YEARS OF READJUSTMENT (1945-1950)
When the Monsanto Chemical Company, shortly after the Texas City disaster, announced the rebuilding and expansion of its plant, it gave confidence to the people of that stricken city and they set about the task of rebuilding. Commenting on this disaster, the "Houston Magazine" said: "Heroically the citizens of that industrial city have responded to the gigantic task of aiding the wounded and the disabled, and with unprecedented assistance from neighboring cities, and the nation, they are rebuilding the wrecked city. And from the ashes, the desolation and the grief that was Texas City of a few weeks ago, has come a determination and a civic pride that, together with the brave hearts that are in command, will soon build a finer and more modern city. Standing ever ready to assist, their hearts heavy with sympathy, are the people of Houston—-their neighbors and their friends."
While reconversion of industries doing war work in the Houston area was accomplished with little re-tooling, a few specialized war plants were closed down after the war. Most of these plants in the Houston area, however, passed into the hands of private industry and continued to be operated for peacetime purposes, in many cases on an expanded scale. The future of the synthetic rubber plants, though, remained uncertain through 1947 because of the lack of an established national rubber policy. In April, "The Wall Street Journal" said: "The chemical industry is on an expansion splurge along the Gulf Coast. Big manufacturers like DuPont, Dow, Shell and Monsanto are plunging a third of a billion dollars into new plants on a 600-mile stretch of the Texas-Louisiana shore.. Advantages of the Gulf Coast extend beyond raw materials as an official of an important chemical manufacturing concern indicated: (1) cheap building costs; (2) excellent water transportation; (3) fine living conditions for employees; and (4) a progressive community spirit."
With 18 months of concentrated activity and planning behind them, the leaders in the Texas Medical Center development saw steel and mortar and brick giving form and substance to their dreams of providing better health for all through better education of doctors, dentists and nurses; through strongly supported research, and through the best in hospitalization. Under construction were the new Hermann Hospital, the new Hermann Professional Building, and the Baylor University College of Medicine. About ready to begin Construction were the Shrine Crippled Children’s Hospital, the Methodist Hospital, and St. Luke’s Hospital.
"The greater University of Houston for a greater Houston" was the theme of a campaign in 1938 for public subscriptions for the first building program at the University of Houston, where an enrollment of 1,200 in 1938 had reached almost 10,000 in 1947, with six new buildings being planned. The Rice Institute was working on a 12-point program of excellent education for a limited number of students, high standards of scholarship and educational leadership, and a substantial building program. The University of St. Thomas, started the year before by the Basilian Fathers, announced that it would present its first class of graduates in 1951.
In recognition of the place of the Port of Houston in the Houston economy, and alert to the need for taking every possible step to expand world trade, Mr. Blanton asked me to go to New Orleans on November 29-30, 1947, to evaluate the International House and the International Trade Mart programs insofar as they had implications for Houston.
My report concluded: "The international program at New Orleans has had three beneficial results: (1) it has helped to arouse a sluggish civic spirit; (2) it has inspired a wealth of favorable publicity for New Orleans; and (3) it has impressed a great many people throughout the Mississippi Valley that New Orleans is ‘their port’. Few of the supporters of the program will say that it has actually brought traders to New Orleans. They feel that steamship companies, freight forwarders, railroads and other such standard agencies are still primarily responsible for bringing traders to New Orleans. But they feel that International House and International Trade Mart have helped them to take better care of such visitors."
While there were many differences in comparing the conditions in New Orleans with those in Houston, and an identical program could not be expected to have the same results, I did return to Houston with the feeling that we needed some type of a World Trade Center. It would, of course, have to be fashioned to Houston’s specific needs; but it would serve as both a symbol and as a marshalling ground for our world trade interests.
With representatives of the world trade community, we explored various possibilities and looked at a number of buildings, but the World Trade Center did not take form for a number of years until Mr. Blanton, as a Port Commissioner, interested the Navigation District in taking the initiative in the program.
The Chamber of Commerce conducted a program of expanded activities during 1947. Aviation activities continued to be a matter of major interest, with the designation of Houston as an International Air Gateway having challenged the leadership to develop facilities, encourage service, and publicize these to domestic and foreign interests. Throughout the year, the Chamber of Commerce continued its active support of the Texas Medical Center, completing its campaign early in the year to raise funds for the University of Texas program in the center. Industrial activities were at a high level, with a record of new plant construction and expansion in the Houston area since late 1945 reaching a total investment of more than $200,000,000 by the end of 1947. President C. E. Naylor of the Chamber of Commerce said: "The most impressive experience that has come to me during the year and a half I have been privileged to head the Houston Chamber of Commerce has been the way in which the people of this community, the members of this organization, have responded to the needs and opportunities of their city." A survey by the Water Supply Committee stressed the need for proper and systematic development of ground-water resources of the region, consistent with safe withdrawal and the established economic limits, and urged the financing and construction of surface-water storage and distribution facilities.
Continued expansion of activities in 1948 characterized the record of the Chamber of Commerce. It sought a more adequate water supply as well as a solution to stream pollution and other health problems. It spearheaded a successful program to secure authorization for a resurvey of the flood control needs of Harris County. The first Gulf Coast regional industrial-health conference was successful, and progress was made on a program to develop greater interest in the Museum of Natural History. Houston’s international air gateway position was strengthened by inaugural flights to South America by Braniff and by Chicago & Southern, with Houston entertaining an inaugural flight of Lines Aeropostal Venezolana, and by Houston’s first goodwill trip by air to Mexico.
Continuing its support of the Texas Medical Center, the Chamber of Commerce helped to initiate plans for a Medical Center Library. It worked with other community agencies to establish an Appeals Review Board to coordinate all community-wide fund drives. Work of the Research Department was expanded for studies on: (1) natural resources as the foundation for industry; (2) industries in the Gulf Coast area based on natural resources; (3) population trends and related information; and (4) distributive outlets (wholesale and retail) and service activities.
Chamber of Commerce President W. S. Bellows called for a more adequate water supply, a realization of Houston’s potential for world commerce and travel, the full development of the Texas Medical Center, a solution for pollution problems and other sanitary and public health deficiencies, a city beautification program, slum clearance steps before the problem reached grave proportions, and an answer to downtown and fringe parking. He said: "Often listed as our greatest asset, our most valuable resource, here in Houston is our leadership—the quality, ability and enthusiasm of those who measure up to their civic responsibilities in the community. The Chamber of Commerce program this year has attracted an unusually large number of such leaders. They have given generously of their time and have shared their ability without reservation in a program of constructive significance to Houston and the Gulf Coast."
Readjustment began to make itself felt in Houston in 1948. Hundreds of new businesses were started, scores of new industries began operations, and new construction ranged from skyscraper office buildings, impressive new stores, vast warehouses and towering hotels to multi-million-dollar industrial plants. Civic improvement included modern expressways, major storm and sanitary sewer additions, new schools and churches, additional college and university facilities, and extensive hospital expansion programs. Cultural activities of all types were better supported and better attended than ever before.