YEARS OF READJUSTMENT (1945-1950)
Television became a reality in Houston on January 1, 1949, when KLEE-TV broadcast its first program. W. Albert Lee had built the television station at a cost of $1,000,000. The initial broadcast was delayed for three hours because of technical difficulties in the transmitter’s cooling system. Studios were in the Milby Hotel, and the 537-foot tower was on Post Oak Road.
An ambitious annexation program was carried out by action of the city council on December 31, 1948. It increased the city limits from 74.4 square miles to 216 square miles, with an estimated population of 620,000. The 142 square miles added to the city was roughly a two-mile belt surrounding the city. "This territory really has been part of Houston all the time", said Mayor Holcombe. "It was just outside the city limits. We are now extending the lines of the city to put this territory inside Houston." Commenting on the move, President Bellows of the Chamber of Commerce said: "If Houston is to continue to improve its health, sanitary and traffic conditions, and project its activities to accommodate future developments, this annexation program is essential."
Houston broke all previous construction records in 1948, with a total of $271,016,775 for all classes of building. In per capita building, Houston topped all of the larger cities, and ranked third in the nation in the number of residential units completed. Apartment development that got under way on a major scale in 1948 continued at an accelerated rate during 1949. In public works, in schools and hospitals, and in other forms of construction, Houston continued to set records. "Business Week" gave Houston first rank among the cities of the country in industrial-plant construction from July 1, 1945 to December 31, 1948, with New York City in second place. Texas led among the states in new-plant construction, followed by California in second place, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Illinois. The Port of Houston projected the largest construction effort in its history, with a total of $32,000,000 in proposed new and expanded facilities. Illustrating the trend toward decentralization of population, shopping-center projects were planned in connection with practically all new residential developments.
With the rapid extension of air conditioning to private as well as public facilities during the first five post-war years, Houston gained recognition as the world’s most completely air-conditioned city. This had a very direct economic implication. In the past, it had been practically impossible to schedule conventions in Houston during the summer months. But publicity was started on Houston as an air-conditioned city, and the Convention Committee of the Chamber of Commerce started a special sales drive aimed at summer conventions The Houston Hotel Association ran advertisement in appropriate journals inviting those seeking a cool convention or vacation city. The effort was successful, and within a very few years, Houston was scheduling more summer conventions than the average for the balance of the year.
During the summer of 1949, we seemed to hit the period of readjustment that had been anticipated. On every hand we heard remarks that "this is it , or "the depression has already started". It was not a depression, and it was not much of a recession; but it was a period of business readjustment. It was actually a return to more normal conditions from the inflationary period immediately following the war when the nation’s productive machine was trying to supply accumulated demands. In 1949, competition became keen again, operating costs had to be watched more closely, and salesmanship ceased to be a lost art. Business failures increased, Volume of profits were lower, but able and efficient management continued to be rewarded. However, gyrations of the stock market and depression talk brought on a case of economic jitters.
Speaking on August 11th, Marvin Hurley said: "In view of the basic factors upon which the economy of this area is established and the reflection of these basic factors in the statistical trends of the past decade or more, the question arises as to what the business trend is likely to be during the next decade or longer? It seems evident that the basic industries that now largely support the economy of this area will continue growing for a long time. It is also probable that a wide range of consumer-goods industries, using the products of our mass-production chemical industries as their starting points, will develop during coming decades, creating new products, adding payrolls, bringing in new service occupations, and providing additional openings for professional services of all types."
Chamber of Commerce operations for 1949 ended on a high note with the annual meeting, attended by 15,600, being held in the Sam Houston Coliseum, with General Dwight D. Eisenhower as the speaker. In introducing Mrs. Eisenhower, Jesse H. Jones forecast that "she would grace any position to which her husband might take her." Concluding his year as president of the Chamber of Commerce, Warren S. Bellows said: "The pace of progress in Houston is so fast, and the demand for forward-looking thinking is so great, that the leadership of this community seldom has time to consider the past." He expressed faith in the belief that Houston’s accepted destiny was continued growth, "to surge ahead among the major cities of the world."
When the United States reached the mid-century year of 1950, the official census was reported as 150,697,361. The population of Texas was 7,711,194, with 62.7 percent urban and 37.3 percent rural. The population of Houston was 596,163 and that of Harris County was 806,701.
The Chamber of Commerce under President P. P. Butler compiled a five-year comparison which documented substantial growth in all key economic indices.
Houston’s business index, based upon 100 for the 1947-1949 period, showed a five-year increase in non-residential consumption of electric current in Harris County from 76 to 125, natural gas from 84 to 125, port and railroad tonnage received and forwarded from 85 to 108, bank debits to individuals accounts from 70 to 123, and department store sales from 70 to 113. Automobile and truck registrations in Harris County climbed from 193,255 in 1946 to 306,870 in 1950; while bank deposits increased from $896,284,590 to $1,332,984,000. Building permits increased from $50,693,600 to $176,932,907, but total construction in the county climbed from $224,000,000 in 1946 to $314,748,651 in 1950. During the five-year period, 84,392 dwelling units were completed.
During 1950, Houston showed the beginning of a trend that would strongly influence its economy within the decade—the expansion of headquarters operations. Two major achievements in this field in 1950 were the opening of Continental Oil Company’s headquarters in Houston and the announcement of a $6,000,000 regional home office here for Prudential Insurance Company. The Washburn Tunnel opened on May 27th, and the new 72,000 seat Rice Stadium, for which ground was broken in January, was ready for the opening of the football season. A new terminal building at the Houston International Airport was announced, and Houston was further established as the hub of the nation’s natural gas pipeline network.
Construction at the Texas Medical Center was in full swing, with the Methodist, St. Luke’s and M. D. Anderson hospitals under construction and plans approved for the University of Texas Dental School and the Shrine Crippled Children’s Hospital. The rebuilding of Main Street continued with the opening of Battlestein’s enlarged store and with ground being broken for Sakowitz’ new building. The Honorable Liaquat Ali Khan, Prime Minister of Pakistan, and the Begum Liaquat All Khan visited Houston May 21-22.
Mid-century brought problems to the nation. When North Korean troops crossed the 38th parallel into South Korea, the United Nations authorized a "police force", but the United States embarked on this unpopular, costly war almost alone. The upward trend in prices led labor to press for higher wages, and the Korean war reduced unemployment in the nation to 1,800,000. The war-crimes trials were under way in Germany and Japan, while crime was starting an upward spiral in this country. The Supreme Court ruled that Negroes could not be denied admittance to graduate schools in the South. The increased complexity of world technology put an increasing premium on scientific skills.
The Tidelands issue reached a crucial stage when the United States Supreme Court ruled against Texas’ claim to its submerged offshore lands. Efforts were made to have Congress quitclaim this land to Texas, but bills to this end received a presidential veto. They were passed, however, in 1953, restoring ownership of submerged coastal lands to state ownership to "historic limits." This was further clarified in 1960, with a Supreme Court decision giving Texas ownership of these lands to a distance of three leagues (10.35 miles) to seaward.
The 1946-1950 period spotlighted a number of developments in Houston, but among the more decisive were steps taken for chemical industry expansion, the development of the Texas Medical Center, actions to alleviate air and water pollution as serious threats, and the development of a plan to assure Houston of long-range flood protection.