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Interview with: W. A. Kirkland
Interviewed by: Margaret Henson
Date: August 22, 1974
Archive Number: OH 093A
MH: 00:01 This is an interview with Mr. W.A. Kirkland, August 22nd, 1974. Mr. Kirkland, would you tell us what year you were born please?
WK: Yes, I was born March 22nd, 1898 in Houston at the corner of Main and Bell where my mother and father I think had rooms in the house of a Mr. Goldthwaite who was a lawyer with his firm Goldthwaite and Moody represented the First National Bank over the years.
MH: What corner was that on? The south east?
WK: The north east corner where Simpson’s Dining Car is now.
MH: Okay. And you have 2 sisters, is that correct?
MH: This is Mary Porter—
WK: My sister’s Mary Porter Kirkland Vanderport with A.S. Vanderport Jr., also a native Houstonian.
MH: And you had another sister named Laura?
WK: Yes, my first sister was born at the corner of Hamilton and Walker, which is the first home that I can remember. She was born in 1900.
MH: That’s Mrs. Vanderport?
WK: Yes, and her—and the youngest sister came 8 years later, and by that time we had moved to about 1509 La Branch—wrong, Polk. Between La Branch and Crawford. Her name—
MH: She married George S. Bruce, correct?
WK: 02:15 Yes, her full name Laura Shepherd Kirkland and she’s the wife of George S. Bruce Jr.
MH: Your early education, was it here in Houston?
WK: Yes, my first year in school was to Mrs. Waldorf.
MH: Jay Waldorf’s family?
WK: Yes, he has 3 daughters and that school was at the corner of Crawford and Lamar and had a lot of little boys and girls. A year later, Mrs. Waldorf had moved to the corner of Santa and Walker. I think that’s the corner where old private schools had been operated.
MH: Was it a house kind of building or—
WK: Yes, it was a cottage. I have a photograph of it with the student body on the front steps, and in the bottom row is a little girl who lived on the block and it was her—turned out to be her first year in school, and she’s the one to whom I’m married now.
MH: Oh, so you all went to school together?
WK: We had always known each other. I suppose little babies frequently in the same—looked after at the same location.
MH: Yeah, Lois Cleveland.
WK: Lois Cleveland, the daughter of Ellie Vanderset Cleveland. Then after one year there—and I was one of only 3 boys in that school—we went to a—Lois and I—transferred and we joined a group of younger children. The previous year Mrs. Waldorf had girls of all ages, like big girls of high school age, but this next year we went to a little school run by a German woman named Mrs. Bosho. How you spell that I can’t tell you, but it was another cottage with a little play yard. It was located on Crawford street between (unintelligible) on the east side. After one year there I was over the—as the principal of the school. I was muscled by my grandfather Alexander Porter Root into the Houston Academy operated by Professor C.W. Welsh.
MH: About what year was this?
WK: That must have been about 1907. Oh, wait a minute, ’08. No , no, that’s right.
MH: 06:02 About ’07 or ’08 to kind of get a rough idea.
WK: ’07 or ’08.
MH: What kind of a man was C.W. Welch that ran this academy?
WK: Well, he was a large, vigorous man with a beard, and he had been principal of the Houston High School I believe in years past. He was a graduate of Trinity College in North Carolina, and he was one of those men who could teach anything.
MH: You had a good foundation?
WK: And this grandfather of mine was voiced in the classics, and he persuaded Professor Welch to start me in Latin at 9.
MH: And then?
WK: The next year I began algebra and at 12 I began Greeley, and I stayed there through the spring term of 1913. By that time the school had enlarged. It began to take a lot of younger boys and girls. His older daughter Miss Louise Welch was assistant teacher but by the time I left they had done up a regular (unintelligible) department with Miss Welch Croush as the teacher.
MH: And these three people then managed the whole school, primary and—
WK: Right on up to—
MH: High school.
WK: College entrance. It was a remarkable school and there’s a story and I have a panorama picture, a wonderful array or—a lot of incorrigibles went there and Professor Welch was a great disciplinarian. He was supposed to be pretty rough, and could be at times.
MH: You make a lot of references to the Houston Academy. Were any of the others—
WK: The old Houston Academy was an early one—
MH: An early one in—
WK: It preceded the Houston High School.
