BELLAIRE – OUR TOWN
By Lynn McBee © April 2, 2008
The Second Decade – 1918-1929
Bellaire became an incorporated General Law city under Texas Revised Civil Statutes Annotated, arts. 961-976 (not home rule) on June 24, 1918, when such cities drew power from the general enablng laws. Forty voters turned out to elect its first government, headed by Mayor, Charlton P. Younts, and two commissioners, Fred Carroll and H.H. Hedges, called a Town Council. Also elected were J.B. Huddleston as Town Marshall, the only paid employee who received his salary from fines levied on owners of wayward cattle, and Fred T. Wilson as Attorney.
No taxes were collected. Under Younts’ administration, in 1919 a new community hall was built at the corner of Bellaire Blvd. at Third Street and used for a meeting hall and by the union church (later becoming Bellaire Presbyterian Church and recently Christchurch Presbyterian).
The young city entered its new age in the midst of worldwide events that impacted it from afar:
Racial controversies. In 1915 racial tensions were fanned by the D.W. Griffith’s, “Birth of a Nation” that glorified the original Klu Klux Klan and the Leo Franks conviction in Georgia of sexual acts and murder of a female employee (Mary Phagan) after a questionable trial and lost appeals. He was kidnapped and lynched by an angry crowd. Houston’s own Camp Logan suffered an incident of racism that led to the Camp Logan Riots. World War II ended with the Armistice in November 1918; the world pandemic of influenza had run its course by 1919; and the membership of the Klu Klux Klan peaked in the 1920s.
Other Issues were:
- 1919 National Prohibition Act prohibiting alcohol in the U.S.;
- 1920 ratification of the Women’s Suffrage Amendment to the U.S. Constitution;
- 1921 Congressional passage of a quota system to limit immigration to 3% of a nationality’s number in the Census of 1910;
- 1920s – Presidents Warren G. Harding (1921-1923) Calvin Coolidge (1923-1928); Herbert Hoover (1929-1933)
- 1925 John Scopes “monkey trial” in Dayton, Tennessee over the creation-evolution theories;
- 1926 Supreme Court ruling that zoning was Constitutional;
- Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 first flight alone from New York to Paris;
- 1927 execution of Sacco and Vanzetti for robbery and murder in 1920 over issues of allowing anti-immigrant and anti-anarchist sentiment to prejudice the jury;
- 1928 Democratic National Convention held at Sam Houston Hall, Houston, first held in the South since the Civil War and the first to nominate a Roman Catholic and anti-prohibitionist, Gov. Alfred E. Smith of N.Y., for President, vehemently opposed by the Texas delegation led by Gov. Dan Moody fighting for a “dry” platform; and
- October 1929 Black Tuesday’s stock market crash.
Bellaire City Government.
In contrast to these national and global issues, Bellaire ruled very locally. From the Council minutes in its first months, by September 1918 the Town Council ordered :
- A suckling calf or suckling colt should not be counted as a separate animal in arriving at pound fees, but that such suckling, together with its mother, be counted as one animal;
- Prohibited of shooting and hunting in the limits of the Town of Bellaire;
- Prohibited reckless driving (18 mph) within the limits of the Town and a fine of $10-$50;
- Prohibited disturbance of the peace, i.e., threatening language, obscene language, display of firearms or acting in what might be construed as an objectionable matter within the Town – fine set at $100.
Within a year the reality of governing caused an election to be held to authorize taxation. The April 1919 canvass showed 13 votes cast, 9 favoring taxation and 4 against. The minutes of the early days were devoted to paying bills to cut weeds, clean Bellaire Blvd., grading streets and cleaning out ditches. The Town joined the League of Texas Towns and Municipalities and sought to secure a list of tax values within the limits of the Town.
In 1921 the election of the Town Council produced 22 votes cast and elected C.R. Munger as Mayor, J. L. Webb and C.H. Hall as Commissioners and J.B. Huddleston reelected Town Marshall. Losing bids for election were Mrs. C.H. Hall, who garnered only three votes, while B.D. Hall received six votes – no reference whether nepotism existed or was prohibited. However, B. D. Hall was subsequently elected to serve as Town Secretary-Treasurer and C.H. Hall was appointed as Stock Commissioner by the new Town Council.
A gap in the minutes between May 1921 and February 1927 limits research during this period. By February 1927, H. Worth Jones became Mayor and W.M. Goode was appointed City Marshall. By September 1927 the tax rate was increased from $1.25 to $1.50/$100 valuation. G.E. Menefee was appointed City Tax Assessor-Collector (at a salary of $25 month).
“Deficiency Warrants” of $750,000 were issued to pay for shelling various streets, including Avenue B from Oleander to Teas and Cedar from Rice to Richmond Road. A Board of Equalization was created with Searcy Baker, Jr., A.A. Buxton and C.L.A. Derson appointed to it.
By the fall of 1927, a committee was formed to see about numbering the residences and to notify each homeowner the numbers to be used on each house. Cleaning outlets of ditches at Brays Bayou and the cost of installing street lights were investigated. Other employees were J.H. Callahan, Deputy Constable under Sheriff Binford, Probation Officer Mills, and C.L. Anderson as Light and Plumbing Inspector.
The Council sought a suitable fireproof safe or cabinet in which the records of the City could be kept and burglary insurance was obtained to cover money held by the Tax Assessor Collector. In September 1927 the Trolley was discontinued and replaced with a bus line. The Lions Club enclosed the Trolley Pavilion and used it as its meeting house until 1993.
During 1928, many contracts were let by Mayor Bohmfalk and Commissioners Edward Teas and W.P. Long to shell streets, dig and dredge ditches, install street lights, hire an Engineer for street and ditch work (at 5% commission of cost of work done). The City Marshall was J.H. Callahan, paid a salary of $60/month and all pound fees. An election was set for September 11, 1928 to be held in the Bellaire School. A.E. Amerman was paid $1600 for legal services.
An ordinance closed part of Willow Street (between Blocks 29 and 30, from Rice to Third Street, to give H.I.S.D. a quitclaim deed to the closed portion. Nichols and Martin, supervised by J.S. Bork, Engineer, were awarded a contract to construct 30 outfall culverts from small lateral ditches into large ditches leading to Brays Bayou. An ordinance created a Board of Equalization.
An election on April 2, 1929, held in the Bellaire Store (formerly the General Store) produced 33 votes, with Mayor Robert F. Farmer and Commissioners W.P. Long and Edward Teas elected. An ordinance was adopted that prohibited running at large of horses and mules in city limits and authorized the sale of impounded animals after 15 days. A committee was formed to name the streets. Citizens committee was reappointed; various warrants were paid.
This decade in Bellaire was no doubt affected by the rapid growth of Houston and its numerous commercial activities – the Port of Houston, oil and gas production, immigration, “skyscrapers,” cultural institutions, and competing land development. It was the Swing Era and Prohibition and Evangelism. But the decade also produced the beginning, although slow, urbanization of the suburb of Bellaire that occurred before the Great Depression and the Bank Panic hit the country, beginning in October 1929. Bellaire was to suffer less and gain less from these disasters.
© Lynn McBee Feb. 2008
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