BELLAIRE – OUR TOWN
By Lynn McBee © April 30, 2008
Post-Depression and WW II – 1939-1945
The end of the 1930s saw the nation move from the Great Depression into a second World War that dominated the first half of the succeeding decade. The country responded to the 1941 Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor by entering into fighting the Pacific theater and entered into the European war against Hitler and the Nazis.
These extraordinary wars, fought by the U.S. and its Allies, changed the Nation and Texas in many ways. There was food and gasoline rationing, war bond finance drives, shortages of cars and all manufactured products. But an incredible spirit of unity arose in the country, opposing aggression by support of war efforts and the military.
The Wars were followed by returning GI’s, conversion of the war industries to peacetime provisions, rapid population growth, a building boom and in Houston and Bellaire, and land annexations. Texas was governed by Democrats W. Lee (“Pappy”) O’Daniel, Coke R. Stevenson and Beauford H. Jester, and the U.S. presidencies of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman.
In 1940 Bellaire had a population of 1,124, a Postmaster (Leon Rosner) and zoning, accompanied by numbers of land use disputes. Abe Zindler had moved from being a replacement Town Commissioner to elected Mayor until he retired in 1947. It was under the Zindler administration that much rapid progress was made in the city’s development and that attracted subsequent outstanding residents.
Abe Zindler. The 2002 biographical book about Marvin Zindler, White Knight in Blue Shades, by Dr. Joseph Agris (a Bellaire resident), describes the Zindler family in great detail. Abe Zindler’s family had emigrated from Austria to NYC in 1888, then to Galveston and to the bustling city of Houston by 1892. Abe quit school while in the sixth grade to work full time in the small family business. In the book Abe was depicted as a youngster, “having little time for play or relaxation and grew to be a no-nonsense young man, maturing way before his time…being self assured with ‘rugged individualism.” His family included three brothers, whom Abe helped through college, and two sisters.
Dr. Agris described Abe as having “a unique blend of affability, availability and affordability” that contributed to his business success. He married his wife, Udith Meyer, raised on plantations in Alexandria and New Iberia, Louisiana, and educated in a convent. They lived modestly in Houston while beginning their family of five boys (one daughter died in infancy) between 1916 and 1927. The family prospered in the haberdashery business due to Abe’s “obsessive dedication to business and some shrewd real estate investments.” In the 1930’s they moved “to ‘the country,’ a suburb known as Bellaire, to a tree-covered, three-acre, two-story colonial at the corner of Bellaire Boulevard and Post Oak (now Loop 610) with a separate barn, several sheep, a cow and some horses. With his life then in order, Abe entered politics and was elected Mayor in 1937 for four non-consecutive terms.
Abe Zindler opposed the activities of the local Klu Klux Klan. He successfully pursued Federal WPA financed public works projects (water works), aided by Abe’s long-time friend, Jesse Jones who was FDR’s chief of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. Zindler had a reputation for great integrity, his word was his bond. All of the Zindler sons served in the military during WW II; the oldest, Warren Zindler died in the Battle of the Bulge in May 1945.
Bellaire Expansion. From 1943 to 1945 Bellaire’s Mayor was William C. Gardiner. Bellaire was still “small town”. It authorized purchase of two or more sheep to be pastured at the Sewage Disposal Plant to keep down the grass and weeds and the purchase of two police “billies”. The Trolley Pavilion was used for meetings by Boy Scout Troop #210. In 1945, the Lions Club petitioned the Council to appoint a Post War Planning Commission. It sought to create: “a back log of jobs to prevent post war unemployment, progressive improvements to ward off the threat of annexation into the City of Houston and to address the growing need for recreational facilities.” A consulting engineer, M.C. St. John, was retained to create a Master Community Plan for future growth and expansion of Bellaire and lay the groundwork for public financing of the infrastructure.
First Attempt to Annex Bellaire. As Bellaire continued to plan for post-war growth, it annexed numerous areas outside the city limits (Mulberry to Ave. A (Newcastle) south of Bissonnet, and the entirety of Southdale), but expansionism also threatened Bellaire. In a surprise move on New Year’s Eve, 1945, the West University Place Council passed eight ordinances to annex Southside Place and Bellaire, which caused opposition from the affected cities and even from citizens of WUP.
Mayor Zindler called the move “the biggest New Year’s surprise I ever got,” and both Southside and Bellaire officials promised to take court action against the ordinances. By January 1946, a WUP Commissioner Ralph B. Lee, the lone dissenter among the City Commissioners, moved to repeal the ordinances but it failed. By fall 1946, WUP Mayor Kerbow and his slate were defeated from serving another term. In January 1947, the new WUP Council repealed the annexation and a month later, a Galveston appeals court affirmed the suits by Bellaire and Southside, declaring the annexation attempt to be void. Attorneys representing Bellaire were Paul Strong and James V. Allred. With a marathon building boom occurring, municipalities were fearful of the future impact on the integrity of their boundaries.