MH: 08:38 Right, this is a later—
WK: This is private Houston Academy. I guess maybe Professor Welch took the name with him when he left the institution. After that I went to—I was sent to Phillips Academy in Andover. My mother had died in 1911. My father, who had had to go to work at an early age and I think had almost no high school, if any, had heard of Andover and—although I never had, at that time, but it turned out to be a very important experience for me, those two years in New England.
MH: How was a boy from Houston, Texas at that time going to New England?
WK: Well, we had—my mother had taken her children away from this altitude and climate every summer, and we went away for a month or so every summer to the most obscure places where the quarters were very reasonably priced. Our favorite place was Pinecroft, New Mexico and the Southern Pacific was promoting Pinecroft and as I remember the round trip with adults was $20 and for children $10 and we’d rent a cottage and do our own work in that very rustic setting. And then we went to New England once. That was a special vacation that was I think financed by grandparents, the Roots, in North Conway, New Hampshire. My grandfather had taken me around Boston and veered off on stops back and forth to that New Hampshire spot. And then in 1913 my father, not wanting an idle boy hanging around, sent me to a summer camp on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire, and I played on three baseball teams and found out I could handle my own with those Yankee boys, so although I knew no one at Andover when I started, I had no trouble making friends and—
MH: You were good at sports.
WK: Making a place for myself. Well, I was interested in sports. I wasn’t too good. I finally learned how to be a fair baseball player. But—
WK: They—I don’t remember that there was any talk of cowboys and Indians. That might have been incidental, but they hopped on my Southern accent right away. They called me by a name that you can’t use today in these segregated times.
MH: Yes, they picked on you because you were from the South. I can imagine how little boys were. After 2 years at Andover—
WK: 12:02 Well, my mother, whose father was that Mr. Root, was a graduate of Yale in the class of ’61. After graduation he came back to Texas and mounted the Confederate Army, and at the time of his graduation he exchanged photographs with a lot of his classmates at Yale and those came into my possession. I’ve since sent them to the archives of Yale University, but on the back were written messages. “Dear Sandy, we’ve had these happy years at Yale, and now you have to go to the South to support the principles of your people, and we have to fight on our side. We can all join in the hope that we’ll all gather together in New Haven someday.” Well, despite that, my mother chose Princeton for me, and I think it was because it had a little more Southern quality and some of her—a younger cousin and some younger men, whose names would be familiar to you, Hutchinson, Palmer, Sollen and Caylin and then Wings had gone there, and she liked the idea, and so I found myself always following the decisions that she’d made for me before her death, and so I entered Princeton in the fall of 1915. Now after that freshman year and I went back I went on a naval training cruise because the United States was in a period of preparedness for what they knew would come later, what the leaders knew would come later. I mention this simply because about 6 months later I was in my sophomore year when the United States declared war in April 1917, and I immediately enlisted in the naval reserve at Newport, and that’s another story because the naval reserve was just a paper organization at that time. I think that civilian naval training cruise that I was on was the only one the Navy ever scheduled, and World War I made it necessary for this naval reserve to be activated and developed as it has been all the years since. I made the mistake after being turned down for a commission because I was too young they said. I made the mistake of going on inactive duty and returning to Princeton for my junior year, which was rather difficult when everybody else was in active service. It was—with the understanding I was taking intensive courses, navigation and ordnance and gunnery and that was supposed to pay off, but in May 1918 I was back in the submarine chaser activity just as I had been in the summer and fall of 1917. My experience that other year had ended at Block Island on a sub chaser. In December of 1918 I was on active duty at Nantucket. I enjoyed being exposed to both of those interesting places, but in late September 1918 I was transferred to naval aviation and was sent to the ground school at MIT where great numbers of us were prepared for admission to the 8-week training course.
MH: This was just in its rudimentary stage, the Naval Air Force at this time.
WK: Well, I was in flight 34 so flight 1 must have started—
WK: 17:29 In the fall of ’17 anyway, maybe a little earlier than that, but the armistice came in November of that year and many of us were allowed to withdraw, released from active duty, but I stayed on and finished ground school because of the promise that we would also be allowed to go to Pensacola and learn to fly, but they changed—the Navy changed its mind, and so at the end of January I was out on inactive duty and returned to Princeton the 1st of February in 1919 to finish in 4 months a full senior year. By that time I had given up on the academic side and was interested mostly in pitching on the baseball team. But I now realize that I got a degree on the basis of about 2 1/2 years’ work. Princeton washed out its liabilities that way, but those of us who had my experience were teased. Smarter ones delayed their return until the next year and graduated in the class of 1920, so I didn’t do that.
