BELLAIRE – OUR TOWN
By Lynn McBee © May 15, 2008
Turbulence After WW II – 1946-1949
Flavor of the Times. Soldiers were returning to sweethearts, families, jobs, former homes and new homes. Babies were being born in record numbers and houses were being built in these boom times. Houston, Bellaire and the nation were greeting the returning heroes with excitement, GI bill benefits (some readers may remember the “Quonset” huts on college campuses for married GIs) and communities were in high growth mode. But in Bellaire, there were periods of divisiveness as well as growth.
In 1946-47 Bellaire was trying to finance infrastructure improvements and expansion. Zoning and annexation were regularly addressed in City minutes. Paving of streets went forward at an incredible pace. There were block captains who organized to secure consent agreements for street paving contracts and accompanying mechanics’ liens for the property improvements. Paul Strong was appointed the City Attorney (and he served many years until the 1960s). Engineer J.B. Dannenbaum was retained as a consultant to be in charge of new standards for development of streets, water and sewer for the anticipated city growth. The City’s letterhead read,
“City of Bellaire – In the Path of Houston’s Growth – Protected by Restrictions for Better Homes.”
Turmoil begins. In July 1946 a large turnout of citizens attended a public hearing about whether to zone as commercial a newly annexed area north of Richmond Road (Bissonnet) between the railroad on the east and Avenue B. There were heated expressions of opposition by most present. Mayor Abe Zindler favored the City gaining additional city revenue from commercial development, but in the face of strong opposition, he agreed to hold a referendum election and to abide by majority vote of the people.
On January 15, 1947 a bond election was approved by the voters for infrastructure improvements. It is unclear whether the Richmond Road rezoning referendum appeared on that ballot. But the community was divided (not necessarily evenly but vigorously). An increase in the size of the City Commission was discussed and agreed to, possibly as a result of changing state law.
New Municipal Election. An April 1, 1947 general election was scheduled but Mayor Zindler would not run for Mayor after serving two terms, nor would any others in the political turmoil over zoning and desires of some that Bellaire merge with Houston or with WUP. Madison Rayburn had served as a Councilman during winter 1946 to spring 1947. He was pressed into running for Mayor but he consented only if all of the factions made peace and compromised their differences. It was agreed that each side would name two councilmen candidates and those four would choose the fifth candidate. Rayburn agreed to this.
The April election produced an unopposed Mayor Rayburn and Councilmen John C. Holmgreen, Samuel Holliday, Eugene German, J. Edward Farrington and Raymond S. Lambert. New compensation was set for the Mayor at $600 per year. For the first time, five Aldermen, instead of two, were elected to serve staggered terms with compensation set at $5 per regular meeting and $3 for each special meeting, with a maximum of five special meetings per month. A new “Recorder” (for the Corporation Court – now Municipal Court) was elected with compensation set at $7.50 per day for each time that court was held, at a maximum of $30 per month.
Under state law, the Planning Board’s powers were increased; the Board soon thereafter recommended the prohibition of billboards, regulating and controlling the use and size of signs. The City Commission empowered the Planning Board to engage a professional advisor and create a city master plan. The offices of Treasurer, Assessor and Collector, City Attorney and City Engineer were dispensed with. (However, these functions would be performed by persons contracted as consultants to the City.) The City Secretary was compensated at $3,000 per year and the City Marshal would receive $2400 per year.
Explosive Events. On May 21, 1947 at a special meeting of the Commission one month following their election, Mayor Rayburn gave a resume of the problem of the January bond election, reporting out that the election had been declared illegal by the Texas Attorney General (May 15, 1947) and the bonds voted by the citizens were disapproved. A Texas Supreme Court ruling declared a three-man commission form of government illegal and so had no authority to call the January election. An aldermanic form of government, consisting of a mayor and five alderman, was declared the legal form of government for the City of Bellaire. On May 28, 1947 the Commission by resolution terminated its contracts with Engineer Dannenbaum and with bond advisor Emerson Roche & Co.
The elected body adopted the following Resolution:
“Whereas the Attorney-General of Texas has indicated that the General Bond Issue for Improvements for the City of Bellaire voted January 15, 1947 was invalid and having indicated that he would not approve the same, therefore, be it resolved by the Bellaire City Commission that immediate steps be taken to plan and submit to the voters of the city a new bond issue or issues at the earliest possible date.”
