Houstonian Collecting Oral Histories from Long-Time Residents

Houston certainly isn't the oldest metropolitan city around, but it does have a fascinating history, and that's what one local man wants to document and preserve. As Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, Houstonian Mike Vance is on a mission to collect hundreds of oral histories from long-time residents of the area's oldest neighborhoods.

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"I'd had this idea a long time ago of doing histories that are almost individual histories of your house. This house that I have was built in 1950, and I think everybody that has an older house would like to know who lived there and, to take that out to the next level, where they went out to eat and where they shopped and where they got gas and where they played in the park and all that kind of thing."

Mike Vance is the president of Houston Arts and Media, a newly formed non-profit organization with a mission to employ Houston writers and media artists to produce educational and historical projects. One of the first projects is Neighbor to Neighbor, a collection of oral histories gathered around the city. Vance says he's starting out small, interviewing people he knows who have interesting stories.

"Lou Daleo told a story, this is one of my favorites, of the flood of 1937. And he and his father and his brother went off on a little adventure from their neighborhood off of Harrisburg and went downtown just to kind of see what was going on because their neighborhood was not flooded, but downtown was."

"My dad had the foresight to bring a fishing hook and some fishing line and I didn't know he had it. But he had this in his pocket and we went up there and he said let's go fishing for one of those boxes down there and see what we can catch. So he dropped his anchor down there, his line and a little weight of some kind and the hook caught a hatbox. The hook went right through the hatbox, fortunately could bring the whole thing up in one piece, lid on it and all. And there was a big western hat in there. And I think he wore that hat 'til the day he died."

It's stories like those that Vance wants to preserve. And stories of the way Houston was 50, 60, 70 years ago. He's collected oral histories from people who grew up in Houston's East End, who lived in Sears houses built from a kit, people who remember when River Oaks was the suburbs and the Southwest Freeway ended at Kirby. Vance plans to donate the oral histories to a museum or university and to compile the information into a series of books about Houston's historic neighborhoods.

"Once you get them going, and they start talking about what movie theatre they went to and where they used to go dancing and where they met their wife and all of this kind of stuff, then their eyes kind of light up and they tell a good story."

You can hear the full-length oral history between Mike Vance and Lou Daleo on our website, kuhf dot org. Laurie Johnson HPR News.

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