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Interview with: L. L. Hill
Date: February 27, 1975
Archive Number: OH 075
Mrs S Mrs Sam Skelton, Interviewee
Mrs E Mrs Elliott, Interviewee
Mr H Mr Hill, Mayor, Interviewee
Mr W Mr Woodard, Interviewee
MI Male Interviewer
FI Female Interviewer
MI: [00:03] Interview, Southside Place, the 27th of February. There are four parties to this interview, Ms Skelton—
Mrs S: Mrs Sam Skelton.
MI: —Mrs Elliot, Mr Hill—the mayor—and Mr Woodard. To begin, would anyone like to tell us a little about the early history about Southside Place, such as who are the famous first families, what sort of buildings and facilities were here, and when Southside Place was incorporated? Mr Woodard?
Mr W: Well, the first contact I had with Southside Place was in 1931—I believe it was. I moved up on Auden Street with a cousin of mine who had to take a house back that was delinquent. He was in the real estate business. And I moved in with him with my mother and found out that there was a swimming pool over here and a tennis court. And then what was told to me at that time was—and this is pure hearsay—was that the Crain Ready Cut House Company developed this out here as a subdivision to the city of Houston or way out from the city of Houston, and the whole program was to build this addition out here and have Ready Cut homes made by him and built out here on this—in addition. And the lots originally were 75 feet by 150 feet. They were not the regular lots in ’31 and ’32.
Why, we ran into, of course, what we called the depression or economic trouble as they call it now. And the people who were building these houses—Crain Ready Cut House Company—were taking second liens behind the first liens that were being financed by banks and, I guess, insurance companies—whoever—mortgage companies. And they got into trouble with the second liens, and they couldn’t pay off, and they had to foreclose them. That meant, of course, that the homes out here that were being financed were taken back by the mortgage company, and the biggest mortgagee company was the Marine Bank & Trust Company—I believe the name of it was.
[02:49] Anyhow, it developed after they had this economic trouble that they
re-subdivided all the lots that were left into—they took three 75-foot lots and made—I mean, two 75-foot lots and made three 50-foot lots out of them—what was left. Then that was put on the market and sold, and that seemed to be the beginning of the time when the homes out here began to build a little bit more thickly.
Well, in 1939—that was after I left here and moved away and got married— I moved back out here in 1939 and built my little place over there. And my recollection of the original subdivision was pretty vague except that they built a park first with the swimming pool, which was the only swimming pool in the west side of (laughs) I don’t know where. The only other swimming pool was the in natatorium over here in the Heights. And this attracted family-minded people, and they bought these lots, built their houses, and raised their families out here—all around that swimming pool and tennis court. And it was quite successful in my way of thinking—at least it’s been successful as far as my family is concerned. We raised three children out here that have all gone on to glory, I hope, in their chosen professions. But that was my early recollection of the city of Southside Place.
There was one other thing that happened and that was during 1930—my best recollection was 1932. There was—to stimulate the sales of property out here, they would build a house and then raffle it off and bring people out here from every direction in the world, and they would raffle off a house that was
ready-built. And it didn’t cost you anything. It was just a sales promotion idea to show you what was out in this particular subdivision. And a couple of people have still—I don’t know whether they live here or not, but somebody got one of those real good houses that were built under very precarious and exacting circumstances, and they were real good houses.
MI: Did that happen in other parts of Harris County as well?
Mr W: It may have, but this was the only place that I knew of any promotion of that kind. Now they take—they do it this way. Each one of the subcontractors would subcontract his services for whatever went into that particular house. I remember one particular one, there was a guy that had a copper roof—copper-type roof—and that particular house—wherever it was—was built over here—and they put that copper roofing on it as one of the ingredients that went into that house—some of them improvements. But that was—all these men who built the house—that had put in whatever it was that went into the houses—would participate of course in any new building that took place around in the neighborhood, and they were the ones who profited really from the advertising their product got that went into that house. So it was a real—well, it was a successful thing because everybody was looking for a home. People were looking for a place to put roots—sit down and raise a family—and this was a real nice place only it was so dad-gum far from town, and it was—I think it was considered a long way from time—seven miles from town—and the only way you could get out here was on that old Bissonnet Road—Bellaire Boulevard—where they had that trolley car.
[07:04] But that was about the earliest I remember and what was told me about it. The promotion out here was well handled except for the fact that the Crain Ready Cut people were a little over ambitious, and they were building too many houses and taking too many second liens when the economy broke, and there wasn’t anybody that had any jobs, and they couldn’t collect on these second liens, so they were foreclosing. The Marine bank got most of them, and as I they say, they came back and re-subdivided, and most of it came out all right. In fact, it did come out all right. I saw an original subdivision plat of these sites out here, and I don’t know what happened to that. I thought that was down here in the city somewhere.
Mr H: We—I have a map. Would you care to put it with your records?
MI: Well, yes, after the interview.
FI: Yeah, that’d be great.
MI: That would be great.
Mr W: It’s a—is the original—?
Mr H: No, it’s not the original map.
Mr W: It’s just the—
Mr H: [08:06] It just shows the streets and the—
Mr W: Is that our zoning ordinance map?
Mr H: It shows our lots and all that on it.
Mr W: Well, the original map was in color, so it was done in (laughs)—Raine—Raines Lithographing Company or Printing Company did a big job off of this one—Crain. And that particular thing was still there, but the lots were originally 75 feet wide and 150 feet long.
MI: Under Texas law, must a city by platted before it can be incorporated?
Mr W: No, not necessarily. You can find a lot of little cities out in the widest part of the road that are not subdivided. They’re just what they call a village, and it can be incorporated as a village.
Mr H: The city of Southside actually was incorporated under the general laws of the statutes of the State of Texas, and it’s an automatic type of government that is a mayor and prior councilman, and the actual incorporation of the city took place in 1934. August of 1934 was the date that we became a city. I don’t know whether you would want to know the officers or the councilman and mayor at that date on this record or would want to know that.