MH: From there you returned to Texas and enrolled—
WK: I enrolled in the University of Texas law school, again, following the direction that my mother had laid out.
MH: You were an obedient son.
WK: Well, I think I was a little more obedient because my mother was a precious memory by that time, and my father had died in 1914 when I was at Andover. So I was pretty much on my own. The determining factor in my withdrawal from the University of Texas after that one fall term was the factor that I wanted to be married as soon as possible, and it seemed necessary to get on a payroll before asking the man for his daughter’s hand. There were no married couples in college in those days and I knew that. My wife was a freshman at Wellesley when I had found myself at MIT, so it was there that we became acquainted with each other. All the years in between we’d seen each other in passing, but we decided then that maybe there was some future to our relationship, and so I went to work on the 1st of February, 1920. We were married in January 1921.
MH: Let’s talk some then about the family banking business because it really is a family bank.
WK: Well, it was up until the certain—a certain time. I can’t put my finger on the time when the bank were controlled by—the presentation of Mr. B.A. Shepherd. The center was operated and controlled and its policies by professionals, men who had either grown up in the bank or had been brought in from outside to provide the staff. There was always up until the time—up until the present time. There had always been at least one or more representatives of the Shepherd family in the bank.
MH: 22:01 You know the—but you also notice the continuity of names who come in at early stages of working in the bank who then come up through the ranks, as it were.
MH: And you—so these people were professional bankers, trained people?
WK: Coming in from the Federal Reserve system or from other banks.
MH: Uh-hunh (affirmative). For instance, what are some of the ones that are outstanding would you say?
WK: An outstanding man was Mr. John T. Scott who became a bookkeeper I think in 1893 and remained with the bank until his death. Even though retired, he was sort of honorary chairman and—
MH: He’d been trained where? In the Federal Reserve?
WK: No, he had not, but he was one who worked up in the bank.
MH: Yes, I know—
WK: Yes, and another one was Mr. Frank Russell, distinguished Roman Catholic layman who worked up in the bank but—and of course a member of the Shepherd family, W.S. Cochran, worked up in the bank from an early age until his retirement after 50 years, retirement as a vice president after 50 years of work, but in the meantime they had—the bank had had to reach outside for some high level help, and there was a string of very distinguished men that came in and served their term. Mr. H.R. Eldridge, Mr. Oscar Wells, Mr. F.M. Law and two men from the Federal Reserve system which of course only started in 1914, Mr. S.R. Lawder and M.B. Jenkins, and of course there were later importations you might say, and several who worked up from the bottom that were not of the Shepherd family.
MH: Right, John T. Scott a Texan or did he come—?
WK: He was from Mississippi.
WK: 24:45 Came to Texas as a bookkeeper and a drug—wholesale drug house, transferred his bookkeeping to the bank. I of course was a great grandson of Mr. Shepherd and I did—
MH: Let’s pause just a minute and talk about Mr. Shepherd. He interests me in particular. It said someplace I read that he never took an oath of loyalty to the Confederacy, but that he served in the Confederacy well. Does this make any sense to you?
WK: It makes sense in that I know he was an opponent of the secession.
MH: He was a Unionist like—
WK: No, no he wasn’t a Unionist in that sense, never was so branded, but in his private letters to members of his family in Virginia whence he had come, even to his daughter who was in school in New York in 1860, he dreaded the thought of secession, but when it became a fact he joined forces with the—he became a Confederate like everybody else. Nobody had to take an oath of allegiance to the Confederacy they just—it was just coming back into the Union they had to take an oath of allegiance to the United States.
MH: Have you in your perusing his letters and looking at all of this have any idea of why he was opposed to secession? Did he think it was bad for Texas economically or just what do you think would be his reasons? Or was it clear? It might not be—
WK: It has not yet become clear, and I’m taking notes on all those things, and I haven’t had a chance to really go back and analyze him as carefully as would be necessary to answer that question.
MH: Those are those kinds of things that historians are always—
WK: I know his comments on annexation of Texas, and he felt that the United States had treated Texas very badly, had been acting aloof and indifferent and he especially the annex—he thought it would fail and he hoped it would, that Texas could get along well on its own steam.
