Protecting and preserving Houston’s rich history is the focus of a new effort organized by local citizens. As Houston Public Radio’s Paul Pendergraft reports, the project was the brainchild of Houston Mayor Bill White and with his full support and some city funding, this project is off and running.
For many years, there have been local groups with similar interests of protecting historic structures and significant properties in Houston, but building codes and city ordinances were little help. The work was mostly reactionary and in many cases unsuccessful in protecting irreplaceable treasures. Mayor White says the opportunity was obvious.
“I thought if we brought together people who are most interested in the history of our town, not just focusing on a handful of buildings, but the full range of historical artifacts, oral history, our historical archives, that we could get something done.”
What he got done was a task force of 65 people already involved at some level of preservation. Instead of working on parallel tracks…they’re on the same team with a new enthusiasm that comes with a new sense of purpose and support.
“Like what we did with the Quality of Life Coalition, like the Coalition for the Homeless, an umbrella organization that could be a source of funding and advocacy. That wouldn’t replace any of the historical preservation organizations or groups but would coordinate their efforts.”
The task force has been meeting for several weeks and has established an initial list of recommendations that the Mayor has approved. Included will be a Historic Center to be established, possibly at the Julia Ideson Library. A city archive will be also established and for the first time, an inventory of historic structures and neighborhoods will be created. Local historian and author Betty Chapman coordinated the task force and says this work is overdue.
“Houston’s a young city. It has always been a city on the move, you know a growing, booming, progressive city and when that happens we don’t pay that much attention to your past. And we really have not in Houston and that’s why we’ve lost so many of our buildings.”
Chapman says they’ll work to strengthen city building codes with respect to historic structures and they’ll work to beef up preservation ordinances. She says they’ll initiate a Historic Plaque Program to designate specific buildings and properties. Mayor White adds that it’s not just about buildings you can see, it’s about much more.
“There was a horror story a number of years back … I think it was about five years back … a bunch of the old photographs of Houston that were in the planning department were discarded as part of the document retention and destruction policy of the city.”
The city will be hiring a professional historian to coordinate the city archive and additional staff may be added to give this new effort a real chance to succeed. A full list of all the recommendations is available through a link on our website kuhf.org