James V. Allred. The former Texas Attorney General (1931-1935) and Governor (1935-1939) moved his family to Bellaire in 1941 and lived there until 1950. He built a one-story red brick home with a large screened-in front porch on a two and one-half acre lot at 4720 Bellaire Boulevard, near First Street. The Governor made the cover of Time Magazine on June 8, 1936, the article focusing on Allred’s role in celebrating the Texas Centennial, joined by Texans Jesse Jones, who headed the Centennial Board, and then-U.S. Vice-President John Nance Garner, both men of importance in Washington. They succeeded in securing a U.S. Treasury record appropriation of $3 million, to match Texas’ equal appropriation. Allred’s political career was described as a “blend of Populist, New Deal, and regional beliefs.” He and his wife, Joe Betsy Miller, of Wichita Falls, had three sons, James, William David (“Dave”) and Sam Houston. He died in 1993 in Wichita Falls. Two of his sons also earned some fame.
William David (“Dave”) Allred. During Jeff Dunn’s reign as President of the Bellaire Historical Society, he solicited testimonies from former Bellaire residents. Residing among Jeff Dunn’s BHS papers is a 16-page narrative from Dave Allred, dated 1991, describing his life in Bellaire during his family’s nine-year stay. It is a delightful and detailed letter filled with names, places and experiences, including being neighbors to the Zindler family.
Dave earned journalism degrees from TCU and Columbia University and was a working journalist in Wichita Falls, Corpus Christi, San Antonio and the Houston Post. After military service he worked in Austin and Washington handling press relations for Dolph Briscoe, Ralph Yarborough, and Jack Brooks.
Subsequently, in 1966 he was elected and served 14 years in the Texas Legislature, taking some law classes at Baylor University, and was certified as an attorney in 1978. He later served four years as Assistant Attorney General under Texas A-G Jim Mattox, following which he and his family moved to Virginia where he became a journalism professor at Hampton and Radford Universities in VA. He died in 1996 at age 62. He was reinterred and buried in the Texas State Cemetery in 2000.
Sam Houston Allred. Dave’s brother, Sam Houston Allred, graduated from college with both BA and MA degrees, started numerous martial arts clubs in the country, authored seven books about the subject. He retired to Acapulco and Mexico City in 1985, started a web site (www.kajukenbo.info) and authored his seventh book in 2007.
William Giddings Farrington. A land developer, Farrington was widely known for his Bellaire Southdale buildings. Betty Chapman wrote in the Houston Business Journal (April 20, 2007):
In January 1946, William Giddings Farrington, a civil engineer with experience in home building, came to Bellaire and announced that he had purchased the unsold lots in the Southdale Addition and planned to build 176 houses, especially for returning G.I.’s. He was an innovative home builder for his time, having been involved in developing the first section of Braeswood, Riverside Terrace, Houston’s first all-gas home and first air-conditioned residence, and the Lawndale Village Apartment complex, near Ellington Field.
Jeff Dunn, in a 1992 article for Bellaire Historical Perspective, “A Short History of Southdale” described Farrington’s Southdale project:
“Each of Farrington’s Southdale homes consisted of five rooms, including two bedrooms, one bath, one combination living and dining room, kitchen, and attached one-car garage. Floors were oak throughout, and each house had linoleum wainscoting in the bath, a floor furnace, steel kitchen cabinets with linoleum deck, and a steel overhead garage door. ….initial prices for his first 75 homes, which included ten different designs – was $6,250. Later the prices increased to $7,250. House sales were brisk. Within a few months he had a waiting list of 300 veterans.”
Many Bellaire residents remember Southdale as where they began in Bellaire, GIs returning home to their starter houses. Today Southdale has had resurgence with many combined lots and larger replacement homes. Mayor Henshaw (1935-1937) lived there, and under the inspired dedication of Hana Ginzbarg and many Bellaire volunteers and supporters, his original home was converted to become the Harris County renown Hana and Arthur Ginzbarg Nature Discovery Center in Russ Pitman Park, Bellaire’s crown jewel. (Hana and the volunteers were very active in its funding, maintenance and education activities.)
The later 1940’s brought more growth, development, zoning issues, financing problems and legal actions, charter and home rule and a ten-fold population increase. Bellaire encountered much in the succeeding half decade, yet to be written about and soon to come.
1940 – Houston population increased 31.5% over 1930, to 384,514; all out effort to recruit, train and equip the armed forces; the bus system replaced a 60-year tradition of street cars; the first modern airport was completed and Houston was designated as an international air gateway.
1941 – The federal government spent over $250 million for defense preparations in Houston and the area; defense production increasingly was given the “right-of-way;” the first keels for Liberty Ships were laid by the Houston Shipbuilding Corporation; within 15 months, 23 ships would be launched; new master plan for Houston thoroughfares emphasizes a loop system.
1942 – Mrs. William P. (Oveta Culp) Hobby of Houston was named head of the U.S. Women’s Army Corps.
1943 – Houston changes to a city-manager form of government (eliminated in 1947 and reverts to a strong-mayor form of governance).
1944 – The M.D. Anderson Foundation starts construction of the Texas Medical Center.
1945 – Flood protection was being provided by army engineers who were constructing two earth-filled dams west of the city.
© Lynn McBee Feb. 2008
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