BOOMING ECONOMY (1970-1980)
Gerald Hines opened the Galleria at Westheimer and South Post Oak in 1970. Sakowitz and Joskeís had built large stores a little earlier at this intersection where there had been only a country store and a vacant school house a few years before.
The Census of 1970 showed a population of 1,232,802 for the city proper, almost double the 1950 population.
Construction began in 1970 on Lake Conroe on the West Fork of the San Jacinto River, another addition to Houstonís surface water supply. The lake was completed in 1973. The Gulf Coast Waste Disposal Authority was created in 1970 to encourage and help channel industries to clean up their operations.
Shell Oil bought 500 acres of land near the Astrodome and started a commercial and residential development called Plaza del Oro. Congressman Bush gave up his house seat to make a race for the U.S. Senate. He lost and Bill Archer was elected to succeed him as 7th District congressman.
Work started in 1970 on the Eleven Hundred Milam Building, taller than anything downtown except One Shell Plaza.
One and Two Shell Plaza were completed in 1971 and in the same year two new projects were initiated, both bigger than anything done downtown before. Trammel Crow and the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company started work on Allen Center on an 18-acre site between Smith Street and Interstate 45 just south of the Civic Center. A big part of this property had been part of the old Fourth Ward slum until the building of the elevated freeway cut it off from the main body of Fourth Ward. Texas Eastern Transmission Company bought up 33 blocks east of Main Street for a development called Houston Center.
Memorial Hospital decided in 1971 to sell its downtown property and move to Sharpstown. Classes began in the new University of Texas Medical School in the Medical Center and the Houston Fire Department took over the operation of emergency ambulances in the city in 1971. Most of the ambulances had previously been operated by undertakers. Some of them deplored the change as a setback for private enterprise.
Leonel Castillo became the first Hispanic to be elected to a citywide office in Houston when he defeated long-time City Controller Roy Qakes in 1971. The new Southwest Airlines brought the Hobby Airport terminal back to life that year. Southwest started with three planes, serving Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio.
The Securities Exchange Commission filed suit in 1971 accusing developer Frank Sharp and several state political figures of stock fraud. The agency charged that some high state officials had been bribed to support banking legislation favored by Sharp. The developer was accused of arranging for the officials to make quick profits by buying and selling stock in his National Bankersí Life Insurance Company. The suit alleged that Sharpís bank lent the politicians the money for the deals. House Speaker Gus Mutscher and two of his aides were convicted of conspiring to accept bribes and the fallout ruined the careers of several other politicians.
Frank Sharp was granted probation and immunity from further prosecution when he pleaded guilty to making a false bank entry and dealing in unregistered stock and agreed to give testimony against the others. The scandal caused a run on his bank. It closed and Sharp lost control of the Sharpstown empire he had created.
Wayne Duddleston, Billy Goldberg, and Ralph OíConnor bought the San Diego Rockets in 1971 and moved them to Houston. This was the first professional basketball franchise in Texas. Raymond Schindler and his associates in Crest Broadcasting Company put KRIV-TV on the air on Channel 26 August 15, 1971. This was the year congress created Amtrak to run what was left of the railroad passenger business.
The Hyatt Regency Hotel opened at Louisiana and Dallas in 1972 and work started on the Pennzoil Building. W. P. Hobby, Jr., son of former Governor W. P. Hobby and Oveta Culp Hobby, was elected lieutenant governor.
The Houston Independent School District established the Houston Community College system in 1972. The system offered classes mostly at night and mostly in the Houston School Districtís buildings in the beginning.
The port began a major expansion of its Bayport Division in 1972 and oilman George Mitchell started work on his new town at The Woodlands on 1-45 North. Mitchell estimated an ultimate investment of $3 billion.
United Gas Company changed its name to Entex in 1972. Entex bought out the Houston distribution system of Houston Natural Gas in 1976 to become the cityís only natural gas supplier. Entex became a subsidiary of Arkla in 1988. The Humble Company changed its name and trade mark to Exxon in 1972. The company had adopted Enco as its trade name in 1960 and was marketing its products under that name around the world until it discovered that the meaning of Enco in Japanese was something like "car wonít go." Computers were enlisted to find a word that suggested petroleum products but didnít mean anything in any language. Exxon was the word the computers came up with.
