One Of Houston’s Oldest and Most Treasured Communities
Houston Heights is a well-known part of town, and you’d probably be hard-pressed to find someone in the Houston area who hasn’t been there or couldn’t point out the general location on a map. On the off-chance you’re unfamiliar with the area in question, it’s a rectangular patch of northwest central Houston bordered by Shepherd Drive, Studewood Street, 610 and I-10, with Heights Boulevard cutting the segment down the middle vertically. While these edges often become blurred when describing the neighborhood, they provide a good starting point.
The Heights is such a well-known neighborhood today, but how did it come to be? Come along with us as we explore the history of this remarkable area.
Houston Heights History
The locale that is now known as “The Heights” started gaining residents en masse during the late 1800s. At the time, Houston was being ravaged by yearly floods and yellow fever, due in large part to the low elevation and a high number of mosquitos. A midwestern self-made millionaire by the name of Oscar Martin Carter set his sights on the area to the northwest, aiming to provide a healthier lifestyle than what was currently available in the city. His chosen spot was 23 feet higher than downtown and full of rich soil and vegetation, making it a great alternative. If the Allen brothers are Houston’s founding fathers, then Carter, Daniel Denton Cooley, and The Omaha and South Texas Land Company are the origin story of the Houston Heights.
With the help of Eastern investors, Carter and his associates funneled money into improving infrastructure. They played a large role in the electrification of public transportation, taking it from mule-drawn carts to the more modern streetcars. This was crucial in making downtown easily accessible, which was four miles away—a long distance at the time. He aimed to create a community that catered to industry workers, white-collar professionals, and craftsmen. While the area drew in a handful of mills, refineries, and factories, it was able to remain largely residential. The city of Houston Heights was incorporated in 1896.
The Houston Heights Woman’s Club was formed in 1900 and focused on social work, charity, and educational and cultural events. Their clubhouse was built in 1912 on Harvard Street and is still in use by the organization today. The Heights’ neighborhood fostered education from its early days, building numerous schools. In fact, a desire for more school funding played a large part in why the residents chose to be annexed by Houston proper in 1918.
Just a few years prior, Houston Heights had passed a “dry ordinance” in 1912, eight years before nation-wide Prohibition occurred. Though the area had been annexed into Houston by the time Prohibition was repealed, it was ruled in 1937 that only a vote by residents of the original boundaries could repeal the dry ban in The Heights. This last November such a vote occurred, and residents chose to allow the sale of beer and wine in grocery and convenience stores for the first time in over a century. For most intents and purposes it still remains a dry area as the sale of hard liquor is not allowed, and establishments cannot serve alcohol on the premises. Though a work-around is available for some businesses who can sell to members as a “private club.”
Like many of the inner neighborhoods, The Heights began to experience a period of decline following World War II. However, it saw a rebirth beginning with the formation of the Houston Heights Association in 1973. It sparked a period of restoration, with many older buildings being restored to their former glory. New construction is often completed using traditional elements to help blend modern developments into the older facade of the neighborhood.
The town where residents once inhabited to be apart from the hustle and bustle of the larger city has now become an integral part of Houston’s booming hub. Historic architecture is sprinkled between more modern apartments, but the sense of loyalty and desire to keep The Heights from losing its classic charm resonates throughout the community. Though much has certainly changed since the neighborhood’s inception, the overall social aesthetic undoubtedly would feel very familiar to the Houston Heights of old.
If you are interested in reading about other historic Houston neighborhoods, check out our recent series on Houston’s six wards.