MI: Perhaps it would be wise to know the mayor of the city.
FI: Right, and then perhaps later, if we could, it would be nice to be able to maybe Xerox for the library some copies of a—
Mr H: Well, the mayor at that time was J. P. Lindsay—L-i-n-d-s-a-y.
FI: He was the first—that would make him the first mayor.
Mr H: First mayor. And mayor pro tem was a lady by the name of Mrs W.C. Shutts—
S-h-u-t-t-s. And as Mr Woodard said, The Crain Ready Built houses laid this out about 1926—’27—
Mr W: That’s right.
Mr H: [10:23] —as a subdivision, and at that time, it was way out from Houston (laughter), and the only connection they had was the old Bissonnet Road and the Stoddard.
W: That’s Richmond Road they call it.
H: The Old Richmond Road.
W: They called it the Richmond Road.
H: The Old Richmond Road.
MI: Well, today it seems that Southside Place is way inside of Houston.
MI: Would you care to account for the current boundaries of Southside Place? In other words, how did such a small community come to be within such a large community?
Mr W: Well, I’ll tell you the motive behind that was there was a big hullabaloo about the City of Houston taking in Southside Place as well as these subdivisions—
MI: This was in 1940?
Mr H: No, earlier than that.
Mr W: It was earlier than that.
Mr H: Earlier than that.
Mr W: They began to look for some new revenue for the City of Houston, and so we were one of the first little satellite cities that incorporated to keep from being taken in by the City of Houston because Bellaire Boulevard, as I recall, was being promoted out that way with some subdivisions out Bellaire, and the city was trying to capture those particular subdivisions so they could get the revenue from them. That’s what the idea was. And West University Place was the same thing—same thing happened to them. They were about to be annexed—or that subdivision or those subdivisions over there were about to be annexed—and in order to incorporate you had to have—as I recall the statute required you to have at least 400 lots—or 400 people maybe it was—and there had to be three different kinds of businesses in order for it to be considered a general purpose city. And some of the ladies around here—if I recall, Mrs Skelton, they had the businesses in their home at that time to qualify them to—
Mrs S: [12:29] Yes.
Mr W: —the statute in order to have an election by the county judge to become a city.
Mrs S: That’s right.
Mr W: And that was the motive for the city of Southside being incorporated originally was to keep that—those high taxes out of the City of Houston from taking in out here.
Mr H: Well, Mrs Elliott, wasn’t Gramercy—didn’t they petition to come in after the city was set up? It was not—
Mrs E: It was later.
Mr W: It was later. That was when the Shell built that laboratory out there.
Mrs E: That’s right.
Mr W: The Shell wasn’t going to put any money into that. The City of Houston was going to annex them.
Mr H: Mm-hmm. (affirmative)
Mr W: But that was later. That seems to be—
Mr H: Yeah. Well, I mean—
Mr W: That was after—that was just before the war.
Mrs E: [13:07] That was in ’41 or ’42—
Mr H: Yes, ma’am.
Mrs E: —because I have moving pictures where they’re tearing up Bellaire Boulevard and where the commercial is on Bellaire Boulevard, that’s when they started selling that land off. There was nothing over there but a citrus orchard.
Mr W: A citrus orchard—
Mrs E: That’s right.
Mr W: —and pecan trees.
Mrs E: And they had one house over there which Mr Grubs lived in, and then he had one other house that his caretaker lived in. And he had all of these citrus trees—
Mr W: Beautiful trees.
Mrs E: —and they had these smudge pots under their, and they’d burn them in the winter time.
Mr W: In the winter time. Yes, ma’am.
Mrs E: Yes.
FI: He owned all that over—commercial—?
Mrs E: Yes, he owned all of that.
Mr W: Yes.
Mrs E: There wasn’t a thing over there when we came out here.
Mr H: But the original city was just this—
Mr W: The subdivision itself.
Mr H: [13:53] —the subdivision itself.
MI: Did the City of Houston run a choke strip around West University Place—
Mr W: Oh, yes.
MI: —and Bellaire and Southside?
Mr W: Oh, yeah. Jerry manned a strip around all of them after they—
Mr H: But when West University and Bellaire and Houston—I mean Southside—were incorporated, there was a lot of open prairie between Houston and what is now, but, of course, as the years have passed, they just expanded and surrounded us.
FI: Do you—?
Mr W: Well, when I was a young man, I used to come out here and court some of my girls out here, and the old cotton patch was (ladies laughing) right on the corner of Auden and Bissonnet. That was a cotton patch out there.
Mrs S: I just wonder if it was mine because I raised two bales of cotton right there. (laughter)
Mr W: It sure could have been. It sure could have been. (laughter)
Mrs S: I sure did—right up there behind that school.
Mrs E: My goodness.
FI: I wondered if—are the boundaries of Southside the same as originally incorporated or did you also expand some?
Mr H: No. We expanded before World War II—somewhere in there—and incorporated that strip down Bellaire Boulevard.
Mr W: Four feet south of Bellaire Boulevard. That takes in Gramercy Street and goes on down to that—
Mr H: [15:07] Just this side of the railroad track.
Mr W: Just this side of the railroad track. It’s not quite to the railroad track—at the barbecue place there.
Mr H: Well, it used to be Howard Johnson’s.
Mr W: Howard Johnson’s. Howard Johnson’s was the—
Mr H: But that was incorporated into the city somewhere in the 1940’s—just before World War II.
FI: Probably about the time Houston was also wanting that—
Mr H: Yes. Houston was expanding real fast at that time, and there were lots of subdivisions being built around the edges of the city of Houston.
Mr W: But they had a—what’d they call it—the Tunaville Trolley?
