The 1990 Census put the population of Houston proper at 1,630,553. Local officials complained that the census takers missed more than 85,000 residents but Commerce Secretary Robert Mosbacher refused to adjust the numbers. The increase over the 1980 Census, within the city limits, was only about 36,000. The increase for the county as a whole was more than 400,000 to a 1990 total of 2,818,199. Real estate values were rising again but the prolonged recession of the 1980s and competition from big name national chains ruined one of the city’s major retailers.
The last Sakowitz store closed in 1990. Simon and Tobias Sakowitz had brought their Sakowitz store to Houston from Galveston in 1911. Tobias’s son Bernard and his son Robert expanded the business to 18 stores before the company went into bankruptcy in 1985.
The Port of Houston handled a record 125 million tons of cargo in 1990. The Harris County Hospital District opened two new hospitals: another Ben Taub in the Medical Center, and the Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital on the north side. The original Ben Taub and the 1938 Jeff Davis were closed.
The famous Gilley’s honky-tonk in Pasadena was demolished in 1990 after being damaged by fire. The place had been closed because of a dispute and lawsuit between Mickey Gilley and his partner Sherwood Cryer County Commissioner E. A. "Squatty" Lyons retired in 1990 after a record 48 years in office. Republican Jerry Eversole won the election to succeed Lyons and brought about a Republican majority on the Harris County Commissioners Court for the first time since Reconstruction. The other members were County Judge Jon Lindsay and Commissioner Steve Radack, Republicans, and Commissioner Jim Fonteno and Commissioner El Franco Lee, Democrats.
President Bush and the leaders of the world’s other major economic powers held their 1990 Economic Summit meeting at Rice University. Rice and the University of Houston, too, were lobbying energetically for the Bush Presidential Library. Both schools were surprised when the president announced in 1991 that his library would be located at Texas A&M. But Houston boosters got something to cheer about when the Republican National Committee announced January 8,1991 that the party’s 1992 national convention would be held in the Astrodome, fulfilling one of the prophecies Roy Hofheinz made before the dome was built.
Officials of the Port of Houston and Galveston officials started talking in 1991 about the possibility that the Port of Houston might buy the Port of Galveston.
Most members of the board of the Houston Independent School District had seemed to be pleased with Superintendent Joan Raymond before but by 1991 some of them were saying she was too authoritarian. They forced her to resign, paid off her contract, and hired the more convivial Frank Petruzielo of Florida to take her place. Dr. Raymond moved on to another superintendent’s job in Illinois.
The new Texas Racing Commission in 1991 awarded Sam Houston Race Park Ltd. a license to build a racetrack in northwest Harris County. This was the first Class 1 license issued by the commission established after Texas voters in 1987 approved a constitutional amendment to legalize pari-mutual betting. Betting on horse races had been banned in 1909, legalized in 1933, and banned again in 1937.
The 1990 Census required a realignment of the Houston City Council district boundaries. Minority groups anxious to get more minority members on the council persuaded the legislature to require an election on a proposal to expand the council from five members elected at large and nine members elected by districts to six at-large members and 16 district members. Voters rejected this proposal emphatically on August 10,1991.
Kathy Whitmire made a bid for a record sixth consecutive terms as mayor but it failed. State Representative Sylvester Turner captured most of the black votes in the election in November, 1991. Deposed Metro Chairman Bob Lanier drew most of the conservative vote. Both men campaigned against an expensive monorail plan being pushed by the mayor and a majority of the Metro board. Mayor Whitmire ran third. Bob Lanier beat Sylvester Turner in the runoff and took over the mayor s job in January, 1992
The legislature in 1991 consolidated all the air and water pollution agencies into a new entity called the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission. The act included a provision requiring the city of Houston to furnish water and sewer service by 1996 to areas already annexed to the city. A few areas had been within the city limits and without basic services for years. But the city annexed relatively little new territory after Kathryn Whitmire took over the mayor’s office in 1982. The Voting Rights Act of 1964 prohibits dilution of minority voting strength. Whites predominate in most of the areas eligible for annexation. Annexing them would bring on trouble of the kind most elected officials go Out of their way to avoid.
The emphasis shifted from expansion to management of the area the city already occupies. Councilman Jim Greenwood resurrected the idea of zoning in 1990. The City Council in January, 1991, changed the name of the Planning Commission to Planning and Zoning Commission and told the renamed agency to devise a zoning plan for what has long been the biggest unzoned city in North America.
The swashbucklers are all gone. The big banks are owned by people somewhere else and the influx of people from somewhere else has altered the atmosphere and attitude of Houston. The place the late Houston Post columnist Hubert MeWhinney referred to as a "whiskey and trombone town" has more joggers than whiskey drinkers and more mariachis than trombones.
In 1997, former police chief, Lee Brown, returned to Houston after serving a sting as New York City's chief of Police, ran for mayor. His opponent was Rob Mosbacher Jr., son of former President George H. Bush's Secretary of Commerce Bob Mosbacher Sr. Brown defeated Mosbacher in a runoff, and won again in 1999 and 2001.
In 1999, city fathers began lobbying the NFL for a franchise. Led by multi-millionaire energy executive Bob McNair, Houston eventually prevailed over Los Angeles and was awarded a franchise on the assurance that it would build a new football stadium. Voters quickly approved funding for the Reliant Stadium to be placed in Reliant Park next to the famous Astrodome, for the Texans football team, a new member of the AFC's Central Division of the NFL.
Reminiscent of the first game played in the Astrodome, the new downtown baseball park, Enron Field, opens on March 30, 2000 with an exhibition game with the Astros against the New York Yankees.
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