Water pollution was getting a lot of attention in 1972 and the Houston Ship Channel was mentioned more than once as possibly the filthiest body of water in the country.
The city itself was identified as the biggest single polluter. Inadequate and overloaded sewage treatment plants were the reason. The city started work on an enormous new sewage treatment plant on the channel at 69th Street and stopped issuing new building permits in areas where the sanitary sewer system was inadequate. The plant was completed in 1983.
The newly created World Hockey Association awarded Houston a hockey franchise in 1972 and Paul Deneau put the Houston Aeros on the ice at Sam Houston Coliseum.
The team played there until the Summit opened and then folded in 1978, a year before the WHA merged with the older National Hockey League. Kenneth Schnitzer was the owner of the Aeros when the club folded.
The space base at Clear Lake was named the Lyndon B. Johnson Manned Spacecraft Center in 1973. The legislature approved a bill that year allowing the creation of a Metropolitan Transit Authority, but voters in Houston turned the idea down and the city took over operation of the foundering bus system.
The city was considering a proposal to give a citywide cable TV franchise to a syndicate of business and civic leaders. Opponents forced a referendum and voters vetoed the franchise plan. The leading opponents were the owners of the established television stations.
The first bridge over the ship channel was completed in 1973 as the final link in the 610 Loop system.
President Nixon fired Archibald Cox in 1973 and appointed Leon Jaworski of Houston to be Watergate Special Prosecutor. Jaworski had been a partner in the law firm then known as Fulbright, Crooker, Freeman, and Bates since 1935.
Louie Welch decided not to run for a sixth term after serving an unprecedented five consecutive terms as mayor. Roy Hofheinzís son Fred was elected mayor and Welch was elected president of the Houston Chamber of Commerce in 1974.
The Chamber of Commerce calculated in 1974 that new people were moving to Houston at the rate of 55,000 a year. The Two Houston Center Building was completed in Houston Center that year.
The only passenger train still using Union Station was switched to the Southern Pacific Station in 1974 and Union Station was closed. The S. P. station off Washington Avenue became the Amtrak Station.
Leon Jaworski prosecuted the Watergate investigation with more vigor than the Nixon White House probably had expected and by 1974 President Nixon was trying to conduct some damage control with appearances around the country.
The president came to Houston on March 19th, fresh from a meeting with business executives in Chicago where he had been warmly received. Some of his aides already had been indicted. Jaworski and the House Judiciary Committee were demanding additional tapes and documents Nixon did not want to furnish. He was contending that the doctrine of executive privilege entitled him to withhold the material being demanded. He came to Houston to appear before a group he expected to be every bit as supportive as the people in Chicago. The National Association of Broadcasters was in convention here. The members of this organization are owners and operators of radio and television stations, all holding licenses from the government. No group is less anxious to offend a sitting president.
The presidentís staff and the broadcastersí organization had arranged a news conference format, where the president would answer questions posed by the broadcasters. The regular White House correspondents were traveling with the president but the presidentís aides hoped they would not be permitted to ask questions since , as they explained, the White House correspondents had access to the president all the time. The program was staged in Jones Hall. The White House correspondents were permitted to ask questions. Dan Rather was there for CBS. The president and his staff did not consider Rather a friend. When he stood to ask his question, President Nixon just looked at him without inviting him to speak, as he had been doing with others. Rather waited a few seconds and then said, "Mr. President, Dan Rather, CBS News." There was a chorus of boos and some scattered applause from the audience. The president asked, "Are you running for something?" Rather said, "No, Sir, Mr. President, are you?" There were more boos before Rather asked the president to say how the House of Representatives could carry out its duties in the impeachment process if the president continued to hold back evidence the House wanted. The president replied that the House was trying to go beyond the constitutional grounds for impeachment. There were many more questions and answers but the exchange between Rather and the president got most of the attention in news accounts of the presidentís appearance. NBC News President Reuven Frank said Rather smart-assed the president. CBS News President Dick Salant received many demands that he fire Rather. He declined to do it.
