YEARS OF CONSOLIDATION (1955-1960)
The first decade following World War II was characterized by an accelerating economy resulting from efforts to meet the pent-up demands of a growing population here at home and the reconstruction needs of nations abroad. While a prolonged drought, without precedent in Texas history, created a period of trial for the farm and ranch interests of the state from 1950 until 1957, the economic growth of the state continued, indicating the relative decline in the dependence of Texas upon agriculture and livestock production. The first post-war decade was one of unprecedented progress for metropolitan Houston.
The upward trends continued in general, but with the beginning of the next decade, economic and political conditions began to take on a new look. The years of consolidation from 1955 to 1960 saw the opening of the Space Age, the beginning of commercial jet aviation, the nationalization of the Suez Canal by Egypt, the rise to power of Fidel Castro in Cuba, the beginning of racial strife in the United States with race riots in Little Rock, and the business recession of 1957 and 1958. These years of consolidation brought significant changes to Houston.
When World War II ended in 1945, Houston was already riding the crest of a wave of industrial development. Surging to new high-water marks of prosperity with the 1939-1941 preparedness program, industrial development took on new proportions when the nation entered the war and the Houston area assumed an important share of responsibility for meeting urgent military and civilian needs. When growth factors were tabulated for the 1946-1956 period, evidence was apparent that it had been a dynamic decade for Houston and the surrounding area.
Automobile registrations, bank debits, bank deposits, building permits, postal receipts, and non-residential gas consumption more than doubled during the decade. Electric current consumption more than trebled. Utility customers practically doubled. Population climbed 69 percent. The $493,045,431 total commercial and industrial construction in metropolitan Houston from 1948 to 1955 was but representative of the swelling statistics. People moved to the Houston area to work in the new industries and in the businesses which developed or expanded to serve the industries and their personnel. Professional people followed to serve the increasing population, and construction people came to provide the structures and facilities necessary for this growth. Population estimated at 429,500 in 1946 was estimated at 725,000 in 1956 for Houston, and the increase in Harris County was from 681,500 to 1,076,000.
These people bought cars, and the businesses and industries bought trucks and trailers until the total had risen from 193,255 to 475,212 at the end of 1955, an increase of 281,957 in the 10-year period. This growing number of motor vehicles called for more streets, thoroughfares and freeways, and the growing number of people needed more public facilities. Public-works projects during this period accounted for $219,323,683, not including the $97,285,311 spent for more schools and classrooms and educational facilities, nor the $38,201,893 for churches. Non-residential construction of all types totaled $1,583,688,708 for this dynamic part of Houstonís history.
To house metropolitan Houstonís growing population, residential construction moved at a fast clip, with 172,463 units being built during the 10-year period at a cost of $1,305,721,175. Thus development in the Houston area could be measured by the $2,889,409,883 spent for residential and non-residential construction. This evidence in tangible steel and stone could be seen throughout the area and in subdivisions of homes spreading over what had been grassy prairies ten years earlier.
Metropolitan Houstonís labor force kept pace with the fast-moving industrial and commercial development. In January, 1956, the total labor force stood at 409,575 compared to 234,900 in April, 1940. Some 396,575 were employed at the beginning of 1956, compared to 211,900 in 1940.
Houston leaders were confident with the beginning of 1956. They pointed out that the full-scale development of the petrochemical industry, which had been born out of increased technical knowledge resulting from expanding research activities, had just begun. They could see the beginning of the transformation of basic products into consumer products for the increasing population of the area. They had every reason to believe that Houston might well be riding the beginning of a new industrial wave which could crest at an even higher peak than ever before.
Major buildings contributing to the growing skyline of Houston in the 100,000 to 1,000,000 square-foot class completed in the years 1956 through 1960 included: Bank of the Southwest, Montrose, Medical Towers, Adams Petroleum, Memorial Professional, Hermann Professional Addition, and Texaco Addition.
