YEARS OF EXPANSION (1950-1955)
The Highway Committee of the Chamber of Commerce has long been the coordinating influence in this area for freeway and thoroughfare planning and development. At the present time, Houston has designated, and under construction, a 244-mile freeway system which will ultimately cost about a half billion dollars. By the end of 1965, the program was approximately one-half completed, but 85 percent of the necessary right of way had been purchased. Under the leadership of W. P. Hobby, John T. Jones, Jr., Frank Newnam, George G. Smith, and Earl Calkins, the Highway Committee has worked with the city, county and the Texas Highway Department in the planning of a sound freeway-and-thoroughfare system for Houstonís metropolitan area. The system has been designed to meet essential needs at the lowest possible cost.
The system includes ten freeways that are either already in use, under construction, or programmed, which converge on central Houston. Most of them penetrate inside a 90-mile Outer Loop which circles Houston at about a 12-mile radius from the core-city area. The system feeds into an Inner Loop which circles the downtown area primarily with elevated freeways.
The Chamber of Commerce recognizes that this freeway system is vital to the continued development of metropolitan Houston. In 20 years, the number of licensed vehicles in Harris County has increased from 172,555 to more than 800,000, and it has challenged the coordinated efforts of every affected agency to design, build and maintain a freeway system for such rapidly expanding needs. Periodically it has been necessary for both the city and county to submit bond issues for funds for right-of-way procurement or for construction. In such elections, the Highway Committee has been instrumental in creating citizens committees to support the bond campaigns.
Thus far, Houston and Harris County have been rather successful in staying abreast of expanding needs. This has required a continuing program of planning, programming and financing. Farsighted consideration has characterized the program from the early days. After the city was founded in 1836, in fact, the developers hired Publisher-Surveyor Gail Borden, Jr., to lay out the streets of Houston. He anticipated future needs with amazing vision, and provided for wide and straight streets in the downtown area.
This grid of wide and straight streets still astonishes visitors from older cities that did not have the benefit of planners with such vision. Today these streets, mainly converted now to thoroughfares, combine to assure Houston of one of the nationís finest patterns for fast and effective traffic movement. With the coming of the motor car, Houston began a series of traffic studies which continue to be under periodic review. The first major street system was planned in 1912, and a second plan was drawn up in 1929. This latter plan, although slowed by depression and World War II, provided a basis for future development of the entire area. In the early 1940ís, full-scale urban transportation studies were made, and they proved to be of major importance when Houston began its phenomenal post-war growth.
In 1952, local transportation officials enlisted the cooperation of the Texas Highway Department and the U. S. Bureau of Public Roads in developing a comprehensive traffic survey of the metropolitan area. This survey became the foundation for future planning, looking ahead to 1980, and provided the subject matter of an Urban Transit Conference conducted by the Highway Committee of the Chamber of Commerce on May 28, 1965. This conference stressed the need to plan for the entire transportation mix: the movement of people and goods; movement by public and private transport; vehicular versus pedestrian movement; and the need for terminal facilities.
Freeways are designed to expedite movement of traffic between distant points. Thoroughfares have the job of carrying the bulk of the internal movements within the metropolitan area. And streets give access to residential, commercial and industrial uses. On this system, Houston has the service of public transportation to supplement the use of private automobile. Off-street parking in the core-city area has been provided in gratifying volume by private enterprise. The need for some form of rapid transit in the not too distant future is recognized, but the answer to this need must still be found.
Houston has long had an interest in the arts and lively entertainment, but it was during the 1950-1955 period that a new era of progress in the cultural development of the community began. Prior to that time, the situation here was not so bad as the critics claimed in referring to Houston as a "cultural Sahara", nor yet as good as the leaders in the local arts and most Houston citizens desired. Today, however, Houston is a recognized center of artistic expression and appreciation. Most of this is a result of planned developments of the last two decades. Corporate and governmental executives and professionals moving to Houston during this period have added their contributions to the cityís cultural interest and support.
A scant two years after the founding of Houston, visiting actors staged "Dumb Belle", or "Iím Perfection", which is believed to be the first theatre performance in the Republic of Texas. The play went on despite the fact that the musicians who were expected to furnish the background music failed to arrive by boat from Mobile. An earlier effort to introduce a stage production to Houston failed when the boat on which the actors were traveling went aground at Galveston.
Through the years some of the great figures in the world of the arts have performed in Houston-Joseph Jefferson, Bernhardt, Edwin Booth, Modjeska, and Will Rogers. The distinguished list also included Madame Schumann-Heink, Caruso, Paderewski and Paylova. Active throughout the history of Houston in everything for the benefit of the community, the Chamber of Commerce has long maintained an active interest in the cultivation of this phase of the life of Houston.
The Museum of Fine Arts was founded in 1924 under the auspices of the Houston Public School Art League and occupies a site furnished by Joseph S. and Lucie Halm Cullinan and the George Hermann Estate. Under the more recent brilliant guidance of James Johnson Sweeney, the Museum has gained national and international recognition. Houston also has the Contemporary Arts Museum and fine arts programs in local universities. Active interest in painting and sculpture is also supported by the Conservative Arts Club, the Art League of Houston, and the Artists Guild of Houston, together with a dozen or more art galleries.