Mr W: You caught it at Main—Fannin and Eagle—right where Sears & Roebuck store is there now
Mr H: Right. Right.
Mr W: —and it came out Fannin to where the Shamrock is and then came out—
Mr H: All the way to Bellaire—to the city of Bellaire.
Mr W: And it was a day’s trip to ride into town (laughter) and come out on that trolley. And that was really the only transportation they had out here.
Mr H: It went right down the center of Bellaire Boulevard.
Mrs S: I’ve ridden it.
Mr H: Yeah.
Mrs S: [16:15] You know, the children—
Mr H: It bounced all over the place. I can remember that.
Mrs S: Yeah. The children liked to go on it. It was fun. (laughter)
MI: Was it crowded?
Mrs S: No.
Mr H: No, not particularly. You didn’t have any trouble getting a seat. (laughter)
FI: Well, if you moved to Southside, that would be your only way to get to town if you needed to go and didn’t have a car.
Mr W: And everybody had horses and chickens.
Mr H: Yeah, horses and chickens.
Mrs S: Louana had her chickens and the boys had a pony that they kept up there on a
75-acre tract. I had pigs up there and cows. I had three beautiful cows.
Mr W: It was rural. There was no question about it.
Mrs S: Oh, yes. And I just thought it was heavenly because I was—I’ve been born and raised on a farm and ranch, and I didn’t like this thing, and I still don’t—(laughter)—about being penned in.
MI: Mrs Skelton, what year did you finally decide that you were penned in? When did you lose the sense of being rural?
Mrs S: Oh, right when it started. Well, this was kind of out, but when it started building up close to me. Mr Armon (laughs) was my first—well, he was there when we built.
Mr H: Mr Armon was the—
Mrs S: [17:30] That was my closest neighbor.
Mr H: —superintendent of the school over here when I—
Mrs S: Yes.
Mr H: Is that who you’re talking about?
Mrs S: Yes. And they walked a little cow trail—you know, where people finally walk it out and make a trail—to this school. They had no sidewalks.
Mr H: Well, it wasn’t until after World War II that beyond where Stella Link—back over in that way—wasn’t anything but prairie.
Mrs E: Yeah, that wasn’t anything.
Mr H: And they started developing after World War II.
Mrs E: That’s right.
Mrs S: There was a big ranch over there. I think that gentleman has died now, but he used to ride every—during the trail ride—into the city.
Mr W: Well, there was Collins—had hunting dogs out here. He used to go hunting over there in—over in the—
Mrs S: Oh, yeah. Well, the quail lived in my chicken yard to feed with the chickens. (laughter). Well, I didn’t mind that, but I didn’t shoot them.
MI: Now after the war—that is World War II—I know that both Bellaire and West University Place started building up, and wasn’t there some kind of big controversy between West University Place and Bellaire?
Mr W: (laughs) I say there was.
MI: An annexation?
Mr W: [18:44] There was one midnight—there was a professor—his name started with a “K”—I can’t think of his name—out of the University of Houston—was the mayor of West University Place. And they met one midnight and passed an annex ordinance that took in not only Southside Place but part of Bellaire and went all the way to Richmond practically.
MI: So Southside was involved as well?
Mr W: Oh, yes. And we fought it in the courts. I had a fellow by the name of Allred, who was a United States district judge down here who lived in Bellaire at the time, and he helped me quite a bit in connection with fighting that lawsuit, and—
FI: Well, you were the city attorney for Southside, right?
Mr W: At that time, yes, ma’am. Fellow by the name of Corkindale was the mayor at the time, and he was an assistant United States attorney, and he was the only republican president—the only republican (laughs) mayor, I think, in the state of Texas. (laughter) But we fought that and won it, which indicates that there’s not going to be any chance of any other city taking us in now, and statutes were amended to provide that if there were to be annexation of another city, both cities have to vote affirmatively for the annexation. And coupled with the fact that we had a zoning ordinance out here that the city of Houston didn’t have, and that was one of the things that we put into that bill when it was introduced by an associate of [20:22] ??s/l Batesville??—who was a senator at that time who lived in West University Place and was sympathetic with our concept of it—that unless a city had a zoning ordinance of the same and similar character of the other city that it attempted to annex, it couldn’t annex it. Well, that cuts the City of Houston out right from the bottom.
MI: What has been the effect of your zoning ordinance?
Mr W: Well, it’s kept this place to be home-owned.
Mrs E: That’s right.
Mr W: You can see there’s no business around here except on south of Bellaire Boulevard. That was zoned for commercial and business purposes, and that’s the only place there is.
Mr H: [21:05] The closest—they say that a lot of the houses are over 40 years old out here now, and you can look at the neighborhood and see the condition—that’s it been well kept, and the houses have been maintained and re-modernized and everything.
MI: So most of your financing comes from property tax on private residences?
Mr W: Yes. Store tax, and I think they just got that in, didn’t they? And we pay for our water.
Mr H: Water and the ad valorum taxes.
Mrs E: Garbage.
Mr H: Garbage.
FI: The commercial strip that you do have, does that provide a big percentage of your tax?
Mr H: Oh, they provide I’d say 25% to 30% of it.
FI: Comes from that commercial strip, and—
Mr H: From that commercial.
FI: —the rest is largely ad valorum property homeowners taxes?
Mr H: We get—of course, we participate in the state sales tax, but—
FI: Does a community like Southside receive revenue sharing funds—that kind of federal—?
Mr H: Yes, we get revenue—federal revenue sharing funds. We’re kind of low on the totem pole. I think it’s about $2,200 a quarter or something like that. We get $11,000 to $12,000 dollars a year.
FI: That’s unrestricted though, right?
Mr H: [22:23] No, you have to designate what you’re going to use it for, and they specify certain things. You can’t just—
Mr W: It’s all for municipal purposes, isn’t it?