Perhaps the most significant development of this five-year period would be evidence of Houstonís economic stability during the period of 1957 and 1958 when a recession that prevailed throughout the nation reached proportions of a depression in the oil industry. Because of Houstonís leadership in the oil industry, and the dominance of oil-related business in the Gulf Coast area, economists had long expressed concern over the ability of the city to ride out depressed conditions in all phases of the petroleum industry. Since the oil industry is a diversified one, with no prior record of depression striking all oil-industry phases (including exploration and production, refining, and transportation and marketing) at the same time, the thought of a simultaneous recession in all these related industries had been a cause of concern for Houston. This happened during 1957 and 1958. However, demonstrating its sound economic base and the diversification of its interest, Houston showed a growth rate of approximately five per cent for each of these years.
Confidence in the future was expressed by President Ben C. Belt of the Chamber of Commerce at the beginning of 1956. Characterizing 1955 as Houstonís finest year to date, Mr. Belt said that most economists and business leaders were confident that 1956 would be another year of high-level commercial and industrial activity. Since Houston had been established as the hub of the rapidly developing Gulf Coast region, he said, the very dynamism of the economy had become an increasing magnet for expansion of industry and distribution.
"Houston also has many problems", he said, "and these are not overlooked in the 1956 program of work of the Chamber of Commerce. Fortunately, many of our problems are those of growth rather than those of stagnation. There is always more incentive to work on the problems of a dynamic community, one that is going ahead and growing and improving. Our needs in the fields of water supply, street and highway improvements, flood control, fire prevention and many others will receive increased attention this year.
Adopting a theme that vision and action are essential ingredients for Houstonís progress and continuing prosperity, the Chamber of Commerce also adopted for 1956 its most ambitious program of work up to that time. At the first meeting of the Board of Directors for the new year, President Belt said that, without question, water supply was Houstonís No. 1 problem, and he expressed pleasure that Mayor Oscar Holcombe had indicated he would give it top priority in the consideration of municipal matters. In a letter addressed to the city on this subject, Mr. Belt said: "Fortunately, the Trinity River Bill, enacted by the Legislature in the last session, contains provisions which should make it possible for the Houston area to obtain water from the Trinity River to meet ultimate needs."
Houston became the nationís second largest city in area early in the year when 140 square miles were annexed to give Houston a total area of 320 square miles, being exceeded only by Los Angeles with 450. The Chamber of Commerce has consistently supported the City of Houston in its annexation program. Texas laws have made it rather easy for home-rule cities to annex additional area, and the foresight of its mayors and city councils through the years has enabled Houston to maintain its metropolitan integrity even during a period of changing patterns in urban development.
When a cityís boundary lines cannot be expanded to accommodate its swelling growth, problems of maintaining a community of interests are created. Houstonís annexation program through the years has made it possible to channel future growth along more uniform and sound lines. It has been found to be easier to integrate new territory into the city than it is to cope with the problem of fringe-area incorporation.
The annexation program was followed by a two-to-one approval of $21,500,000 in city bonds for needed public works. By this action, Houston reversed in an impressive way the pattern of bond defeats which had characterized metropolitan areas across the country for several years. This bond election gave the people of Houston an opportunity to express their interest in the cityís progress and in continuing its forward momentum at an accelerating pace.
Referring to this action in the February, 1956, issue of "Houston Magazine", President Belt wrote: "Virtually everybody in Houston looks forward to the dynamic growth and sound development which will strengthen our economy and create the better life that improved conditions make possible. This is but another way of saying that just about everyone believes in the objectives of the Houston Chamber of Commerce.
"There may be wide disagreement as to the means which ought to be adopted to have a better city. This is an honest difference of opinions. It indicates no real schism in the teamwork effort for a better and more prosperous community. The Houston Chamber of Commerce seeks year after year to pinpoint important needs and opportunities of the area, to make known factual analysis of these in order to enlist understanding support, and then to develop the methods and organization and to generate the action necessary to accomplish these objectives.
"More and more, we find that business and industry and the professions are assuming responsibility for building the community in the public interest. Therefore, it is necessary to have a substantial, community-wide organization through which the leadership and workmanship of the community can serve together. This organization is the Houston Chamber of Commerce. It represents all business and industry, all professions, the entire range of community interests."
The area interest of the Houston Chamber of Commerce was indicated in March, 1956, when attention was called to the growing interdependence among the component parts of the metropolitan area in matters of water supply, transportation, public health and many others. It was already evident that a metropolitan area was not an agglomeration of a score of communities, or more, with separate interests and problems; but, rather, it needed to be accepted as a large economic and social entity with the central city as the core for the area.
