The Fifth Ward has had a rich but shifting past as it has experienced growing pains along with the larger Houston area. After joining the city’s other four wards in 1866, the area ran into issues with the sufficiency of public and municipal services. Eventually, these kinks were worked out, and the Fifth Ward neighborhood became highly prosperous, fostering many businesses, churches, and artistic pursuits. Almost a century after its inception “The Nickel,” as it was fondly called, unfortunately, fell into a state of decline as social dynamics changed and downtown growth altered the physical landscape. The community has never given up on its ward, though. Efforts in recent years have seen the revitalization of some old Fifth Ward neighborhood gems and given way to some new additions, as is evidenced by the discoveries to follow.
FIFTH WARD NEIGHBORHOOD GEMS
The DeLuxe Theatre
Originally opened in April 1941, the DeFrom DeLuxe Theater houston
Luxe Theatre once provided a source of cinematic entertainment amongst the African-American population of the Fifth Ward. Along with the Roxy and Palace Theaters, it offered one of the few spaces available during a time of segregation. Sadly the theater closed down in the 1960s, one of the many casualties of the 1960s exodus of businesses from the area. Thankfully the DeLuxe Theatre is getting a new chance at life — it reopened in 2016 as part of a combined effort between the City of Houston, the Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation, and Texas Southern University. Now it is home to programming offered by the Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation, TSU, and other groups who rent out the space.
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Stanley Drug Company is a Hoodoo pharmacy and the oldest spiritual supply store in Houston, possibly even the US. Established in 1938, it is still family owned and operated and filled with candles, oils, herbs and amulets to help with any spiritual ailment. Though it has always maintained a selection of Hoodoo goods, the shop was once a standard pharmacy in its early days. However, as time went on it changed with the demands and needs of the community. Now the front shop is filled with candles and a random assortment of other supplies, but the majority of inventory is kept in the back, warehouse style. Most patrons have a specific need for which they are seeking help, and the staff at Stanley’s are ready to provide.
Smitty Regula’s is one of those fifth ward neighborhood gems that there is so much to say about, as well as the unique man behind it. For starters, when you visit the Smitty Regula website, you’re immediately greeted by an epic telling of a man named Joseph Buttle’s life story. According to the bio, Buttle died in 1983 after spending a good number of his years running a metal shrine building business, ShrineCo. The page then presents a detailed list of Buttle’s major works, the various inspirations for each piece, and “recreations” of his shrines showcased alongside. After becoming immersed in this man’s story, it comes out by way of disclaimer that Joseph Buttle is, in fact, a cover for Smitty Regula, which in turn is a pseudonym for Drew Bettge — meaning the shrines were all, in fact, Smitty/Drew originals. If your head is spinning, we totally get it, but this should at least give you some insight into the creative mind behind his pieces.
Smitty’s other focus is on vehicular performance art, and he has created a multitude of unique pieces utilizing bikes and cars, including the well-known Hen-a-tron and Laundrycar. His works can often be seen in parades and various car exhibits around town. He is also involved in performance art pieces regarding the culture of American consumerism. To round out his eclectic interests, Smitty Regula’s is also the home of Houston’s largest and most visited lost and found, aside from Craigslist of course. However, as is noted on the website, Smitty Regula’s does not take in or keep lost pets.
Forgotten Dogs of the Fifth Ward Project
This is on of the Fifth Ward Neighborhood gems we are in love with because they rescue lost and stray dogs, which is the entire mission at Forgotten Dogs of the Fifth Ward Project. In addition to their foster and adoption programs, the organization maintains feeding routes throughout the Fifth Ward where volunteers provide much-needed food to many of the stray dogs in the area. If this is a cause that speaks to your heart, the project is always looking for contributions by way of donations, time via volunteering, or even fostering some of these animals in need. They have already placed countless of these previously homeless pets, and continue to work throughout the community.
Houston Blues Museum
The Houston Blues Museum was founded in 2009 and strives to commemorate musicians from Texas as well as the larger Gulf Coast area. The board and founders have made it their mission to collect and preserve artifacts, educate visitors, and perpetuate an appreciation for the blues in the modern community. Their collection entails records, posters, historic photographs and instruments from across the decades. Their educational programming is provided and adapted for all ages, with presentations being made to children at daycare centers and seniors in assisted-living communities alike, keeping the history alive and creating a new love for the genre in future generations.
Fifth Ward Jam
Completed in October of 2011 by Dan Havel and Dean Ruck, this unique meshing of artistry and functional community space provides residents with a multifaceted venue for events, casual meet-ups, and a play-space for neighborhood kids. Many music shows have been held here over the last several years, including acts from the Lyons Avenue Renaissance Festival. The space also serves as a meeting venue and children can often be seen enjoying the playground or splash park.
As versatile as the space is, what steals the show is the structure itself. The companion piece to Inversion in Montrose, the Fifth Ward Jam was also reborn from an old dilapidated bungalow. The twisted boards of this reinvented structure give the feeling of movement and intense energy to a previously static building. The piece has been a topic of intrigue and conversation since it was in the construction phase, and it continues to draw in neighborhood residents and visitors alike.
We hope you loved hearing more about the Fifth Ward neighborhood gems and we would love to hear about some your faves in the comments!