Our Ward Series gives Houston the scoop on the deep-rooted historical and cultural ties to Houston’s old ward system and how it still impacts modern city life. The long history of the Third Ward and its profound impact on Houston’s path toward racial equality can still be seen today, although there are modern additions to the Third Ward community and the local entertainment scene you will find there.
Glimpses of the Third Ward Community of The Past
Trinity United Methodist Church recently celebrated its 150th anniversary, making it one of the oldest African-American congregations in the area. It is now located at Holman and Live Oak, but the church has seen many locations and several names since it began in the mid-1800s. Expanding from what were once humble beginnings, the church has grown in both in size and membership, allowing the congregation to play a significant role in community outreach.
Emancipation Park began as a plot of land purchased in 1872 by Reverend Jack Yates and other members of the area’s recently freed black community. It was a space where people could gather and celebrate Juneteenth; the day emancipation was finally granted in Texas. The park was later donated to the City of Houston, and to this day it remains an important part of the Third Ward community. In 2013 renovations began on the park — it now houses a pool, playground, and athletic fields, including tennis courts and an outdoor basketball court. It also offers several picnic areas, gyms and meeting spaces, and also offer fitness classes.
Project Row Houses was founded in 1993 by Rick Lowe and other local African-American artists. The mission of this association housed in refurbished shotgun houses is to be the catalyst for transforming the Third Ward community through the celebration of art and African-American history and culture. They focus on Five Pillars: Art and Creativity, Education, Social Safety Nets, Architecture, and Sustainability, which allow them to give tremendous opportunities to the local community and aid them in showcasing and preserving the area’s history and culture.
One such rescued piece of the Third Ward’s past is the Historic El Dorado Ballroom. Built in 1939, it for many years played a significant role in shaping the area’s jazz and blues scene. Unfortunately, it began to decline in the 1970s and closed until it was picked up and revitalized in 1999 by Project Row Houses. It has since been restored as a performance venue and community space and is even available to rent for private parties. If you’ve ever thought about taking swing lessons, then you can also swing by on Sunday evenings as classes are held here every week from 6-10 PM.
The Third Ward Community of University of Houston
The UH campus is teeming with exciting activities, ranging from sporting events to musical performances to art exhibitions — and these aren’t just for students.
Darryl and Lori Schroeder Park, the recently renamed Cougar Field, is the home of the University of Houston baseball team. This well-taken care of stadium offers an affordable way to enjoy an afternoon of college baseball. Another plus, the area offers plenty of street parking and concessions are reasonably priced, comparatively speaking of course. The stadium also boasts the second largest video board in all of college baseball.
Also sharing the UH campus is Cullen Performance Hall, which was built in 1950 and hosts a wide variety of musical, dance, and theatrical events. Political and other public lectures are often held in the great hall as well. The venue is currently undergoing renovations but is set to reopen winter of this year.
Moores Opera House was built in 1997 to be reminiscent of the old European-style opera houses, but of course with all the modern amenities added to the design. But the campus’ association with opera productions began even earlier than that in 1986 when director Buck Ross founded the Moores Opera Center. Since then it has presented numerous notable productions and offers patrons a full opera experience at reasonable prices and a more intimate setting.
Opened in 1973 and named in honor of Sarah Campbell Blaffer, Blaffer Art Museum shows between six and eight exhibits per year and is free to the public. Sarah Blaffer was a huge proponent of classic art for the university during her lifetime and wanted part of her collection to go toward a teaching collection to be kept at there.
The Third Ward Community at TSU
University Museum at TSU was a project over five decades in the making. Promoted by past presidents and teachers, the desire for an African and African-American centered art museum was finally realized in 2000. Museum exhibits celebrate the heritage of the African Diaspora. In addition to hosting many artworks and exhibits, the Museum has also showcased countless musicians.
Workshop Houston hosts numerous youth development programs and aims to provide relevant after school resources and create new opportunities at no cost to the community. They achieve this primarily through the Beat Shop, the Dance Shop, the Scholar Shop, and the Style Shop. The Beat Shop allows students to experience music and production through many different mediums, including instruments, recording equipment, and more. The Dance Shop provides students with a space to participate in theater arts and different dance styles. The Scholar Shop focuses on academic enrichment and mentorship, while the Style Shop centers on fashion and graphic design. Through these programs, the Workshop provides kids with great opportunities to explore new areas.
What are your some favorite things, both past, and present, about the Third Ward community?