Founded in 1913, now under the brilliant leadership of Sir John Barbirolli, the Houston Symphony Orchestra has been Houstonís most powerful continuing influence in cultural development. Orchestras are also supported by the University of Houston, Texas Southern University, and the Houston Baptist College. The Houston All-City Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1946 by the Houston Public Schools, and the Houston Youth Symphony Orchestra was organized in 1946 by Howard Webb and directed by him until his retirement in 1963. The Houston Chorale has long exerted a favorable influence on Houstonís cultural development.
From its beginning in 1955, the Houston Grand Opera Association has had an impressive growth, both in the number of its performances and also in its influence in the city. The annual programs of other groups include light operas, chamber music as well as band and other concerts by specialized musical organizations.
From its humble beginning at the end of an alley on Main Street in 1947, the Alley Theatre under the direction of Nina Vance has become one of the finest professional repertory theatres in the world. With a grant from the Ford Foundation and a downtown site given by Houston Endowment, Inc., plus additional funds raised in a successful local drive, the Alley has under construction a revolutionary new $3,000,000 theatre adjoining the Civic Center. Other professional and amateur theatrical groups, including the new $3,000,000 Houston Music Theatre in Sharpstown, and miscellaneous other organizations in the field of the arts round out Houstonís cultural climate. Theatre, Inc. has long specialized in top-quality musical comedy and Houston Theatre Center performs both established and experimental productions on its arena-type stage.
The Jesse H. Jones Hall for the Performing Arts is being built on the site long occupied by the old City Auditorium. The entire $6,600,000 construction cost for the Jones Hall was given by Houston Endowment, Inc., a foundation created by the late Mr. and Mrs. Jesse H. Jones, as a gift to the City of Houston. It will be the permanent home of the Houston Symphony Orchestra, the Houston Grand Opera Association and the Houston Ballet Foundation. The hall will overlook a landscaped mall and the Civic Center with its $12,000,000 National Space Hall of Fame convention and exhibit center, now under construction.
A market may be defined as people with the money and the desire to buy. Marketing men want to know about concentrations of purchasing power, and the geographical extent of a market is a matter of definition. It varies with commodities. We speak of a primary retail market and a secondary retail market, and the wholesale market may vary from a few counties to the entire nation or even to many parts of the world.
Because of its rapid growth and thriving economy, Houston has become the dominant market center of the Southwest. During the five-year period of 1951-1955, for example, the index of department store sales increased from 127 to 153. The strong growth trend, that began in Houston as soon as the pent up demand for goods following World War II was over, has continued without serious interruption.
Four basic factors have contributed to Houstonís growth as a regional market. On many commodities, this city has had the advantage of water rates or water-compelled freight rates. The growth of manufacturing all along the Gulf Coast has created a steady flow of new jobs. The center of the stateís population density has been shifting southward for many years. And the Houston area has a relatively high ratio of families in the higher income brackets.
The Houston Chamber of Commerce has sought through the years in many ways to build the local retail and wholesale market. Basic, of course, have been activities to create jobs and payrolls. Without success in such efforts, other efforts would be of little consequence. Good-will trips were arranged over a period of years, and participation of local people in community events throughout the market area was encouraged. Work on improved transportation services had a distinct market relationship. Trade shows have been held, and buyersí guides have been published. Cooperation has been given to the training of retail and wholesale personnel. Special promotions have been fostered, and convention as well as tourist activity was directed by the Chamber of Commerce until recent years.
The retailers of Houston have been particularly progressive. As soon as materials and goods were available after World War II, they began to expand and improve their facilities. With the later development of community and regional shopping centers, the downtown retailers began to decentralize and locate outlets in these centers. At the same time, they kept their downtown facilities, services and promotional efforts competitive with the new outlets in the shopping centers. The newspapers and other media have contributed materially to the building of the Houston market. This has contributed significantly to the vitality that the central district of Houston has maintained.
For 30 years, Houston has held the rank of Americaís fastest growing city, with a growth rate of more than 50 percent every ten years. This expansion of population, coupled with a steady increase in per capita income, results in an expanding market. During the 1950-1960 decade, metropolitan Houstonís retail sales increased 90.4 percent, while wholesale sales increased 117.6 percent. A diversification of the economy has added strength to the market. Houston has the Southwestís largest concentration of corporation headquarters, largest concentration of petroleum refining and chemical-petrochemical capacity, and ranks first in the Southwest in manufacturing payroll, value added by manufacture, and investment in new manufacturing facilities.
During 1965, after the Houston Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area was increased by adding Brazoria, Fort Bend, Liberty and Montgomery counties to Harris County a study was made of growth trends in this new SMSA. From 1960 to 1965, population was up 15 percent, the work force had increased 24 percent, and automobile registrations were up 25.4 percent. From 1960 to 1964, retail sales were up 23.6 percent, and from 1958 to 1963, wholesale sales were up 23.5 percent.
The dominance of the Southwest market is further indicated by some comparisons made in 1965 with other leading market centers. The Houston SMSA had a population of 1,693,000, compared to 1,310,000 in Dallas and 997,400 in New Orleans; while the value added by manufacture for Houston was $1,889,700,000, compared to $1,164,700,000 for Dallas and $627,000,000 for New Orleans it was $2,016,200,000.