YEARS OF CONSOLIDATION (1955-1960)
The five-to-one majority given a $15,000,000 county road-bond issue started 1959 on an optimistic note, following adjustment to the recession of the two prior years. This bond issue supplied funds to keep the freeway construction program on schedule by supplementing the rapidly dwindling right-of-way money from previous bond issues. Frank H. Newnam, Jr., chairman of the Highway Committee of the Chamber of Commerce said: "If we were to continue to take advantage of the state’s matching of county funds, we had to have this right-of-way money immediately. The county’s bond program will enable us to acquire an additional $30,000,000 in right-of-way." To keep the state highway program going, some time earlier, Harris County had advanced $6,500,000 to the Texas Highway Department, when state funds were not immediately available. Reimbursement in this amount, therefore, gave Harris County funds to buy $43,000,000 more right-of-way. When this was added to the $80,000,000 construction funds allocated to Harris County, it made a $123,000,000 package available for road construction essential to the area’s continued progress.
The road-bond approval was also viewed as a promising sign for a good year for business. Dr. F. A. Buechel, research director of the Chamber of Commerce said: "The business curve formed by the indexes of the Houston metropolitan area has been quite different from that of the nation as a whole. During the early phase of the recent recession, the relationship between the business curves of the nation and of the metropolitan Houston area was somewhat similar to that encountered in previous periods of business recession—when the downward trend in the Houston area began somewhat later than that of the nation, and recovery started earlier. Moreover, both the downward trend and the recovery phase in the Houston area in the past have been less violent than in the nation as a whole. In the recent recession, the upward phase, in relation to that of the nation, has differed from past experience in that the leveling off period in the Houston area was considerably longer than in the nation; and the upward tendency has been much more gradual than in the country at large."
The very large supply of surface water needed to assure Houston’s future and continued industrial growth came much closer to reality during the year with the signing of the agreement by the City of Houston and the Trinity River Authority to develop the lower Trinity River with dams at Livingston and Wallisville. This culminated months of delay, and at times rather strained relations between the two groups, and the final resolution of the controversy was due in no small measure to the negotiations of Gail Whitcomb on an informal basis.
To put to rest recurring statements that the Houston Chamber of Commerce opposed navigation on the Trinity, the Board of Directors early in the year had adopted the following statement of policy:
"The Houston Chamber of Commerce favors navigation projects on Texas rivers and streams which are sound from a business, economic and investment standpoint and provided, of course, that such improvements preserve the traditional priorities of water uses as fixed by the laws of Texas.
The site proposed by Houston for the location of Lake Livingston was the same site proposed by the Trinity River authority, and concurred exactly with the Trinity River master plan. As a matter of fact, the project was given No.1 priority in the lower Trinity when the Trinity River Authority was offering water from it to Houston. President Lockwood reacted to this series of developments as follows: "The agreement recently concluded by the City of Houston and the Trinity River Authority paves the way for the development of very large supplies of relatively inexpensive industrial water for Houston and the Lower Trinity River Valley counties. Insofar as the future prosperity of the Houston-Lower Trinity area is concerned, this agreement is one of the most significant events of our time."
The long-overdue Southern Transcontinental Air Service Case approached conclusion with the completion of hearings late in the year. This case modified a long-standing practice in air-route authorizations. In the past, it had been the prevailing practice for airlines themselves to institute proceedings for authorization to serve routes and to provide service designed for the convenience of the carriers. But a growing recognition by the Civil Aeronautics Board that centers to be served had inherent rights to seek routes and services adequate to their needs was crystallized in this case.
"We believe the day has long since passed," said President Lockwood, "when an airline to suit its convenience because of existing route structures and loyalties which lie elsewhere, may inflict, or attempt to inflict, inferior service on a community in an effort to protect what it considers its own markets that may have become involved in cases such as the current Southern Transcontinental Service Case. We believe the convenience of the traveling public is paramount to the airline’s convenience, and that the best interests of the community tower head and shoulders over the airline s own operational interests.
