HOUSTON VOICE www.houston voice.com
JUNE 20, 2003
Montrose, long known as the heart of gay life in Houston, is a neighborhood bordered on the north by West
Gray Street, on the east by louisiana Street, on the south by Richmond Avenue, and on the west by
Shepherd Drive. (Graphic by Bonnie Naugle)
All of Houston began with Montrose
The city's history traces
back to the neighborhood
traditionally known as the
heart of gay life
Editor's note: In honor of Pride Week
and 25 years of pride and gay history in
Houston, this story is the first in a three-part
series taking a look at the changes in the
Montrose neighborhood, traditionally
known as the heart of gay Houston.
By JOHNNY HOOKS
The Castro district in San Francisco is perhaps the best-known gay neighborhood in the
United States. New York City has Chelsea, San
Diego's gay-bor-hood is known as Hillcrest.
many Seattle queers call Capitol Hill home
and Provincetown has, well, Provincetown.
And the Houston neighborhood, which
has that certain savior-faire? Montrose,
It's been compared to a drive-through
Greenwich Village, a low-rent Hollywood
Boulevard (OUCH!) and Sodom and
Gomorrah (naturally!), but I wondered.
What is Montrose — better yet WHO is
Montrose, how can you tell if you reaUy
live within its bounds, and has it always
been the gay haven it is now? I decided to
find out the answers for myself and for the
sake of the newest members of the
Montrose GLBT community.
I knew current Montrose residents were
in good company with Clark Gable, O'Henry,
Howard Hughes and Lyndon Johnson all
having called our 'hood home at one time or
another; but WHERE is this Montrose? The
boundaries, which have always been and
remain controversial, according to the
Heritage Society News, are: West Gray on the
north extending east to Louisiana Street,
which curves along Main Street to Richmond
Avenue. Richmond down to South Shepard,
then closing the loop again at West Gray
I had always heard that Montrose was
so named because there used to be a Mount
Street that ran through the area. The street
was said to be covered in rose gardens,
hence the name Mount-rose eventually
became Montrose. Wrong.
The discovery that this is a myth sparked
my curiosity even more. It was then 1 knew
that to really understand the birth of
Montrose, I would need to go back to the birth
of the city of Houston. Here is what a little
historic research and reading via the Heritage
Society News and other sources uncovered.
In the 1830s, two enterprising young
brothers from New York — John Kirby and
Augustus Allen - were lured to the Republic
of Texas by the attraction of cheap land.
How cheap? The brothers purchased about
6.642 acres at an average cost of $1.42 per acre.
The land sat at the juncture of Buffalo and
White Oak bayous, a navigable waterway
being a requirement at that time for a city to
survive and flourish. In fhe two years from 11 m
time of its founding in 1836, Houston (named
for Battle of San Jacinto hero, and soon to be
named president of the republic of Texas,
Sam Houston) was filled with shops and
hotels and a population of 2,073.
In 1837, Mrs. Obedience Fort Smith
acquired 3,370 acres of land stretching from
downtown to present day Rice University
Mrs. Smith was a true pioneer, having
moved to Texas from Mississippi after raising 10 children and being widowed. The land
owned by Obedience remained undeveloped,
even after her death in 1847. and was used
primarily as cow pasture and eventually a
dairy until the beginning of the 1900s.
Just try to imagine a herd of dairy cattle grazing at the corner of Montrose and
In 1910, John Wiley Link, a successful lumberman from Orange, formed the Houston
Land Corporation with some associates after
acquiring 250 acres, much of it from the
estate of Obedience Fort Smith. In 1911, Link
undertook the most ambitious development
in Houston to date. He named his addition
Montrose Place (take that. Aaron Spelling!)
after a historic town in Scotland immortalized in the writings of Sir Walter Scott.
Montrose Place was the first subdivision
in Houston, and possibly the state of Texas;
developers provided future residents with
the most modern and luxurious advantages. The entire city of Houston had only
26 miles of paved road in the early 1900s,
and Montrose claimed 11 miles of those. It
could also boast 22 miles of paved sidewalk
within its four tree-lined boulevards:
Montrose, Lovett, Yoakum and Audubon.
In addition, miles of sanitary sewers,
water and gas mains were laid to "give the
people invited to build their homes there
an opportunity to enjoy the..." fruits of
their labor. Landscaper Edward Teas Sr,
who later developed Teas Nursery, planted
evergreen and camphor trees, 4,000 shade
trees and seven railcar loads of palms. The
four main boulevards were paved with
sheU and topped with a granite top. which
made for a dust-less drive and were considered the finest "driveways" in Texas.
The finishing touch was a streetcar
line, the Montrose line, which served the
A 50- by 100-foot lot did not exceed $1,700.
about 34 cents per square foot, with homes
ranging from $3,000 - $8,000 per home. In
1912, Link built his own home at the corner
of Alabama and Montrose Boulevard for an
unheard of $60,000, which included such
extravagant amenities as stained glass,
steam heat, cut glass doorknobs and a vacuum system. At the time it was built, the
third floor was a lavish ballroom, and the
home served as the only refuge for flood-
soaked residents of the neighborhood more
than once over the years.
Today, Link's former home is the
administration building for St Thomas
University; along with the hotel La
Colombe D'or, they are the only original
structures along Montrose Boulevard to
remind us of the area's first glory days.
The years 1913 through 1922 saw Houston
grow by almost 10 miles square, almost
exclusively in the Montrose Addition. The
1930s saw Montrose Boulevard, and therefore the entire district, as the most prominent address within Houston city limits,
easily besting the former title-holder Main
Boulevard, or Main Street.
Unfortunately, like many residential
areas that were close to a downtown district.
Montrose went through a period of general
and sometimes even severe decline beginning in the 1940s shortly after World War 2.
The popularity of migrating to the emerging
"suburbs" of River Oaks and Memorial soon
turned into an exodus, leaving behind near-
empty palatial homes, and. setting the stage
for desperate landlords to seek out new tenants for the aging mansions of Montrose.
Next week: The '50s and '60s see enormous changes in Montrose.
OUT ON THE BAYOU
q PI 1771F
DECISION: Justice Pamela Minzner powered a
recent New Mexico Supreme Court ruling that
some say may allow gay couples to sue for loss
of companionship if a partner is injured. Page 8.
NO BOND Accused serial bomber Eric Robert
Rudolph whose alleged targets included a lesbian nightclub, waived his right to bond this
week. Page 9.
VIEWPOINT: As a maie-to-female transsexual,
columnist Gwen Smith refuses to be pigeonholed. Page 11
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