Houston's Third and Fifth Wards Designated Cultural Districts by the State

And with so much history in both neighborhoods, it's really no surprise.

By Emma Schkloven September 15, 2020

Looks like the Lone star State is catching up to what Houstonians have always known: Culture is positively brimming in the Bayou City’s Third and Fifth wards. And about darn time too.

Earlier this month the Texas Commission on the Arts (TCA) officially designated the Fifth Ward Cultural District and the Historic Third Ward as cultural districts. As the TCA notes on its website, these special zones “harness the power of cultural resources” to foster economic development and community revitalization.  

“This designation allows the community to write its own ticket for how it wants to be known,” says artist Reginald Adams, who has lived and worked in both wards over his 20 years in Houston. “If you talk to anyone in the Third and Fifth Ward, they’re going to tell you about some of these culturally relevant spaces, people, places, and things. But when you have a designation that’s coming from the state of Texas, it almost validates that history.”

Affectionately called the Tre” and “The Nickel” by residents, the Third and Fifth wards respectively are two of the Bayou City’s oldest African American neighborhoods. And they have the historic businesses, legendary stories, and community pride to prove it. As is often the case with neighborhoods that are steeped in history, the Third and Fifth wards are home to such iconic sites as the DeLuxe Theater and Emancipation Park and have produced an array of notable figures, from Mel Chin to Jason Moran, Barbara Jordan to Beyoncé. 

“These neighborhoods have created, nurtured, and celebrated arts and culture over generations,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a statement. “With the new designations and intentional focus on heritage, the Nickel and the Tre will continue to serve, educate, and empower residents and visitors.”

A mural of famous people from Houston's Fifth Ward

Reginald Adams's mosaic mural, Fruits of the Fifth Ward.

In addition to increasing civic pride, cultural districts, of which there are 48 in Texas, often become focal points for business, tourism, and historic preservation. Cultural districts also give resident arts organizations within their boundaries access to significant project funding through the TCA. The new designations bring Houston’s total of cultural districts up to seven, the largest number in a single city, according to the release from the city. Several other cultural districts within the Bayou City include the East End Cultural District, the Museum District, and the Theater District. 

“This designation doesn’t make us more creative,” says Adams, “it doesn’t make us more cultural; it doesn’t make us more artistic. It only recognizes what’s there.”