MH: This was typical of most of the merchant class.
WK: That’s true because the merchants dreaded the competition from the Yankee—
MH: Also the tariff would apply as part of the United States.
WK: That’s true.
MH: 27:36 And they had been able to avoid tariffs or made favorable arrangements with European nations. Well, it will be interesting as you study his letters to see more about Mr. Shepherd.
WK: And by the way, a lot of the answers to these questions will be in some of the notes that I have taken.
MH: Very good, well, we’ll be looking forward to seeing those notes when they’re all put away. And where are you going to put—the Shepherd papers are going to Rice you think?
WK: Well, I’m not going to put that in the record.
MH: Okay, you’re still undecided about that.
WK: But Rice now is—a granddaughter of Mr. Shepherd established a community school there in his memory. They have a sort of—Rice has a certain pride that I might throw into the scales.
MH: Very nice. I’m sure they will appreciate it. Those are very valuable records that need to be preserved because Shepherd was such an important business figure.
WK: Well, he was in his day, but—and he was a great letter writer, and I have—as you know—copies of his personal business correspondence from 1844 to 1891 with only one serious gap there in the late ‘50s.
MH: And those are letter books?
WK: Those are letter books.
MH: Letter press.
WK: Made with the—by the old letter press method, yeah.
MH: It’s a very complete—
WK: And quite legible, surprisingly so.
MH: A very complete collection too, in good shape.
WK: 29:10 It’d be interesting to know how many such collections there are in the United States. I know it must be rare.
MH: Yes, I’m sure it is. It’s very seldom to get such well preserved records. It’s been in your family’s possession all this—
WK: No, in the bank’s possession.
MH: In the bank’s possession.
WK: Yes, the bank has been—without anybody knowing it—has been very careful to preserve those things in the vault thinking they were important bank records when they really are personal ones, and so they came into my possession by when they were discovered in the bank with all the many books and everything else.
MH: And then the banking papers are separate and they will be given—
WK: The officials of the First City National will decide where they will—
MH: Store those.
WK: Where they will be stored.
MH: Very good, well, we’re interested in preserving the records so that no one throws them out by mistake. That’s our main interest. Let’s see, you entered then in the family banking business about 1920 and (talking at the same time)
WK: Let me say now that I didn’t think of it as a family banking business. It never occurred to me to go in the bank. I simply took a few weeks to decide whether to dig in and not recognizing at that time how interesting a future in the oil business would be. I thought I’d take a job in the bank where they seemed to be willing to try me and stay a couple years until I could get my feet on the ground and decide whether to apply myself to the long pull. But having become entangled in the bank, I never was able to extricate myself. By that time I had a little daughter and the prospect, though a conservative one without any drama, was at least interesting enough to keep me all my life.
MH: Do you remember the effect of the Great Crash of ’29 and the resulting Depression and how it affected the First National Bank? Your personal memories of that time? Was there a run on the bank, was—
WK: 32:00 Oh, no. Never had a run, although the bank because of its liberal lending policies and its unwillingness to take harsh measures against—
WK: Yes, people in default, found it necessary in 1933 to reorganize with the help of a loan from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, made a new start and its possible recovery not only because it stretched itself then to the task of rebuilding. The restoration advisors—as the nation pulled itself out of the depths—made it possible to restore or to pay off the RFC in 8 years and give this stock in the new bank to the stockholders of what was called the old bank.
MH: This reorganization, can you describe it a little bit in detail for us?
WK: If I do, I’ll give away all that I’ve—my whole story.
MH: Oh, your whole book?
WK: That I’ve accumulated, but—
MH: This book you’re writing is about the development of the bank, is that—?
WK: Well, now you’ve brought it up for the first time, I have written such a book. It will be published, and it’s a history of the bank, not in detail as to growth and volume and profit, but a readable account, I hope, of its founding, its—
MH: For the layperson.
MH: Uh-hunh (affirmative).
WK: For the layperson.
MH: A general history.
WK: Although I think there are perhaps parts of it that would be interesting to a banker, not from the technical side of it but from the standpoint of general interest in—
MH: How this—
WK: 34:37 In arrival at a point where you’d have to take a new start and then the recovery from that.
MH: Who’s publishing this and about when’s it going to be—?
WK: The Dell Publishing Company. It’ll come out in 1975, quite early.