Mr H: Well, it can be for healthwise. It can be for recreation. It can be financial expenditures. You can’t use it for maintenance or operations, salaries, anything like that. It has to be—you have to earmark it for what you’re going to use it for.
MI: What other kinds of income do you have? Here I sit in this comfortable chair, which I assume to be the chair of the traffic court judge.
Mr H: Or the mayor.
Mr W: The mayor’s chair, you’re sitting in. (laughter)
MI: Well, do you have a traffic court?
Mr H: Oh, yeah.
MI: Do you have steady income through fines?
Mr H: Through traffic fines? Yes. It varies. We’re not a—
Mr W: Trap out here or anything like that.
Mr H: We’re not a speed trap or anything like that. We kind of keep it—watch it closely on that.
MI: How about your neighbors? Are there any—have there been any allegations of speed traps in West University Place or Bellaire?
Mrs S: Up in Bellaire. I lived there for a while, while my house was—
Mr H: The fellow that gets caught is always complaining of speed traps. You have to—
Mrs E: You have to have them.
Mr H: [23:40] Actually, there’s—
Mrs S: But it’s clearly not.
Mr H: For all the years I’ve been through West University, I’ve never been stopped.
Mr W: I haven’t either.
Mrs E: Well, Bellaire was a little stricter for a while, but I think they stopped that. But that is a nice place to live.
Mr W: Oh, yes.
MI: Are your traffic regulations uniform with those of Houston? In other words, if I should be driving along a street, would the speed limit suddenly drop or increase or something?
Mr H: Well, it’s statutory. It’s the state highway that let’s you set your speed limits through any town, and it just depends on whether or not—how they want traffic to go through there. Our minimum out here is 35 mph.
FI: So it’s pretty much the same as it is in Houston.
Mr W: Pretty much the same except in a school zone.
Mr H: But that’s statutory. But there’s school zones, of course, that you can fix up. We don’t have a school in the city in the Southside Place, so we don’t have to fool with that too much.
Mr W: Well, we maintain a school zone for Pershing on Bellaire.
Mrs E: On Bellaire.
Mr H: Yes, that’s right.
FI: Now your children go to HISD?
Mr H: [24:49] Yeah, we’re part of the Houston Independent School District—pay Houston Independent School taxes.
MI: I was wondering about that.
FI: What about your police department and your fire department? What size are they?
Mr H: Well, the police department—we maintain round the clock police protection. That is, we have one man—we actually have four paid policeman and one extra.
Mrs E: One part-time.
Mr H: One part-time. The fire department is all volunteer.
MI: What does that do to your insurance rates?
Mr W: It lowers them.
Mr H: We have one of the lowest insurance rates around the—
Mr W: We get the maximum.
Mr H: No, I think it jumped up last year over some fire or something we had. That fluctuates on a key-rate basis. It’s kind of complicated, and I’m not too sure myself, but if we have so many roofs with composition and so many wooden, and they take the whole fluctuation. But I think our deduction, where Houston is either five percent credit or five percent debit—I don’t know—ours is about 15% credit out here on our end.
FI: Do you—how does that—I assume you have some sort of cooperative agreement with Houston or with others if you have a fire that your volunteers can’t handle—what do you do? Can you call in?
Mr H: Well, West University has always helped us.
Mr W: Standby—and Bellaire stands by.
Mr H: [26:23] Bellaire would come if we called them.
FI: But those are just kind of friendly agreements between the cities.
Mr H: Yeah. No agreements, just a mutual—
Mr H: —a mutual understanding—a mutual aid, I guess.
FI: You don’t do anything official though in terms of contracting with anybody.
Mr G: No. Uh-uh. (negative)
FI: And your police also?
Mr H: No. It’s all mutually. We have—their policemen call a mayday, ours will go.
MI: But you don’t do this with the City of Houston police or the City of Houston fire department.
Mr H: Oh, yeah. City of Houston. We have important agreements with them. It’s just an understanding. There’s no written contracts. Now Bellaire has a written contract for the Houston ambulance service to come out to service Bellaire residents, but Houston ambulances will come into Southside if called.
Mr W: There’s one over at West University—
Mr H: And West University where West University is in the process of deciding whether they want to have ambulance service to transport to the hospital as such. Over the years, they maintained the first aid equipment, but now they’re thinking about going into the paramedic-type ambulance service.
FI: So if a resident of Southside needed an ambulance, you could call the Houston service, and they would come.
Mr H: They would come. Or either call West University.
FI: [27:55] I see.
Mrs S: I think that they’re wonderful.
Mr H: Oh, yes. They do a very fine job.
FI: If the Houston Police are chasing somebody—if I robbed a bank in Houston and ran over into Southside Place, [28:10] ??s/l VAS??—I assume—can come right on in and do what they need to do without any difficulty.
Mr H: Oh, sure. They had—it’s been some while back—they had—I think it was a West University Police had followed a young man into Southside and curbed him and stopped him, and he got rebellious, I guess, and attacked the officer. And he put in a call for some officers’ assistance. Our patrol was down on Bellaire and West University—sent another car and a Houston Police came in and three or four police cars. It’s just a mutual aid.
FI: So it’s no problems on that score really.
Mr H: Not to date there has been. No.
FI: What about—one other thing I’ve read in the papers some about some innovative kinds of things Southside has done in terms of trash pick up—garbage stuff—(laughter)—could you talk a little bit about that?
Mr H: Well, we got the—four years ago—five years ago—we got to worrying about the landfill, which is going to be a big problem from now on as the population increases and the land is used up. The landfill areas are going to be less and less. So the City of Southside invested in what is called a con-cement. It’s an incinerator-type thing. We at that time passed an ordinance that eliminated the use of metal garbage cans, and we furnished all the citizens with a rack and a
30-gallon paper garbage bag.
Mr W: Waterproof.
Mr H: Waterproof bag. And we would now burn all our garbage—that is the—
Mr W: [30:06] Waste.