Finding solutions to area-wide problems was no new venture for the Houston Chamber of Commerce, and substantial progress had long since been recorded in several fields where sound public policy had demanded a regional approach to regional problems. Accepting the fact that the continued economic, social and governmental progress of the Houston area depended upon frank recognition of area-wide problems and upon area-wide solutions to them, the Houston Chamber of Commerce extended its policy of the area concept of its responsibility to practically every phase of its activities.
Later in the year, President Belt was to characterize urban development as the centuryís paramount problemónot simply the growth of cities but rather the character of the growth. He pointed out that the evils of population density were shifting to the problems of the dispersion of population.
"Metropolitan areas compound special and more complex problems of local government," he said. "Political scientists, sociologists, planning engineers and community development leaders for years have diagnosed social and political maladies infecting the metropolis and have prescribed remedies. Developments on occasion appeared filled with promise, but satisfactory results have been meager. If metropolitan areas are to be healthy, however, they must perform desired functions efficiently. The basic problem is the need for local governmental organization broad enough and with the freedom and authority to cope with metropolitan matters.
As perhaps the most significant of many trophies received through the years by the Houston Chamber of Commerce, in April of 1956, it was awarded a plaque for "the best program of work in the United States for cities with more than 200,000 population". This was presented by the Chamber of Commerce of the United States. It would be followed by two similar awards during the next six years. A winner of this trophy was not eligible to receive it again the next year. The report submitted for the judging in this competition was characterized as a one-year study showing how a city grows to greatness."
As a means of further cementing good will with the Latin American countries, the Houston Chamber of Commerce worked out arrangements with the U. S. State Department in April for seventeen Latin American ambassadors and ministers to visit Texas. They left Washington on April 27th and before their return, two days later, the group had visited Dallas, College Station, Houston, and Austin, as well as Southern Methodist University, Texas A. & M. College, The Rice Institute, the University of Houston and the University of Texas. A staff representative of the Chamber of Commerce went to Washington with Texas hats for each of the participants in the tour and coordinated all details of the trip.
Those who made the trip represented Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela. Publications throughout this country and Latin America featured the trip in pictures and stories.
During the year, the Houston Chamber of Commerce signed a contract with the Southwest Research Institute of San Antonio for a two-year study of air-pollution conditions in the Houston industrial area. The study was a further step in the long-range program of the Chamber of Commerce to keep informed on trends in air and water pollution in the Houston area. The survey was designed to give scientific information on the nature and extent of whatever air pollution the community might have, to establish bench-marks against which future measures might be made, and to give the Chamber of Commerce a basis for planning future industrial growth. Work in this field had been formalized by the Chamber of Commerce with the creation of a Waste Disposal Committee in 1948.
Concerned with Houstonís lack of progress in commercial aviation and with its increasingly unfavorable position in air service in comparison with other major cities of the country, the Chamber of Commerce in July, 1956, asked its Aviation Committee to make a 10-year projection of the local aviation needs. The committee was asked to arrive at recommendations based upon existing service and facilities and future needs. The study was to be in the same pattern as a series of water-supply studies dating back to 1947. International as well as domestic air service was to be included in the study.
During the year, the Chamber of Commerce worked with representatives of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines to obtain approval of the Civil Aeronautics Board and the U. S. State Department for KLM to serve Houston on flights between Mexico City through Montreal to Holland. Before these negotiations were initiated, President Belt wired all the domestic airlines serving Houston asking (1) if they were interested in negotiating rights to connect Houston with Europe and (2) if not, if they would refrain from any active opposition to Houstonís negotiations for such service to be supplied by KLM. All these carriers, with the exception of Pan American Airways, responded in such a way as to indicate no active opposition. Pan American did not respond.
Two separate committees enlisted the support of the Board of Directors in efforts to intercede with the Navigation District in 1956 on behalf of improved facilities and services. The World Trade Committee noted with growing anxiety "the desperate position of the port relative to cargo-handling facilities" and suggested that action be taken quickly to determine remedies for the existing situation that left the Houston port in a most unfavorable position in competition with other domestic ports. A short time later, the Traffic Committee sought the support of local interests for improved service and facilities for the Port Terminal Railroad which was characterized as being woefully inadequate."