YEARS OF CONSOLIDATION (1955-1960)
Without question, 1957 was a transitional year for aviation activities in Houston. The survey of Houstonís air-transportation needs for the next ten years, as authorized the year before, was completed and provided the basic information for a significant conference with the Civil Aeronautics Board in Washington on November 21, 1957. This report documented a position that the growth of population and industry in Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast area had far outpaced the development of air transportation for the region, and that the importance of Houston and its area in the national economy justified close scrutiny of its transportation inadequacies.
The negotiations that had been inaugurated in 1956 with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines reached the hearing, favorable-decision, and flight-inauguration stages during 1957. On the eve of the announcement that the bilateral negotiations between the United States and the Netherlands were nearing completion, Pan American World Airways announced that it would like to provide direct one-plane service between Houston and Europe. The Houston Chamber of Commerce supported this application and reaffirmed its support of the KLM proposal, declaring that it "stood ready to support still other proposals for international air service". On March 15th, Pan American formally petitioned the Civil Aeronautics Board for permission to extend its service from Mexico City to Houston, plus one other stop in the United States, and to Europe. On March 18, the Civil Aeronautics Board and the State Department started hearings on the KLM proposal.
Domestic opposition to the KLM proposal enlisted the cooperation of President John S. Coleman of the Chamber of Commerce of the United States. On the morning of March 27th, he wired Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, urging that negotiations be temporarily suspended, claiming that United States carriers had not been given an opportunity to present their case before the negotiators. Houston Chamber of Commerce President Belt wired Secretary Dulles that the United States airlines had been heard at length, that the record would show this, and that Colemanís charge was "unwarranted," a "delaying action," and in no way reflected the position of the Houston Chamber of Commerce.
That afternoon the United States and the Netherlands signed a bilateral air treaty, thus climaxing a two-year crucial aviation controversy that ended with a large air-age reward for Houston. Authority was given KLM to pick up Europe-hound passengers in Houston on its flight from Mexico City to Amsterdam by way of Montreal. With this announcement, Pan American withdrew its application.
In the meantime, Houston was experiencing problems in connection with its air service to Latin America. In a bilateral air agreement, Dallas, San Antonio and New Orleans were included as ports of entry, but Houston did not receive the same designation. The Chamber of Commerce took the matter up with the Civil Aeronautics Board, the State Department, and the Texas Congressional Delegation. Chairman Benjamin N. Woodson and Manager Joe Foster of the Chamberís Aviation Committee pursued the matter with agency calls in Washington. The State Department and the Civil Aeronautics Board suggested that Pan American be approached with the idea of an interchange service being developed with a major domestic carrier to provide service to and from Mexico City and perhaps the Chicago-Detroit areas, via Houston. Pan American was receptive to the suggestion, but indicated that it had other international negotiations that would have to be completed before this proposal could be investigated.
Early in September, the Chamber of Commerce urged the City of Houston to create a Department of Aviation within the city government "to develop and prosecute an aggressive and continuous aviation policy for Houston, including the operation and expansion of airport and terminal facilities to meet the requirements of the forthcoming Jet Air Age." The recommendation suggested that the department be created by the mayor and city council members who would take office in January, 1958, so that adequate budgetary provision might be made for it, at the beginning of the year, for a first full year of operation.
The Chamber of Commerce expressed the belief that such a department, directed by a professional in the field of aviation development, would add substantially to Houston progress as a major air-transportation center. It was suggested as the purpose of the department to have over-all charge of the development of the Houston International Airport, to plan and develop a second major airport, to represent city government in air-route matters, and to be a "point of contact" in city government on aviation matters.
A few weeks later, the Chamber of Commerce included this recommendation in a letter it addressed to all candidates for city office in the November election. Other issues were recommended for priority treatment. All possible speed consistent with sound procedures to get construction started on the most immediately available source of water was recommended, and at the same time, long-range planning was urged to firm up as soon as possible a very large supply. The prompt and orderly development of the Civic Center was encouraged. A master street plan was suggested, to be followed by protection of property lines and the orderly purchase of right-of-way. Improvement in bus service and more consideration for procedures on an area-wide basis were suggested.
On October 27, President Belt issued a statement clarifying the position of the Chamber of Commerce on the Trinity River proposal. He said: "In its efforts to preserve existing rights of the water users of Texas in any water-planning legislation enacted at the present special session, the position of the Houston Chamber of Commerce had been variously challenged and misrepresented. We feel that our position is crystal clear and justified and that it is nothing more than should be the position of all the stateís water users."
"We consider that the principle of river basin development by the authority method is not involved in the present session. We are not taking issue with the principle of planning for the maximum conservation and utilization of the water resources of Texas. But we are attempting to preserve such rights as now exist for the people of Houston and any other water users to apply through the Board of Water Engineers to negotiate with a river authority to obtain needed water at reasonable costs. it was our studied belief that the planning bill as originally drafted included certain provisions that would weaken such existing rights, and we proposed certain amendments designed to correct these points, not only in the interest of Houston, but also in the interest of any other water users."
During the latter part of 1957, the Harris County Home Rule Commission released the results of its two-year study of the metropolitan problem in Harris County. Earlier in the year, the Metropolitan Area Committee of the Chamber of Commerce took steps to assure continuity of interest in this long-range program, following the release of the Commissionís report. In this connection, a Tax Research Association survey had pointed out the rapid growth of taxing agencies in the county. There were 62 taxing units in 1955. This total had reached 80 by January 1, 1956, and by August of the same year, there were 94. Water districts were primarily responsible for this increase.
When the Commissionís report was released, Gail Whitcomb, its chairman, said: "We were a commission of laymen, appointed by the Governor, to study the adjustment of local government to growth. We were trying to determine how governmental structures in our metropolitan area could be reorganized to provide necessary services of local government with over-all efficiency and for a reasonable cost. It is encouraging to think that business and civic-minded people will take the recommendations of the commission to and through the Legislature and back into the community to implement them with action necessary to get results at the local level." Activation of the Commissionís recommendations would have to wait. The understanding of the problem had not aroused sufficient concern to make it possible to enlist adequate public support for governmental reform.
Two significant developments in connection with Houstonís position in air transportation came late in 1957. The Aviation Committee of the Chamber of Commerce had long recognized the need for plans to start on the development of a second major airport. It believed that the future of Houston as a major world air center was just beginning to unfold. The Federal Aviation Agency had also expressed the belief, in conferences with local leaders, that Houstonís municipal airport capacity would soon be exceeded.
Various efforts to get something started on this matter had been unsuccessful. An area that was later to become Sharpstown had been staked out, but the voters declined to approve bond funds for the purchase of this site. Two different locations west of the present North Freeway were believed to offer answers to the cityís need for a major airport site, but before action could be initiated by the city on the purchase of land for either site, they ceased to be available because of subdivisions, oil or gas fields, or major highway or pipeline problems.