Mr H: —waste—the household waste garbage in this con-cement.
FI: That’s a kind of incinerator that’s—
Mr H: An incinerator that generates tremendous heat.
FI: Right. But it doesn’t put off any pollutant—(speaking at same time)
Mr H: No pollution. You can’t even—don’t even know it’s operating. Our trash pick up still goes to the commercial landfills and—well, there’s one out this way called the sandpits, which we pay to use. We pick up our garbage. We furnish back door garbage pick up to our citizens. They have to put their trash—their limb cuttings and grass out in the front.
Mr W: In bundles.
Mr H: In bundles. The basis of that—well, we furnished the garbage bags and enough for a year’s supply over the—since the—until the present date—and the cost of the bags have increased and our labor costs have gone up, so we put in garbage tax to the residents, which just has now started.
MI: Have other cities in Harris County come to Southside Place to look at your incinerator, and are they considering copying you?
Mr H: Well, I don’t know. When we first put it in—it’s four years old now—we had busloads of people coming out here looking at it. Of course, that has dropped off now, but I think South Houston operates one.
Mrs E: And Alvin.
Mr H: And Alvin operates one.
FI: I think at that time Houston had built a big incinerator that wouldn’t work at all—
Mr H: We’re aware of that, and I think—
FI: [32:03] —and Southside had built one that was working beautifully, and there was a lot of—
Mr H: There is some talk or has been some talk of Houston putting these at various points in the city to take care of it, but I don’t know if anything ever got off the ground or not.
Mrs E: Pasadena has one too.
Mr H: Yeah. Pasadena has one.
FI: How was your response from your own citizens? You’re telling them you can’t use certain kinds of garbage bags, and you have to do this. Did everybody get with that pretty well or was there—?
Mr W: Yeah. No complaints that I know of. In fact, everybody loved it.
Mr H: You always receive a few complaints, but they complained that the cats would tear the bags and things like that, but as a whole, it’s been—gone on real well.
Mrs E: Very successful.
FI: What about your water? Do you get that—do you have your own system, your own tax, and your own supply?
Mr H: We have our own—two wells—our own water.
FI: How do your water rates compare with the City of Houston’s?
Mrs E: Very low.
Mr H: Very low.
FI: So you avoided a lot of controversy when there’s doubled? (laughter)
Mr W: They have their own sewer system out here.
Mr H: [33:12] We have our own sewer treatment plant—sewage—well, whatever I’m trying to say—(laughter)—sewage treatment plant.
FI: So you really can provide all the municipal services?
Mr H: We do.
FI: You’re providing water and sewage and fire and police and garbage. So you really don’t contract out for any basic city services with anyone.
Mr H: No, not up until now.
MI: It seems then that you have nothing but advantages by sitting behind the boundaries of Southside Place, as it were. Are there any disadvantages to living in a small community within a great city?
Mr H: No, because—
Mr W: We haven’t found any—at least I haven’t.
Mrs S: I haven’t. (laughter)
Mr H: Well, actually on today’s time we’re just actually a part of the metropolitan Harris County.
FI: So you have all the advantages of Houston really.
Mr H: Yeah, plus—
FI: Minus the taxes.
Mr H: If you say they have advantages.
Mr W: If there’s any advantages.
MI: When you meet someone from another city, do you tell them that you’re from Houston or from Southside Place?
Mr W: [34:21] We use the Houston Post Office, you see, and that doesn’t belong to the City of Houston, that’s just the Post Office—Houston’s point there. Bellaire has there own post office—a second class or fourth class post office out there. But we use the City of Houston’s, and the zip code is 77005.
FI: So that’s your mailing address—Houston really.
Mr H: That’s our mailing address.
Mr W: Your question is, when we go somewhere—
MI: Just in conversation.
Mrs S: I do.
Mr W: Sure. City of Southside.
Mrs S: Couldn’t be better.
FI: What’s the population right now of Southside?
Mr H: It’s between 1,400 to 1,600.
FI: Would you talk about a little bit about politics in Southside? Your the mayor, and there are, what, five—four—other councilman?
Mr H: I’m mayor and five councilman.
Mr W: Their all volunteers.
Mr H: Their all paid a dollar a year.
FI: That includes the mayor?
Mr H: Mayor too—a dollar a year.
Mr W: The city attorney was that way. I don’t know whether they’re doing—
Mr H: [35:21] Their all a dollar. Everybody gets a dollar.
FI: Even the city attorney just gets a dollar. What about—are the elections contested a lot? Is it a—?
Mr H: Once in a great while you’ll have some—the way it works is the Men’s Club usually puts forth a slate of officers as the—
FI: That’s kind of a civic club?
Mr H: Yes—the Men’s Club. And usually—
Mr W: The ladies do too now, don’t they? (ladies laughing)
Mrs S: We’re around.
Mr H: Well, they have recommended to the Men’s Club if they—let’s put it that way. And that usually is the slate of officers. Very seldom you’ll have an independent running—once in a great while.
FI: So for the most part, it’s not contested each time.
Mr H: No.
FI: The slate puts them up, and that’s who—
Mr W: It’s a very close knit community. We try to rotate the responsibilities around.
MI: How long is the term?
Mr W: Two years.
MI: Two years. So you’ve been mayor for how many years?
Mr H: Well, I was councilman, and the mayor—the elected mayor—moved out of the city. He went to Alice, Texas—when was it in October? No, September.
Mrs E: It was in September.
Mr H: [36:43] September of last year. I was mayor pro tem. So the council—
Mr W: He couldn’t qualify as a citizen out here, so he couldn’t be mayor.
Mr H: No, no. Well, yeah. Tony moved—of course, he moved to Alice—way away from here, so he—
FI: Had to resign.
Mr H: —he resigned, so I was made mayor. The council elected a councilman to replace mine—the vacancy.
