end shopping center (like it is today).
At the corner of Richmond Ave and Weslayan St, where now boasts a Costco and large chain fitness center, stood Will Rogers Elementary School. That is where Doug, his brothers, and all of their neighborhood friends attended. In 2006, when that school was closed, and all the students were being rezoned, Doug got word of the district’s plans. On the eve of demolition, he and a few of his childhood buddies decided to go over, walk the grounds, and see the school one last time. As they were waxing nostalgic beneath a favorite tree, they noticed, just underneath the bulldozer’s blade, the building’s cornerstone. Rather than let it be turned under or trashed, the guys spent hours digging up the weighty cornerstone and managed to get it into one of their cars. Attempts have been made, over the years, to turn it over to HISD, but district representatives have shown a lack of interest. To Doug and his friends, though, it is a priceless memorabilia of a typical Houston childhood, and Doug still has it to this day.
When they got a little older, the kids in the neighborhood liked to go on weekend canoe trips to places like the Medina River, the Guadalupe, and the Brazos.
Our parents said we couldn’t leave until Saturday morning, so Friday night at 12:01 am we would depart.
For Doug, at least, this led to a long list of adventure trips, including walking from Corpus Christie to South Padre Island, carrying a rickshaw he built (called the Little Ricky Trip), and many long distance hikes and bike rides across Texas.
Talking with Doug, one does get the feeling you are hearing an American story. Doug would probably correct you, however, and tell you that they are uniquely Houstonian stories. But the stories do not begin with him. No, they go way, way back.
The Ranch (Old River Ranch) came into the family in 1870, on my mother’s side, when my great-great-grandfather arrived in Texas in 1852. His name was DC Giddings, and he came to work with his older brother, JD Giddings, who had set up a law practice in Brenham. They came from Pennsylvania, and they came to assist in the closing of the estate of their dead oldest brother who was killed in the Battle of San Jacinto, who came down to fight for the cause of Texas Independence. There is a letter in the Smithsonian that he wrote to his parents. His name was Giles Giddings.
All five Giddings Brothers eventually made the journey to Houston for Pennsylvania, and each of them had their own impact. One brother built one of the first railroads in Texas, another started a stage coach line that went all the way through El Paso to San Diego, and another brother started a bank. The Burning of Brenham, a book written by Sharon Brass chronicling the life stories of the Giddings brothers, was signed by RB Film Productions and was scheduled to begin filming in 2016.
DC Giddings, who is my direct descent, after the Civil War, was a prominent figure in the Reconstruction Era in Texas, to protect the citizens from Union overreach during Reconstruction–and for that, he was elected to the United States Congress three times. (He was) The first southern Democrat to serve in the Congress post-Civil War. Each of them has an incredible story that’s worth telling. I hope they go ahead and do that movie.
But you don’t have to go back that far to find a story worth telling.
My grandfather has a great story in his own right.
Albert D. Pecore Sr. joined the WWI Corps of Engineers and went to France to build bridges. While he was over there, he discovered that there was a program where he could study French engineering. During the day, he worked for the US Corps of Engineers, and at night he studied at a French university.
When Albert returned from the war in 1919, he went to his foreman at the railroad and asked for his old job back. Acting as a mentor his foreman said,
Look, I don’t want to steer you down the wrong path, but this industry is going to sunset. If you want to get into something that has a lot of growth, go into the oil business. Just walk down Main Street, walk into the first oil company you see–they are all up and down the street–and ask for a job.
Albert walked past Texaco, walked just a little further, went into the Humble building and got a job that day. He may have started at the bottom, but he worked his way all the way up to President of Exxon Pipeline Company and worked there until he retired in 1962.
My dad as a little kid rode around with his father on all these company trips out to the field, to see the pipeline construction and the pump stations, and worked summer jobs on pipeline crews all across Texas. He became an architect because his dad told him ‘don’t do this.’ So, in every generation somebody told them, ‘don’t do this.
When I was in high school it (the oil business) was the thing. Oil and gas were very much a Houston mystique. It was the greatest thing going. There was such a romantic draw, and the University of Texas had one of the best petroleum engineering schools in the nation. I went to UT, and my older brother went to Colorado School of Mines for the same degree program. I don’t have any regrets about going into the oil business.
The house where Doug makes his home with his family was purchased in 1991, and is, ironically, on the same street where his dad was raised.
One of the things that attracted me to buy on this street was that I was buying the house from the original owners. Back then the original guard was still alive and still lived on the street, and they would tell stories of when the road was made out of oyster shells. My dad told me stories about how he would catch a ride on the fruit wagon in the morning and the ice wagon on the way home.
The plan was to fix up the house, live in it a few years, and then sell it for profit. But something special happened on the day of closing. When Mr. Sizer, the elderly gentleman who was the original owner of the house, came into the office, he could barely hold a pen by himself. His adult son had to assist his every move in the legal transaction. However, at the end, when all the papers were signed, Mr. Sizer turned to Doug and said
Don’t forget to look in the attic in the garage. There’s something I’m leaving there that belongs to the house.
We went out there and…there was a steamer trunk up in the rafters, absolutely covered in dust, and it’s this guy’s life story in this trunk. From college yearbooks, to hand written notes, to love letters to his wife, to a tiny little clay handprint of their daughter. And it’s all still right there at the foot of our bed. We tried to give it to his family, but Mr. Sizer said ‘No. It belongs to the house.’ So 25 years later, it’s still here, and we are still taking care of it.
Mr Houston Answers Questions About Houston
How do you feel when people call you Mr Houston?
It’s a badge of honor. There are a lot of people who have stayed. There are a lot of generations in Houston; there’s old history, family histories that go back generations and generations, so I am certainly not unique in that way. There’s a lot of folks that stick around. I lived away in New Mexico twice and Oklahoma once, and I always knew that I would come back.
How would you describe Houston to an outsider?
I think it’s certainly a singular place. It’s unique, unlike any other town because it has emerged from so many different pasts. You had agriculture, you had a railroad, you had timber industry, and then you had the oil business, and then you had the space industry all converging on this one town at different times, and we’ve never lost any of those routes, and I think that’s what makes it so unique. You still have all of those industries and the port of Houston. We just listed 6 or 7 industries that continue to thrive all in the same plane. That’s what makes it one of the most unique places in the world. I am proud to be in the city that, as far as my industry goes, the city that is the capital of the world’s oil business.
How has Houston changed since you were young?
Houston has generally changed in good ways. The city inside the loop changes yearly. The 70’s were a time where nothing much changed. In 1980 the first oil boom created a lot of building. Then there was another run in the late 90’s when gentrification began to happen. Then this last one-2005 until now–it’s getting very built up, very high density now. It will keep going. Houston’s not done.
Houston’s not done, and neither are the Houston Pecores, it seems. Doug and his wife, Paige, make their home in Upper Kirby and have two young sons—a nod to the future and the promise of the 6th generation of Houstonians.
Doug has a BS from New Mexico Tech and an MS in petroleum engineering from the Texas A&M and earned his MBA from Texas A&M.
Side Note: His favorite restaurant is Felix’s Mexican Restaurant, a by-gone Houston landmark, long since replaced by Uchi’s.