MH: Well, it’ll be time for the bicentennial festivities. That ought to be rather timely because Mr. Shepherd’s bank goes back beyond that time. It’s nice timing.
WK: It’ll be 110 years old at that time.
MH: Let’s see, you mentioned you have a daughter. Do you have other children too?
WK: Yes. My older daughter Barbara Perkins Chiles is the wife of Clay Chiles, an oil drilling contractor. They lived in Alice, Texas for 23 years before making their residence in Houston. He’s now president of the Western Oceanic Company which is a subsidiary of Western Company, and he’s engaged in offshore drilling with one big rig in the North Sea, another one about to go off into very deep water in the gulf, some so-called jack-up rigs, one in Brazil and one or two in the gulf and they’re expanding. He was one son, Bill Chiles, William E. Chiles, who is coming up in that country—company, after having finished about 10 months on a rig—on that rig in the North Sea.
MH: Do you have other children besides Chiles?
WK: Yes, I have another daughter, Mrs. Virginia K. Ennis.
MH: Not related to the old Houston Innis’ in any way?
WK: No, that’s I-n-n-i-s. That family is in Providence. She was first married to a Mr. Warren Pond, a New Yorker who’d come to Houston to live and her two children Steven Pond and Barbara Pond, both college students.
MH: Lots of grandchildren.
WK: She now is a widow for the second time and—
MH: Lives in Providence?
WK: 38:03 Came to Houston for 2 years but has returned to Providence, although Mr. Ennis is there, but she fell in love with New England and decided she’d rather make her home there.
MH: The Ennis’ are very—travel around a lot, are very mobile. Just the two daughters then?
WK: I have 3 grandsons and the 2 granddaughters.
MH: That’s a nice family. Do you—?
WK: As I mentioned, one of my granddaughters is getting—gaining some notoriety as a—first as a model and now as a movie actress.
MH: Oh, really? Who’s that?
WK: Her name is Lois Chiles and she had the part of Jordan in the Great Gatsby.
MH: Oh, well for heaven’s sakes.
WK: And because it’s based pretty much on her beauty she has just finished a 2-month stint in summer stock in Ohio and Michigan and think she learned a great deal about—
WK: Acting on the open stage.
MH: Well, that’s interesting. Used to live on Cortland Place, that was such an interesting street. It had so many lovely homes on it.
WK: Well, my wife’s father and mother built their home there in 1911. My wife was married from there 10 years later. We built a home, our first home, on Pierce Street, back of the Plaza Hotel and after 10 years lost it in the Depression, but after 2 or 3 years in an apartment house on Caroline Street across from the Clayton residence we built a home on a lot given to her by her uncle in Cortland Place, a lot in Cortland Place, a two-story house, 3 bedrooms and 2 baths at a cost of $10,000.
MH: 40:58 Fantastic, isn’t it? That was quite a bit of money.
WK: That was 1937 and money went a considerable distance.
MH: Yeah. That was a very nice, comfortable home for $10,000.
WK: It was a very pleasant place, and we lived in that except for our time out for World War II for 19 years. Meanwhile, the Cleveland’s had moved to Warwick Hotel and rented that house, strangely enough, to my sister Mrs. Vanderport. But when she moved into a house of her own we took over the big Cleveland house and rented out our little place next door. One of them was disposed of in 1971 and the other in early ’72.
MH: This was the Cleveland’s?
WK: The big house in ’71 and the little house in ’72.
MH: That’s very recent.
WK: We had just moved into this little combination of 2 townhouses in September of 1971.
MH: You mentioned just then about World War II. Let’s talk a little bit about your experiences in World War II where you went back into the Navy.
WK: Well, I was not proud of my World War I record, and so early in 1942 I made up my mind to get back in the service. I presented myself at the recruiting office in the Post Office building, was told by a Navy chief that I really had no qualifications for any rating that he could suggest as I couldn’t type well enough to be a yeoman and he said, “Maybe because you’re vice president of a bank, maybe the man down the hall who is recruiting officers would have some interest in you.” So I went there and he took my application, and it developed that the training I’d had dealing with people, analyzing financial statements, qualified me for the recruiting of officers, and so I was commissioned to work in that very field and assigned to the head office for the 8th Naval District located in New Orleans. The executive officer of that activity was a naval academy graduate who had maintained active interest in the naval reserve. He wanted to get away to sea, and he saw in me a possible replacement, and so after a month or so of training under him I became the executive officer of that activity, and I remained in that capacity until February 1944. Repeated attempts to obtain transfer to some distant base in the administrative capacity were refused by the personnel department in Washington, bureau personnel. But finally, when the U.S.S. Houston CL-81, the second cruiser of the name which was as you may recall was dramatically financed by the people of Houston and reportedly to be manned by the thousand or so recruits signed up—to whom oath was administered in a ceremony on Main Street right in front of Lowe’s State Theater, and there’s a plaque in the sidewalk there marking the place.