MI: Now the first mayor pro tem was a woman. Is that correct?
Mr W: According to the records here, yes, sir.
MI: Has a woman ever been mayor?
Mr H: No.
Mrs E: No.
FI: Are there women councilmen? Councilwomen?
Mr H: Yes, we have one council person.
FI: Council person. (laughter)
Mr W: Martha Strong.
Mr H: Mrs Martha Strong.
Mrs S: I think she’s a wonderful person.
FI: She’s currently—?
Mr W: She grew up out here, didn’t she?
Mrs S: [37:35] Yes, she did.
Mr H: She’s finishing up her two years and is running for reelection.
FI: How often do you meet—does the council meet?
Mr H: Once a month—second Tuesday of the month. They’ll call special meetings.
FI: What are your average meetings like? Do you have fairly routine things you do each month?
Mr H: Well, it depends. Some meetings you’re through at 10:30 or 11 o’clock, and some meetings you go to 1:30. (laughter)
FI: It depends, huh?
Mr H: It just depends what’s—
Mr W: On the agenda.
MI: Well, if there are politics, there must be issues, so what are some of the issues you talk about?
Mr H: Well, garbage tax—well, money matters.
Mrs E: Money. (laughter)
Mr H: Money matters is the big problem.
Mr W: Economics.
Mr H: You’re looking forward—now you’re getting a lot of federal regulations on your sewers and things, your disposals, your fluent out of your sewer plants down there. And those things have to be looked to, and you got 40-year-old streets and 40-year-old sewer lines and things like that you’re going to have to make provisions for. Occasionally—the last really big hassle we had was on zoning—
Mr W: [39:01] Bellaire Boulevard.
Mr H: Bellaire Boulevard—on the south—on the north side of Bellaire. They wanted to zone it for—
Mr W: Townhouses.
Mr H: —townhouses, and the people on Carlon behind that area of the town were opposed to it, and it never did get through.
FI: Is the council the zoning board?
Mr H: No. There’s a zoning board appointed by the mayor and the council.
FI: I see. So you have a separate group of people to make those—
Mr H: A separate group.
Mr W: The Board of Adjustments, I think they call it, isn’t it?
Mr H: No, it’s called the Zoning Board.
Mrs E: It’s called the Zoning Board.
MI: Are there any other committees within the government?
Mrs E: Oh, yes.
Mr H: The Planning Committee.
Mrs E: The Board of Inquisition.
Mr W: The Board of Inquisition.
FI: And these are all appointed by the mayor and the council.
Mrs E: Mm-hmm. (affirmative)
FI: [39:47] So you can—for 1,400 citizens, there’s a big opportunity for people to participate, be I suspect that most adults who wanted to be involved in the government would have a chance here that say, in Houston, the average resident is probably never going to serve on a board.
Mr H: Well, there’s so many ways that they can get involved through the Women’s Civic Club and the Men’s Civic Club, the Garden Club, the Park Board—
Mr H: The Park Board—see the Park Board is a separate corporation. The collect the—the homeowners elect the trustees of the Park Board, and they operate the parks.
Mr W: The park doesn’t belong to the city. It belongs to the citizens out here. It is not a part of the city’s property. Each one of the lots out here that were sold has a covenant in it that gives each one of them that owns a lot here a right to be a member of the Park Board—a member of the park—provided they pay their dues. And that way, the park is run separately entirely from the city.
FI: Is it dues paid yearly that maintain—
Mr W: Yes, ma’am.
FI: —the park in terms of that?
Mr W: And they have a—what do they call it?—a pony out there once a year to raise funds for it.
Mr H: Carnival.
Mrs E: Bazaar.
FI: I see.
MI: Is there a strong—
Mr H: The city helps clean it and helps them with minor maintenance and things like that. It is basically they’re their own boss over there. They have their own rules and regulations, set their own fees.
MI: [41:29] It’s a people’s park, in other words.
Mr H: It’s a people’s park.
Mr W: Well, it’s a citizen’s park is what it is. It’s the people that live out here.
Mr W: It’s—the park, of course, is considered a public park—that is, you and I or Ruth could go out and have a picnic there, and nobody would say anything about it, but you’d have to have a card to go swimming.
FI: I see. I wonder what—most of you have lived in Southside quite a number of years, right?
Mr H: Yes.
FI: I wonder if you all could maybe give your idea of how have people changed. Is it a different kind of family who lives here now? Are they younger—older? What are—?
Mrs S: Yes. It’s young. It’s going into young people, which I’m real proud of.
Mr H: Yes, I am too.
Mrs S: Because—you know—they have a different way of living than we did when we were young like that (laughs), so I think it’s perfectly all right. I don’t see anything wrong with it.
Mr H: No.
FI: What do you mean exactly by different way of living?
Mrs S: Well, just lots of things that they do.
Mr W: Their lifestyles are different.
FI: Do they make good neighbors?
Mr W: Oh, sure.
Mrs S: [42:44] Yes, they do. Yes, they do.
Mr W: Sure they do.
MI: What sort of jobs do they hold?
Mrs S: Well, now I didn’t ask them that. (laughs)
Mr H: Some of them are attorneys.
Mr W: Well, we have executives down in town that have executive positions.
MI: Mostly white collar jobs then.
FI: Kind of professionals then.
Mr H: Not all of them. No.
Mrs S: No. Not all of them. No.
Mr H: Our councilman is an air-condition man, and Alvie has his own business, and he gets out and works on installing air conditioners. And we just had a new person move into the city and join the fire department who is an attorney. We have architects.
Mr W: Doctors.
Mrs E: Accountants.
FI: So it’s been basically—the changes have been positive in that everybody’s—people who are moving in are people that you’d like to see move in. They’re not people you think are not going to—
Mrs S: Sure.
FI: —have the same interests in Southside.