The new City Library was completed in the Civic Center in 1975 and the Summit Arena opened in Greenway Plaza. The Summit was built with the proceeds from a city revenue bond issue on land donated by Kenneth Schnitzer. The city owns the building and leases it to an operating company in an arrangement similar to the one between the county and the Houston Sports Association. The Houston Rockets had no regular place to play until the Summit was completed. The Summit also was the home of the Aeros hockey team from 1975 until 1978.
Philanthropist Ima Hogg died in London in 1975 at age 93.
The Houston Rodeo was the biggest in the world by 1975. This was made possible by the Livestock Show and Rodeoís move from the Sam Houston Coliseum to the Astrodome complex in 1966.
Houstonians voted in 1975 to legalize the sale of liquor by the drink, a blow to the private clubs, but a big plus for the restaurant and convention business.
The legislature created the Coastal Subsidence District in 1975 to begin regulating and reducing the withdrawal of groundwater in Harris and Galveston counties.
Howard Hughes, Jr. died on April 5, 1976, on a chartered jet that was bringing him to the Texas Medical Center. He was 71 and a billionaire. He had been a recluse for 13 years, living in Las Vegas, the Bahamas, and Mexico, where he was when he lapsed into the coma that prompted his staff to try to get him to the medical center.
Congressman Bob Casey resigned in 1976 to accept appointment to the National Maritime Commission. Republican Ron Paul of Lake Jackson was elected to succeed him.
The One Houston Center building in Houston Center was completed in 1977. Work started that year on the First International Bank Tower where Memorial Hospital had been.
The National Womenís Conference was held in Houston in November, 1977. It was part of the observance of International Womenís Year and it was the biggest womenís meeting ever held in America. Former Congresswoman Bella Abzug of New York was in the chair and the delegates resolved among other things that the Equal Rights Amendment ought to be ratified.
City Council member Jim McConn was elected mayor of Houston in 1977 and the city the same year annexed Clear Lake City and some other large suburban areas, including Alief.
British Caledonian Airways started direct service between Houston and London in 1977. The city transit system established the first Park and Ride service on the Gulf Freeway and started planning contra flow lanes for buses on the freeways. Voters in 1978 approved the creation of a Metropolitan Transit Authority to take over the bus system. Also approved was a one-cent addition to the sales tax to pay for improvements to the system. The first contra flow lane opened, on 1-45 North, in 1979. It worked better than some people had expected. There was only one fatal accident on it in the first 5 years.
The Chamber of Commerce reported that 539 energy companies had headquarters in Houston by 1978.
Tranquility Park in the Civic Center was completed in 1979 and the city council that year granted cable TV franchises for separate areas of the city to five groups made up chiefly of people with political influence. The franchisees soon sold their rights to the national chains, Warner and Storer.
The port reported a new record of 112,056,767 tons of cargo handled during 1979.
Work started in 1979 on the Texas Commerce Tower. The value of building permits issued by the city for the year 1979 went above $2 billion for the first time. Almost three times as much office space was built in the 1970s as was built in the 1960s.
The number of vehicles in the city almost doubled between 1970 and 1979. City officials and civic leaders have been busy ever since trying to fend off Environmental Protection Agency moves to limit industrial building permits and restrict the use of motor vehicles.
The city council proposed a charter amendment in August, 1979 to expand the number of council positions from eight to 14, to comply with the 1964 Voting Rights Act requiring more minority representation. Nine of the 14 council members were to be elected by district and the district boundaries were drawn to make it likely that some blacks and Hispanics would be elected. Moses LeRoy had filed a suit in federal court to force redistricting and the city government wanted to hold a bond election, but the Department of Justice was not going to allow that without some move toward compliance with the Voting Rights Act. City voters approved the expansion. The bond issues were approved in September and the city council election was held in November. The council had always been all-male. It had been all-white from the end of Reconstruction until 1971 when black real estate operator Judson Robinson was elected. Robinson was reelected and two more black men were elected in 1979, Ernest McGowen and Anthony Hall. Also elected were the councilís first women members, Eleanor Tinsley and Christin Hartung, both white, and the first Hispanic, Ben Reyes. The Astros signed free agent Nolan Ryan in 1979.