Old Man Yells at Cloud

Houston "Ruined" According to Angry Front Lawn Sign

Was our city "better" in 1947? Given the general lack of air conditioning, for one—no.

By Katharine Shilcutt July 20, 2017

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"Eh, why didn't you get something useful, like storm windows, or a nice pipe organ? I'm thirsty! Ew, what smells like mustard? There sure are a lot of ugly people in your neighborhood. Ooh, look at that one. Ow, my glaucoma just got worse. The president is a Democrat! Hello? I can't unbuckle my seat belt. Hello?"

Houston won't have Bill, Sonya or Sophie to kick around anymore! The Sunset Heights residents—whose last name we don't know, but whom we speculate are equally incensed about recently announced plans for an updated, gentrified version of the nearby Canino produce market on Airline Drive—are leaving the Bayou City for the Rose Capital, according to a lawn sign snapped by an eagle-eyed Reddit user today.

"I never thought that as a native Houstonian of 68 years, that I'd ever say 'I'm ready to move from my hometown of Houston,'" the sign proclaims in large blue text. What's driving this native east to Tyler? "I am sick and tired of how Democratic/Progressive mayors over the last 70 years have ruined this once great city." Also, his grandkids live there.

The list of mayors since 1947 includes some of the city's most influential leaders, both Republican and Democrat, though it's true that a Republican hasn't been elected to the office since 1982.

That 70-year stretch the sign-makers lament included the final two terms (out of 11) of conservative Oscar Holcombe, the millionaire construction czar who annexed huge portions of a once-bankrupt city while installing a sewage system, wider streets, streetlights and traffic lights—and who also resisted integration during the 1950s. Republican mayor Louie Welch, who oversaw the city when it hit 1 million residents, served five consecutive two-year terms from 1964 to '73—and would likely have served again more than a decade later except for remarks he made in 1985 positing that the best way to combat the AIDS crisis was to "shoot the queers." Jim McConn (1978 to '81) was the city's most recent Republican mayor, though he was burdened by scandals during his administration; his enduring legacy is that of a good ol' boy who conspired to violate anti-trust laws.

What we're saying is that when it comes to Houston mayors, there's always controversy to spare, regardless of party affiliation. Just ask Mayor Turner how he's faring right now in the midst of a damning probe into his handling of the city's erstwhile recycling program.

But does any of this mean Houston has been "ruined" in the last 70 years? To the point of driving out its born-and-raised residents?

"Houston was better in 1947? It what way? Segregation?" asked Reddit user AdoboJoe in response to the yard sign. Some Reddit users pointed to the fact that the city mostly escaped the recent recession intact thanks to Annise Parker, while others blame her administration for another less-fun fact: that Houston's finances rank among the worst in the nation. Somehow, no one mentioned the general lack of air conditioning prior to the 50s.

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Also worth mentioning: Louie Gohmert, the U.S. Representative from Texas's First Congressional District, which encompasses much of northeast Texas, is arguably one of the few politicians who makes more verbal gaffes than Sheila Jackson Lee. Our favorite? “I’ve had people say, ‘Hey, you know, there’s nothing wrong with gays in the military. Look at the Greeks.’ Well, you know, they did have people come along who they loved that was the same sex and would give them massages before they went into battle. But you know what, it’s a different kind of fighting, it’s a different kind of war and if you’re sitting around getting massages all day ready to go into a big, planned battle, then you’re not going to last very long.”

In 1947, World War II was finally over, and the greatest construction era in Houston's history was underway, with an all-time high building record of $41,088,844 set in 1945. We were flush with oil and gas money that would create the nation's fourth-largest city out of a swamp: During that time, the 19 counties surrounding Houston accounted for 20 percent of Texas's total crude oil production and 40 percent of its refinery capacity.

It was probably very exciting to grow up in a vibrant, wealthy city just beginning to understand its full potential. (As it happens, this isn't terribly different from how many young Houstonians view their birthplace today.) And there were obviously great things happening in Houston 70 years ago, including the birth of the Alley Theatre and the fact that Ye Olde College Inn still existed.

But 1947 was also the year Houstonians overwhelmingly voted to disallow zoning; it was the year that a cargo vessel in Texas City exploded, killing 581 people and injuring over 5,000 others, due to overwhelming negligence; it marked the early years of white flight to the suburbs—a trend that would destabilize much of the city's core for years to come. And although Kaphan's had become the first restaurant in the city to integrate its dining room 20 years earlier, most public places in Houston were still segregated and would remain so for decades.

In short, it's easy to wax nostalgic about a place or a time when youth and inexperience prevent you from seeing the truly complex picture of a city—like every other city on earth—rendered in shades of grey. Pinning any of Houston's issues on something as straightforward as "Democratic/Progressive mayors over the last 70 years" fails to account for any of the other demographic trends, cultural shifts, economic situations and modernization efforts—both locally and nationally—that have taken place quite independently of whomever is currently occupying City Hall.

But if this narrow scope, this utter reduction of history to ill-informed political opinion, is all it takes for a native Houstonian to abandon his hometown for East Texas? Well, we'll join in with the chorus of Houston Reddit users in bidding Bill, Sonya and Sophie (the latter of whom we're all pretty sure is a beloved, well-pampered pet who won't care whether she's getting groomed in Houston or Tyler) a hale and hearty buh-bye.

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