Mr H: [43:45] I don’t know whether you, Mrs Skelton, agree with me, but shortly after World War II, we had an influx of young people—younger people—and then it kind of leveled off there for a while, and now it seems that it’s—
Mrs E: Coming back.
Mr H: —coming back again—more younger people.
Mrs S: That’s true. It just seems like it’s refreshed and—
Mr W: Revitalized with new blood. (laughter)
FI: (speaking at same time; inaudible)
Mrs S: Which is nice—you go over there to the pool, and I’m telling you, it’s full. And I had a lady ask me that had lived out here a long time—she said, “Would you tell me where all of these little children came from?” (laughter) I said, “We have young people.” I’ve had people that I’ve just almost had to just get up and walk away from when my house was being reconditioned, and I told them—I said, “It isn’t for sale. I didn’t build it for that.”
FI: They thought you were going to sell it.
Mrs S: And I paid for it, and when I went to make my last payment, they said, “Mrs Skelton, we have looked forward so much to seeing you.” I said, “Well, here I am.” Because my husband—you don’t drive anywhere in the state of Texas where you don’t run on some of his roads.
FI: Is that right?
Mrs S: So there you are.
FI: But people actually want to buy your house.
Mrs S: Oh, yes.
Mr H: Well, there was one thing that I look forward to—that is—to the plus side of this—to people moving in and then spending money to re-modernize and redo their houses. Their doing quite a bit of that. Not only purchasing the houses, their going in and refurbishing them.
Mrs S: [45:41] So—you know—my son started redoing my house, and I would say that was the number one—starting it off—and after that, Mr Hill, here they went. Everywhere you saw—somebody doing something on his house. So I said, “Well, you started something.”
FI: That’s good.
MI: I imagine that property values have shot way up.
Mr H: Oh, yeah. In the past five years they have.
FI: I guess there’s really no land for sale in Southside Place that’s vacant.
Mr W: There’s a few lots up on Bellaire Boulevard, and I think one or two maybe in the city.
Mr H: No. I don’t believe there’s any in the city.
Mrs E: About three all together.
Mr H: About three all together. There’s one—a man bought that lot down there on Auden and tore that old house down.
Mr W: Yes. To rebuild it.
Mrs E: Let’s see. There’s two, three, four—there’s five, I think, on Bellaire.
Mr W: Bellaire. But actually in the city itself, I don’t think there’s any.
Mrs E: I don’t think there’s any.
Mrs S: No. Nothing.
FI: If you want to move here, you have to find somebody who’s moving out.
Mrs S: [46:48] That’s it.
Mrs E: Of course, some people have two lots.
Mrs S: When you get the sign up, they’re there.
FI: Are there any apartments or multifamily houses at all in Southside?
Mr W: There is on Bellaire.
Mr H: That’s on the back of Bellaire, isn’t it?
Mr W: Well, down Gramercy.
Mrs E: Blair Apartments.
Mr W: The Blair Apartments are on Bellaire.
Mrs E: On Bellaire Boulevard.
FI: But for the most part, it’s all single-family.
Mr H: Single-family dwelling. Yes.
Mrs S: I don’t think you could have many other ways.
Mr W: Not now. The zoning ordinance is all for single-family dwellings.
FI: So if I bought a lot and tore the house down, I would have to build another
Mr W: Single-family dwelling. That’s right.
Mr H: There’s few—
Mr W: There’s a couple of duplexes, isn’t there?
Mr H: —duplexes at Stoke.
Mr W: [47:35] They were built before that zoning went into effect, and several houses have garage apartments behind them, but unless they were covered by the—I guess you call it the grandfather clause or something?—
Mr H: Yeah.
Mr W: —they can’t rent them out to anybody but their immediate family to live there.
FI: I see.
Mr H: Yeah. They have to be living in the family.
Mrs S: Now Mr Hill, what happens to the Evans house? That was our first apartment. I know Mr Evans—our first mayor—was then—and they just didn’t like each other when it was all over, and I—you know. We always—
Mr W: Are you talking about Tim Evans?
Mrs S: Yes.
Mr W: Well, Tim Evans was the mayor down here.
Mrs S: Sir?
Mr H: Tim Evans used to be the mayor down here.
Mr W: Yeah. He was the mayor.
Mrs S: That’s the first one. Yes. He was the first one.
Mr W: A fellow named Lindsey was the first one.
Mr H: Lindsey was the first one.
Mrs S: Oh, was he?
Mr H: Tim was, I think, the second.
Mrs S: [48:33] Well, I guess I just—
Mr W: He used to be with the Chamber of Commerce in the city.
Mrs S: Yes, he did. Yes. My daughter married one of his sons.
Mr W: Oh, yes. Sure, sure. I guess so. They live over on Darcus Street, right?
Mrs S: Yeah, Larry.
Mr W: Larry.
Mr H: Was it you—did they have a garage apartment?
Mrs S: Oh, he built the first—no, he built a garage apartment, and then he built this upstairs compartment where the whole floor up there was—you know—rented.
MI: Do you many Rice or University of Houston students live in these garage apartments?
Mrs S: Well, I guess they did. I don’t know what happened to a lot of them.
Mr H: Unless they—there’s very few of them that are rentable.
FI: Because you can’t really rent them.
Mr H: You can’t rent them unless you—theoretically you’re not renting them to an immediate part of—
Mr W: Family.
Mr H: —family—blood relative or something. But if the apartment was built prior to the zoning ordinance, then they—
Mr W: It’s an exception.
Mr H: —an exception because they were built and rented before this went into effect.
FI: [49:42] So you could just have a few that would be.
Mr H: There’s just very few of them.
FI: Mr Hill, what do you—do you participate with other mayors? I know there’s a kind of a Harris County mayors association. Do you go?
Mr H: Oh, yes.
FI: Do you have a lot of those kinds of duties?
