YEARS OF CONSOLIDATION (1955-1960)
Thirty years of aviation in Houston was marked by appropriate ceremonies in April, 1958. As Houston moved into its 31st year of commercial aviation, it stood on the threshold of another era of man s conquest of the skiesóthe Jet Age. Several of the major airlines were to put jet aircraft into service before the end of the year, and Houston was trying to prepare to meet the requirements of this new phase of transportation. Existing runways at the Houston International Airport were being extended and strengthened in preparation for the fast and heavy, long-rolling jets.
The order issued by the Civil Aeronautics Board instituting an inquiry into Houstonís need for direct one-carrier air service to the West Coast as part of a Southern Transcontinental route brought into focus Houstonís greatest air-service deficiency. For the first time in over a decade, the CAB would have the opportunity to review the needs of the remaining major segment of the national airways pattern to connect the three fastest-growth areas of the nationó Florida, Texas and California. In establishing this inquiry, the CAB pointed out that Houston was the largest city in the nation without single-carrier service to the West Coast.
Recognizing the importance of this and other prospective air-service cases, and the need for legal counsel at the Washington level, the Aviation Committee raised funds to engage the services of Cecil A. Beasley, Jr., a lawyer experienced in practice before the Civil Aeronautics Board. In the preparation of factual surveys for briefs, the Chamber of Commerce also retained a consulting firm for airline statistical studies. These services were to be established with matching funds from the city; but funds were not included in the city budget for this purpose for more than a year, after which time the city assumed the full responsibility.
Under the leadership of Elvin M. Smith, the Athletic Committee opened discussions on the possibilities of a post-season football game, which had been tried unsuccessfully in Houston before. Negotiations were entered into on this subject with the Southwest Conference, with the National Collegiate Athletic Association, and with the Rice Institute for the use of its stadium. Originally, the game was to be sponsored by the Athletic Committee, but it seemed advisable to create a separate non-profit corporation to sponsor the series. The Chamber of Commerce still had to negotiate for the Rice Stadium and in turn make it available to the Greater Houston Bowl Association.
On July 1, 1958, the Executive Committee concurred in a recommendation from the Athletic Committee to endorse a $20,000,000 bond issue for a County Athletic Stadium, to seat approximately 45,000, "an air-conditioned coliseum" designed to attract major league baseball and professional football. Local interests were already beginning preliminary plans and negotiations for such baseball and football franchises. The baseball plans involved a special problem in the fact that some disposition would have to be made of the existing Houston Buff franchise.
The efforts of the Chamber of Commerce to develop industry on an area-wide basis earned the approval of "The Baytown Sun", which commented editorially: "The Houston Chamber of Commerce has come up with a new plan that may have far-reaching results in expediting Texas Gulf Coast industrial expansion. The metropolis is taking its neighbors into a partnership, so to speak, in the field of industrial expansion on the theory that ĎWhatís good for them is good for Houstoní . . . Bold steps like these, which have actually been practiced by Houston for some time, are among the reasons why Houston is fast developing into one of the great world cities."
A new expression came into popular use as the petrochemical empire of the area expanded. It was said that in a flat triangle resting on the prolific East Texas Gulf Coast, the mighty petrochemical industry was feeding from an overflowing "Spaghetti Bowl", unlike anything to be found anywhere else in the world. This statement was made by G. R. (Jack) Walton, a veteran industrial developer who coined the phrase to describe the maze of undergound pipelines connecting various plants in the area. In this golden triangle, it was estimated that 85 per cent of the nationís petrochemical-producing capacity was housed in a $2,000,000,000 complex of plants, most of them having been developed within the decade. At that time, some 32 plants and seven underground salt domes were linked together by the concentrated pipelines of the "Spaghetti Bowl." Within this bowl were an estimated 814 miles of chemical pipelines by which a waste material of one plant became a raw material of another.
During 1958, the Harris County Heritage Society reached a milestone toward the realization of a dream it had been developing for some time. The restored Kellum-Noble House, built in 1847 and 1848, was dedicated as the first unit of a restoration plan for Sam Houston Park. This oldest house in Houston was built by Nathaniel Kellum, a young Virginian. Through the years it was occupied by various owners, and at one time was a private school. Sam Houston and other notables of early Houston had visited in this frontier mansion.