More Bonds Approved. On July 12, 1947, an election canvass found that $1 million of new 40 year bonds were approved overwhelmingly (vote of 147-8) to fund waterworks, sanitary sewer, and city improvements for parkland purchase and improvements, a new community center, and improvements for the fire station and City Hall. At the same election the unsold $1million of bonds from the election of January 15, 1947, found to be illegal, were essentially cancelled by vote of 147-7. On August 18, 1947, a Resolution canvassing the returns of a Revenue Bond Election was approved. It is not clear from the Commission Minutes how much more indebtedness and for what specific purposes these bonds added by this separate election.
Other changes in 1947: Larch Lane was zoned for the first Multiple Unit Family District, the first non-single family residential unit in the City; Basswood Place sought approval for 4-unit apartment buildings of 800 square feet per unit; and the Texaco Company’s Geophysical Laboratory (now Chevron) added a building to its laboratory at the corner of Oak Street (a former Bellaire street) and Rice Ave.
Also that year saw J.B. Abercrombie seek to have his property along Pin Oak Road (now Loop 610) taken out of the City of Bellaire to use the property for a riding academy (Pin Oak Stables), referred to the Board of Adjustment. Thereafter, it was used for the Pin Oak Horse Show, widely known in and out of Houston. (Today, that property has been developed into apartments, Home Depot, Conn’s and the Houston Community College.)
Public Works Improvements Begin. With the public works bond financing clearing the hurdles and a new Mayor and five Commissioners in place, the City began spending the bond money on promised improvements. At the recommendation of a Parks Committee, in 1948 architects Woestemeyer & Gaffner were selected to design the Pool, Bath House and Community Club House. Thirteen bids were awarded, including to the Walter M. Rainey Construction Co., for $59,647 for the Community Building, and $51,727 for the wading and swimming pools, or $111,000. Parking was expanded parallel to Laurel Street in a separate action. Expansion of the Fire Station was approved and that work was also awarded to the Rainey Construction Co. Condit School was expanded and Horn School was built by H.I.S.D.
In March 1948, Bellaire annexed Braeburn Country Club Estates into Bellaire. Developer J.H. Edmonds of Peaceful Valley Subdivision (the area from Jessamine south to Pocahontas, west of Rice Ave.) threatened to quit over the City’s refusal to violate its policy not to construct utilities for subdivisions. This was mediated and by September that year, a joint developer-City agreement was in place. By July the Planning Commission began its work to create a City land use Master Plan, under the guidance of consultant J.K. Dunnaway, a Bellaire resident, an architect and city planner faculty member at Rice University.
Scout Groups. Back in 1949, Mrs. H.L. Hodell was the District Girl Scouts and Bellaire Chair and Mrs. Noyes D. Smith was the Assistant Chair. Day Camp for the Girl Scouts was held at the park of Blossom Heath on old Richmond Road (Bissonnet) at Renwick. There were five troops of both Brownies and Girl Scouts. Construction of a Girl Scout House, like an old-fashioned community barn raising, took place in the new Bellaire Park, led by the Bellaire Lions Club. It was a frame building, painted green, with a wide wrap-around porch (later razed to be replaced by an elevated water tank). This project followed the earlier 1944 renovation by the Lions Club of the Boy Scout meeting place in the old Trolley Pavilion, authorized by City Resolution.
Early Bellaire Civic Clubs. The Lions Club was formed in 1941 and continues in service to Bellaire and in their work to eliminate blindness worldwide. By 2008 the group had shrunk from an original 80 members to just 20. According to a newspaper article, it hoped to rejuvenate the Club with a young contingent of Bellaire High School students (call the “Leos”) to continue the Lions long-held ethic of service. On its 50th anniversary in 1991, its International President wrote, “…congratulations on…your club’s unfailing dedication to humanitarian service…your devotion, serving those in need and promoting understanding worldwide. “
The Bellaire Women’s Civic Club (“BWCC”) began in 1949. Among the many achievements of this all-women’s group during its first 50 years are: establishing the first Bellaire Library (in the old Community Building until a permanent Library was built in 1964; beautification of buildings and parks; donations to numerous City Departments and to the needy, the battered and the sick; making toy animals for needy children; a 1954 nonpartisan voter’s guide; the annual BWCC Antique Show from 1959 to 1999; and the crown of its achievements, the only history of Bellaire, Bellaire’s Own Historical Cookbook, published in 1968.
Many well known women served as officers and volunteers in this active organization. A wonderful booklet about the BWCC history was compiled by former Fire Chief Max McRae (now deceased) who resided in Bellaire with his wife, Pauline and three children since the late 1940s. (Contact Pauline McRae, at City Hall, one of the past presidents of BWCC, to purchase a copy of the booklet, priced at only $3.)