Mr H: They have a meeting once a month.
FI: What are—how do you see your—do you just kind of—are there things you can really do and cooperate in a group like that?
Mr W: They give you problems, don’t they?
Mr H: Oh, yeah. They have—right now the big question is the utility commission. They want to establish in the state.
FI: The state.
Mr H: That’s been under discussion for quite a while. They’ll probably pass an ordinance—a resolution—to support it—and things like that.
FI: Your mass transmit, I imagine.
Mr H: The east part of the county is worried about subsidence, and they want a resolution from the different groups to—
Mr W: Support that.
Mr H: —support that and anything such as that. That’s what they’ll talk about. It’ll affect the whole area.
FI: But you try to be active in those?
Mr H: [51:04] Well, yes. We attend the meetings.
FI: What’s your regular business, Mr Hill?
Mr H: Well—
FI: You’re a dollar-a-year mayor.
Mr H: I’m a dollar-a-year mayor, and I was a—I was with the Manchester Terminal, and they sold it, and I was—
Mr W: Retired.
Mr H: —retired. (laughter)
FI: So you have some time for your mayor’s duties—
Mr H: I have time for my mayor’s job.
FI: —because I would think that a man who had to keep a very active business would seem to have a lot of responsibilities here.
Mr H: We had a city superintendent, but he left, and that’s why I’ve been given more or less time.
FI: I see. So right now you have—are there any other full-time employees of the city besides your police and fire. You have a city secretary.
Mr H: Well, Ms Ellie only works two days a week, and we have another—
Mrs E: We have another little girl in the office. And then Mr Monroe—
Mr H: Mr Monroe is the superintendent of the Public Works. That is the sewer and the water.
FI: Right—keeps up the maintenance of those.
Mr H: [52:06] We have to have a certified—the state certifies them for sewer operation.
Mrs E: You have to have some kind training.
MI: When was the City Hall built?
Mr H: In 1935. There’s a plaque out there. We were just looking at it. Well, it’s been added to, but the original was built in 1935.
Mrs S: I think you made a wonderful mayor. I’m awful proud of you.
Mr H: Thank you, Pat.
Mrs S: We hope that we can keep some of these people that are good—don’t get tired of it. That’s what I mean. (laughter)
FI: When you find a good person for a dollar a year—
Mrs S: That’s right.
FI: —you need to hold on to them. (laughter)
Mrs S: That’s the trouble with our—(speaking at same time)
Mr H: Well, I’ve been the route. I was the chairman of the Park Board. I’ve been fire chief. I’ve been mayor. I’ve been councilman.
Mr W: You’ve come up through the ranks.
FI: You’ve been city attorney? Did you ever sit on the council?
Mr W: No. I was just the city attorney from 1950 to 1960.
FI: Ten years.
Mr W: Yeah. It got to be sort of a drag after that, so I told them to get somebody else.
Mr H: [53:29] We still call on Rip to—
Mr W: If I can help out, I’m standing by whenever I can give them any help.
Mrs S: That’s right. You have been, Mr Woodard. You’ve just stood right in there.
Mr H: We like this free legal advice. (laughter)
FI: That’s the best kind.
Mr W: You get what you pay for it too. (laughter)
MI: Well, I thought we might close the interview with each of you giving me your perceptions of the future of Southside Place. What, Mr Woodard, do you expect the future to bring? Do you think Southside Place will maintain it’s independence?
Mr W: Well, it’s my hope they will, and I think they will if the people out here are involved internally like they should be—it will. The future will be good for it. The people out here will always be proud of their homes out here. When I moved up to my place, we had 52 children on that one street, and they really had a ball. They had a lot of fun. Those kids have gone on to be successful people. Two doctors, a physicist, lawyers—I don’t know what all they’ve done, but most of them have all turned out to be real fine citizens. And that’s the whole concept of it is turning your citizens into citizens, and that is, being involved in their own community, and that was the whole germ—the whole setup out here—was for people to be involved, and that—I think if that germ holds, we’ll be a real fine city for a long, long time.
MI: Mr Hill?
Mr H: Well, as I see it, it’s going to be a continuous battle to maintain our way—
Mr W: Yes.
Mr H: [55:10] —of citizenship out here because actually as we look at it, we’re short on a tax base, and without some source of review, the cost of operating the city today is enormous.
FI: It really goes up.
Mr H: Of course, the federal government has got all sorts of plans, and their Environmental Protection Agency is supposed to have funds available to—housing or urban development department has funds available, but I don’t know how long have to wait to get it—things like that. It’s going—we’re going to need future help in some sort of those things.
MI: Mrs Elliott?
Mrs E: Well, I agree with Mr Hill because I keep the books for the city, and you can see problems coming up, but yet still I feel this way, that it’s such a wonderful place to live that even our children—you see so many of the old-timers’ children trying to get in here.
Mrs S: Mine has.
Mr W: Come back.
Mrs E: Their all trying to come back, but it is going to be a struggle if we have to meet the standards that they are putting up against us now.
MI: Mrs Skelton?
Mrs S: Well, I think it’s just the most wonderful place in Harris County to live, and I’ve always thought that, and I hope that it will continue. And my son and his wife live in my home on Garnet Street now, and I think they think that way, so it will just go on and on at 3734 Garnet Street. (laughter)
MI: Well, I’d like to thank you all on behalf of the Archives. It’s been a very instructive interview. Thank you.
Mr H: Do you know where the boundaries of the city are?
MI: [57:09] On the map, yes.
Mr H: Edloe Street is the east boundary. Auden Street is the west boundary. It goes up to Bellaire, and then goes 400 feet south of Bellaire down to where the old Howard Johnson’s used to be.
MI: Well, we’ll photocopy one of those maps.
Mr W: I’ll give you that. I’ve got some extra copies.
FI: I was going to ask you, Mr Hill, if there are—