GREAT CITIZENS - OSCAR FITZALLEN HOLCOMBE
Another great Houstonians remembered for his civic and cultural legacies, is Oscar Fitzallen Holcombe, mayor of Houston for a total of 22 years. Born on December 1, 1888 in Mobile, Alabama to Sarah King (Harrell) and Robert Slough Holcombe, a lawyer, he moved in 1891, with his family to San Antonio, Texas. In 1899, Holcombe's father died, and the 10-year-old boy went to work to supplement the family income by selling newspapers. Four years later, he left school to work full time.
Living in Houston in 1907 at the age of 18, Holcombe, like Jesse Jones, began working in an uncle's lumber company, entered the construction business in 1912. In May of the same year, he married Mamie Gray Miller. Among the first construction projects for the Houston public school.
In 1921, at the age of 32 Holcombe entered his first race for mayor of Houston. He promised reorganization of city departments, the paving of streets, the building of new schools and better business administration. Houstonians elected him mayor in April 1921. He was reelected in 1923, 1925 and 1927.
Because he was prematurely gray, Everett Collier, an editor of the Houston Chronicle, nicknamed him "the Old Gray Fox."
Holcombe's early administrations were marked by the widening of streets and the paving of both residential and commercial thoroughfares, the improvement of sewage systems by the extensions of water and sewer mains and the construction of such public buildings as the municipal auditorium, farmers' market and branch libraries. The passage of a state law creating the navigation district, including all of Harris County and not the city of Houston alone and thereby distributing taxes more fairly ranked among the most significant achievements of his tenure. Holcombe also created the new municipal offices of city manager and public service commissioner as well as the city planning commission. In addition, he established the Houston Independent School District.
Holcombe served as mayor from 1921 to 1929, and then returned to the construction business until 1933, when he was elected again. Serving until 1937, he later returned to complete several other terms as mayor, from 1939 to 1944, 1947 to 1953 and 1956 to 1958, for a total of eleven years. Holcombe lost his last bid for reelection in 1958 to Lewis Cutrer, primarily due to his stand against integration of public swimming pools because it would "prevent bloodshed and violence." The city of Houston pursued its policy of annexation during his terms of office and its area increased from 34.4 to 352 square miles.
Holcombe died of pneumonia on June 18, 1968 in Houston, at the age of 79. The Houston Civic Center, named the Oscar F. Holcombe Civic Center in his honor, is among the tributes to his years of service to the city.