2. First Decade – Marketing and Promotion

BELLAIRE–OUR TOWN

By Lynn McBee © February 6, 2008

First Decade – Marketing and Promotion

            Much occurred during the first decade after 1908 when W.W. Baldwin initiated his development of Bellaire and Westmoreland Farms in 1908. The U.S. and the world were influenced by a number of significant events that surely also affected Baldwin’s grand vision of Our Town.  (See box for selected events.)

1900-Galveston hurricane, killed 6,000 people but by 1906 it had a population of almost 38,000, electric lights, street cars, a telephone system and an opera house..

1901-Spindletop, major oil discovery near Beaumont, Texas; U.S. President William McKinley was assassinated

1901-1909-President Theodore (“Teddy”) Roosevelt held office

1907-A bankers’ panic and recession occurred in the U.S..

1909-1913-President William Howard Taft held office in 1909

1909-NAACP was started by W.E.B. DuBois.

1900-1920-Progressive movement influenced labor, corporations and social movements.

1910-Houston, “The Magnolia City,” had a population of close to 100,000.

1913-1921-President Woodrow Wilson held office

1914-World War I began in Europe

1915-A second Klu Klux Klan was formed

1917-Russian Revolution began; the U.S. entered World War I

1918-World War I ended with the Armistice

Marketing of Westmoreland Farms and Bellaire was quite sophisticated. Mr. Baldwin, the railroad official, set up South End Land Company quartered in the Scanlan Building in Houston and employed A.J. Condit, General Manager, and A.A. Buxton, Sales Manager (later replaced by Henderson). Westmoreland Farms could be seen from that office southwest across the treeless prairie. The only trees visible were along Braes Bayou.

In 1909 Baldwin advertised Texas’ Westmoreland Farms and Bellaire in 1908 to “Home Seekers,” targeting Midwest farmers, tired of harsh winters, as a “land of cotton, cattle and corn, the city where 18 railroads met the sea.”   He also advertised to Houston residents through a brochure (located by Jeff Dunn in 1991 at the Houston Metropolitan Research Center). Jeff Dunn reported on this brochure in the Bellaire Historical Society newsletter, Perspective (Sept. 1991), reprinting it in full. Excerpts from that brochure, appear below:

“CONSIDER THESE FACTS Concerning –

“Westmoreland Farms. One, two, five and ten acre tracts just beyond the South End and Rice Institute, with car line, fertile orange and fig soil, perfect drainage, shell paved roads, and within sight of the center of Houston at $150 an acre.

“Bellaire. Lots 50 x 135, three city blocks from a car line, with shelled streets, water, light and other improvements at $250.00 each.”

Country Homes for City People – Acre lots, within sight of the center of Houston, and with street car service, at one-tenth the price of small city residence lots.

City Homes for Country People – Houston is a large, modern and growing city. …..”

“The great Rice Institute, with an endowment of eight million dollars, and with free tuition to both young men and women, is in the South End….Bellaire is thirty-five minutes by street car from the center of Houston. …Bellaire is in the open…”

“It is absolutely necessary throughout the entire flat Houston country to have efficient drainage. Westmoreland Farms has one of the few drainage systems in this section, and one the efficiency of which is excelled nowhere on the Gulf Coast. …”

Dunn also reported in Perspective (Nov. 1991) on a ‘Garden City’ article about landscaping of Bellaire. The article was used for promoting Bellaire. A summary of Dunn’s report appears below.

“An article appeared in two national magazines called Park and Cemetery and Landscape Gardening (1909). Entitled ‘An Attractive Garden City’, it was reprinted by the South End Land Company and distributed to prospective land buyers.” The published article mentions three men who played prominent roles in the early design of the project: ‘Frank L. Dormant, civil engineer, appointed Houston’s City Engineer 1902-1905; … Edward Teas, the well-known horticulturist from Joplin, MO, who was induced to relocate his operations to Westmoreland Farms; … and Sid J. Hare, Baldwin’s landscape architect from Kansas City, MO., whose firm later included his son and was known as Hare & Hare.” This landscape architecture firm was nationally known at the turn of the century. In 1897, Sidney Hare was quoted to have said,

“Parks educate people in an art equally as grand as the art of painting or sculpture. They influence people to adorn their home ground, to plant trees and shrubs and to study nature, the mother of all true art.”

Excerpts from the published ‘Garden City’ article about Bellaire follow:

Sid J. Hare’s landscaping plans included street names – trees for east-west streets, called avenues – were never used. North of Bellaire Blvd. were Magnolia (now Cedar), Tulip (now Chestnut), Sweet Gum (now Locust), Olive (now Spruce) and Evergreen (now Beech) . South of Bellaire Blvd. Hare named Elm Ave. (became Willow, Ash Ave. (became Laurel) and Hackberry Ave. (became Willow).

Hare also addressed north-south streets, unimaginatively named: “A Street” became First Street; “B Street” became Second Street; “C Street” became Third Street; “Rice Road” became Rice Avenue; “D Street” became Fifth Street; and “E Street” became Sixth Street, now called Ferris. Today, Magnolia, evergreen and Elm are used elsewhere in the City.

Hare’s plans for the Paseo ‘called for winding walkways, an ‘aquatics fountain,’ a bowling green, and a lake between Rice Avenue and Third Street, complete with a bridge across the middle.   A ‘gymnasium’ was penciled in at the western end of the park, near where Bissonnet now crosses the boulevard. Most of these features were never completed.

Baldwin invested over $150,000 in capital improvements during the early 1900s to turn the treeless prairie into an attractive location for residences and small truck farms. But, Baldwin never lived in Bellaire and left the sales and supervision tasks to A.J. Condit.

Marketing features included digging deep north-south drainage culverts, constructing Bellaire Blvd. (crews of men using mule teams were employed), installing the Bellaire trolley, landscaping Paseo park, building the trolley and Pavilion, and platting Bellaire streets.

A gazebo was built on the Paseo at the west side of Third Street. Described as having white banisters surrounding the roofed platform with benches built against the barriers, it was not unlike today’s gazebo in Bellaire-Zindler Park, built in 1976 to commemorate the U.S. Bicentennial. However, no band concert has been reported being held in the original gazebo.

In 1909, the Wright Brothers were making newspaper headlines all over the world about their successful flying machine in 1903 near Kitty Hawk, N.C. Houston newspapers ran a series of articles on the Wright Brothers. W.W. Baldwin saw an opportunity to put the small town of Bellaire on the map by arranging with the Wright Brothers to hold their air-show in Westmoreland Farms, at a site west of Rice Ave, as one leg of a cross-country trip.

Many people from Houston drove their horse-drawn buggies and carriages out the old Richmond Road or out the “beautiful new Bellaire Blvd.” where the streetcar tracks were being laid to attend the show. There were then about 12 houses built in the townsite of Bellaire. Houston was discovering Bellaire.

Baldwin’s early planned community emphasized convenience and landscaped beauty for both upscale and modest residents. Yes, indeed, W.W. Baldwin was a real estate developer, visionary and promoter equal to the best of today.

© Lynn McBee Feb. 2008

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