Attempted Annexations and Master Plan. In 1948-1949 there began new annexation petitions, one by residents seeking an election to merge Bellaire with Houston that failed. The supporters of the “independence movement” thereafter formed the Bellaire Chamber of Commerce and the Bellaire Women’s Civic Club. In March a petition was circulated by residents northwest of Bellaire, an area one-half the size of Bellaire, to de-annex the land and to join Bellaire. And J.H. Edmonds (Peaceful Valley developer) sought to rezone Post Oak Road from the SAP railroad (Westpark) south to Bissonnet as commercial property rather than residential. According to a letter from Mayor Rayburn in 1991 to the Bellaire Historical Society, he told of a:
“large northwest quadrant outside Bellaire, only occupied by two nuns and a priest at the Holy Ghost Church outpost, that had signed a petition to join the city. But their Cardinal or Bishop in St. Louis ordered them to withdraw their petition, disappointing many and precluded all hope for squaring up the city on the northwest. We always surmised that Houston used its pressure to get them to withdraw their petition. This expedited our filing a Petition for a Home Rule Charter which would give such city the right without obstruction to take in whatever territory it desired by ordinance without petitions.”
In April 1948 the Bellaire Home Rule Charter Committee of 15 members began its work. The Committee included William T. Burke, Chairman, R.E. Turrentine, Jr., Vice-Chairman, Richards A. Rowland, Secretary, Lawrence Davis, James G.V. Dee, Cliff Dowd, David F. Engel, W.C.Gardiner, R.S. Giles, Charles Gribble, Jr., O.C. Luhring, R.B. Melanson, C.A. Watson, A.B. White, W.H. Winn.
A bill was introduced in 1949 in the Texas Legislature by Sen. Searcy Bracewell to allow a city of less than 40,000 population (i.e., Bellaire, West University Place and Southside Place) to be annexed or absorbed by a city having a population of 150,000 or more (Houston). In an editorial by Ripley E. Woodward, former City Attorney for Southside Place, (Southwestern Times (3/10/1949), Woodward called the bill, “a sugar coated anesthetic in the ‘House of Troy’ bill.”
Home Rule. By 1948 the population of the City was in excess of 5,000 residents and the City could legally proceed with a January 8, 1949 election on whether to become a Home Rule city. A 15-member Charter Commission was named by Mayor Rayburn in September 1948 to draft the first Charter and then elected in January. The first Charter Commission included William T. Burke, Chairman, R.E. Turrentine, Jr., Vice Chairman, Richards A. Rowland, Secretary, Lawrence Davis, James G.V. Dee, Cliff Dowd, David F.Engel, W.C. Gardiner, R.S. Giles, Charles Gribble, Jr., O.C. Luhring, R.B. Melanson, C.A. Watson, A.B. White and W.H. Winn. The January vote was decisive, 515 For, 51 Against.
A second Home Rule election was held on April 2nd. The vote was again overwhelming to adopt the proposed Home Rule Charter, which included the rights of Initiative, Referendum and Recall, a Finance Director, annual audit, right of annexation by ordinance and a city manager form of government. In a third election on July 9, 1949 Mayor John T. Scott and City Council members E.E. Buster Brown, Jack Lawler, James Hatch, Everal L. West and W.C. Gardiner were elected to govern the new Home Rule city. The City Secretary, J.LH. O’Neal would be the Acting City Manager and the Tax Assessor-Collector J.A. Lee became the Acting Finance Officer.
Zoning Master Plan. On September 7, 1949, a public hearing was held by the Planning Board on the proposed “master plan” zoning ordinance, with over 200 people crowded into the City Hall Auditorium. The plan was described as “a reworking and simplification of the original ordinances in force with its numerous amendments” by its Chair Howard E. Oexman. Pro and anti zoning petitions circulated, controversies about residential versus commercial zoning and accusations of slander were carried in the local newspaper, the Southwestern Times, that served Bellaire, WUP, Braeswood and other adjacent areas from 1942-1949. On the night of the public hearing, at a special called Council meeting next door, Mayor John T. Scott announced to the Times reporter, “I’ve got some news for you. I just quit as mayor.” The heightened emotions, mailings, slanderous attacks took its toll.
Houston Ends Bellaire Expansion Plans. While the newly incorporated Bellaire was preparing to annex land to square its border, on December 31, 1949, the City of Houston annexed land on three sides of Bellaire and prevented the expansion of Bellaire’s 3.6 square miles, and also annexed land around every other city adjacent to Houston, leaving them all land-locked, including West University Place and Southside Place.
Four and one-half years after the end of WW II, Bellaire, now a Home Rule City, a manager-run and zoned municipality, faced a future different than the expansion earlier envisioned. But its growth and improvement never abated. More excitement was yet to come to the burgeoning little town on the Houston prairie.
© Lynn McBee, email@example.com
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