During the period from 1956 to 1959, Houston’s long efforts for adequate air service finally began to pay off. In CAB decisions during these years, Houston was granted seven new air routes, and three new carriers were authorized to serve Houston. During the same period, Dallas was granted two new routes, with no new carriers. The Jet Age of air transport finally came to Houston in 1959 with the general use of prop-jet aircraft and the inauguration of pure-jet service to New York late in the year. Additional jet services were scheduled for the following year. Houston found itself in the comfortable position of having $11,000,000 in bond funds available for additional facilities at the International Airport and to purchase the basic site for the new airport. At long last the community was resolved to keep ahead of physical requirements for first-class air service and to improve its stature as an air transportation hub.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas published a review on Houston in April, 1959. After tracing the history and economic development of Houston, the review said: "The cultural environment of Houston has shown marked progress in recent years. Perhaps one of the strongest appeals of living in Houston is the abundance of recreational facilities and activities." Referring to Houston’s truly impressive growth during the past 30 years, the report said that measured by nearly any economic yardstick, the rate of development of the Houston area had placed it among the leading cities of the nation. Referring to the past two years of recession and readjustment in the oil industry, the report indicated that Houston’s underlying strength showed through as construction awards rose in the home-building field and as new chemical-plant construction continued.
"The city presents a picture of seeming perpetual growth and progress," the report continued. It suggested that the leveling off in the growth of the diversified phases of the oil industry could be offset by more development of consumer products. After citing other possible problem areas, the report concluded: "With reasonable efforts to correct the major problems, none should seriously hamper the economic progress of the Houston area. In view of Houston’s history of successfully handling problems of similar magnitude, there is reason to believe that it will competently solve others."
To measure the impressive billion-dollar agri-business complex of the Texas Gulf Coast, members of the 100-man Agricultural Committee of the Chamber of Commerce completed a two-year research project and produced a "Blueprint for Agriculture." This report, unique in the nation, was recognized as the most complete agri-business analysis ever made of a localized area.
This agri-business analysis concluded that two factors had led many people to believe that agriculture was a sick and declining industry. The first of these was the relative decline in farm income, and the second was the decline in farm population, especially during the 20 years just past. Actually, however, the report pointed out that American agriculture was undergoing a major technological revolution. The report forecast that during the next few years many businessmen would look back on these changes and wonder how they could have been so unaware of the fundamental trends that were under way.
"Agriculture today is vastly different from what it was 20 or 30 years ago," the report declared. "Today a reference to agriculture in the national economy takes in the entire agricultural industry, not just farming and ranching alone. Today’s farms are commercial and specialized. They are no longer self-sufficient units, but are dependent upon off-farm and off-ranch business and industry for a large portion of their production supplies—and for the processing and distribution of their products."
Figures in the report showed that the total man-hours worked on farms at that time was only three-fourths of what it was in the early days of World War II, but the increase in agricultural skills, the use of modern machinery and the application of sound business principles had raised farm production to a point greater than ever before. Man-hour production of agricultural commodities was more than double what it was only 20 years before.
All of the growth in Texas agriculture could be attributed to the new technology, the improved farming practices, the revolution that had resulted in agri-business. The state had seen a dramatic migration within the last 20 years—cotton had moved west to the irrigated plains of West Texas, and cattle herds had moved east, with cattlemen finding it more profitable to feed their stock on fewer, greener acres in East Texas pastures.
Houston’s position as a major headquarters city for industrial and business operations gained additional stature during the year with several announcements pointing up the trend. The downtown skyline continued to grow with work nearing completion on the Texaco building, and steelwork was towering skyward for the First City National Bank Building and its garage. A steel contract for the Humble Oil & Refining Company’s 44- story building had been let, and this structure would soon start rising to become one of the city’s major showplaces.
A survey by the Houston Association of Building Owners and Managers of 70 major office buildings, those with more than 10,000 square feet of space each, showed a total square footage of 12,826,967, of which 9,388,340 square feet was office space. Prior to 1920, Houston had only 900,000 square feet of office space. From the close of World War II until mid-1959, a total of 8,892,426 square feet had been built or projected, and of this amount, 2,404,544 was in suburban buildings.