During 1958, the Education Committee of the Chamber of Commerce surveyed the pros and cons of a 12-months school system. The survey indicated some favorable factors, such as: an increase in the handling capacity of existing school buildings by one-third; help in overcoming existing shortage of teachers; increased earnings for teachers; increased vacation job opportunities for students; and more flexibility in family vacation time. Against the idea were these objections: schools would have to be air conditioned; family vacation plans would be disrupted; maintenance work on schools would be done under difficulty; transportation costs might increase; handling transfer-student placement would be more difficult; and extracurricular activities could conflict.
President Belt of the Chamber of Commerce scoffed at the idea that the downtown areas of cities were doomed. "During recent years," he said, "there has probably been as much loose talk about the future of downtown areas of cities as about any other phase of urban development." "Flight to the Suburbs" and "Downtown Doomed" were examples of the foreboding expressions that were being bandied about. No student of city growth would question the fact that the pattern of urban development had been changing, Mr. Belt continued. This new pattern of development had paved the way for a significant growth of shopping centers, ranging from strip sections along major thoroughfares to the great regional shopping cities. It was Mr. Beltís position that thriving central cities were still needed, that a healthy city must maintain a dynamic downtown, and that the heart of the city should continue as the hub of its economic activity.
During 1958, President Miguel Ydigoras Fuentes of Guatemala and his wife visited Houston, and air-freight service was started between Houston and Guatemala. Industrial Houston was seeing more food processing, particularly coffee roasting and rice milling. High-rise apartment living was becoming an increasing way of life in Houston, with the completion of the Mayfair, the Park Towers, and 1400 Hermann Drive Apartments. Imported compact cars and home swimming pools were the new rage, along with hula hoops. Eastern Airlines introduced prop-jet Electras on some of its routes out of Houston.
With an upturn in a number of trends, 1959 marked the turning of the tide for Houstonís years of consolidation. Mason G. Lockwood became president of the Chamber of Commerce, succeeding Ben C. Belt. "Creation of Jobs" was the yearís major challenge. By the end of the year, the record was to show a new manufacturing plant on an average of every two weeks, and a new manufacturing expansion announced on the average of every four days.
On the broader scene, Alaska and Hawaii were admitted to statehood, becoming the 49th and 50th states of the Union. Fidel Castro culminated his drive that began in the hills of Cuba and established himself as the islandís dictator. A shift in the countryís national-defense emphasis saw the equipping of atomic submarines with Polaris missiles. Automobile manufacturers of this country sought to answer the threat of foreign imports with their own style of corn-pact cars. Scandals connected with television-quiz programs made headlines. The seven Mercury astronauts were selected. The Bathyscaphe Trieste reached ocean depths of 18,600 ft.
Continuing the growth trends of many years, the progress in Houston during 1959 was made possible by informed leadership and by an informed public working together through government, private enterprise and voluntary associations to make Houston a better place to live and work. The Houston area continued to have pressing needs, but it also had the resources, when properly marshaled and utilized, to meet those needs. Given plans and programs to meet the needs of the Houston area, leaders representing the common unity here could, with solidarity as well as with determination and decisive action, keep Houston and its environs in step with the progress of the current urban way of life.
The Houston Chamber of Commerce held to the belief that there were no essential community needs impossible of reasonable achievement. Failure, according to this attitude of confidence, came only when community leaders and organizations, because of lack of vision, apathy, expediency, factionalism and penuriousness, concluded that they were impossible. The Chamber of Commerce increasingly was taking the positive approach toward planning and building for a better and greater city.
President Lockwood, in presenting the organizationís program of work for 1959, outlined seven major challenges and five "followthrough" activities. For the former, he listed: redevelopment, particularly in the older sections of the city; the expanded Civic Center; County Home Rule; mass-transit improvements; a master street plan; industrial development with accent on consumer products; Jet Age airport; and increased financial support for the Chamber of Commerce. Five priority projects to be continued were: all-out freeway development; San Jacinto and Trinity water projects; Southern Transcontinental air service; San Jacinto Ordnance Depotís release for industrial development, with a feasibility study for more deep-water plant sites; and flood-control works.