MH: 46:15 What year was that?
WK: That was 1944. With all that excitement it seemed appropriate to apply for transfer to the U.S.S. Houston as a native son and with a boost from the Secretary of Commerce—who was Mr. Jesse H. Jones of Houston—to the surprise of everybody my request was granted.
MH: You won, you won the prize.
WK: And after a 10-day delay before reporting for duty there, during which period my daughter Barbara was married to a naval officer, Clay Chiles, I went to Newport News and reported to the ship just as it had come back from its shakedown cruise at Trinidad, and because I was a Lieutenant Commander with no sea duty since World War I, nobody could understand what role I could play on a fighting ship, and I think they rated me a political commissar. But they made me key to the executive officer to help with the paperwork, and I did all sorts of things as an office major.
WK: But I was soon taught to be a junior officer of the deck and then qualified as a senior officer of the deck and from there on stood regular top watch as they say. We were in all the vast carrier activities in Task Force 43 and 53 in the Pacific until we were torpedoed off Formosa in October 1944. (talking at the same time) And then returned to the states by way of (unintelligible) in Pearl Harbor, California, Panama Canal and worked in a naval yard. I wound up as—
MH: When the war was over, how did (talking at the same time)
WK: Let me just say in June ’45 I was made Director of Welfare of the 8th Naval District. That may be a duplication.
MH: No, you never said that.
WK: That had to do with housing and the fitting out of little ships with radio—I mean the recreational equipment and the ship service stores and all that sort of thing. But by September, I had so many with age and—I had so many points by then, was released from active duty. And after vacation returned to the bank and tried to get back into the swing of things.
MH: 50:47 Let’s talk about your service as a school board member in the 1920s. This also seems to be a family service. Your father-in-law—
WK: Yes, Mr. Cleveland had been a member of the school board in the days when it was under city control, and he had been appointed by a succession of mayors.
MH: Served right up until the—
WK: Until the independent school district was organized, I believe.
MH: In 1923, I believe that’s right.
WK: Claude Pollard, who had been I think an attorney general of the state, was a member of that board, and when he resigned in early 1927, January or February, I was appointed to fill his vacancy, and then in May of that year I had to stand for election, and I was elected to that term and to 2 others succeeding that.
MH: That made you third—
WK: A little over 6 years.
MH: Six years. So you saw an interesting period on the school board I would say.
WK: Yes, and right soon Mr. W.B. Bates was appointed to fill another spot, and so we served together for over 2 terms, I can’t be sure. He later became the president of the board and of course Dr. E.E. Oberholtzer was the superintendent. He had come down from Oklahoma, and he was a magnificent administrator. During his time there was no question of dual control in the system, you and the system, and ran it well.
MH: Was there any trouble getting schools financed in those days?
WK: No. No, the teachers’ salaries were at a lower level, and the budget was in balance regularly as I recall. We did get into the Depression. There was never any possibility—there was never any order of inability to meet the payroll, but I’m inclined to think that there were some minor reductions in the pay scale there for a while.
MH: That was a common practice.
WK: 53:56 Yes, but the dollar went a whole lot of—went increasingly far, and nobody was hurt as long as they—
MH: There weren’t as many extracurricular programs and maintenance wasn’t as high too, all these things.
WK: None of those things were—
MH: Didn’t the school board ever get asked to give some kind of aid to the poor children who were having a hard time staying in school? Was there any of that sort of thing?
WK: I don’t recall that there was.
MH: Probably it was done through churches, through private charities I imagine. It seems like that would be about right.
WK: I don’t even remember that the question of school breakfasts came up, although if it had I’m sure that Oberholtzer would have found a way to solve it. It was during that period that the decision was made to use the San Jacinto High School at night for Houston Junior College, and a year later the Houston Negro Junior College was established. They were to be supported wholly out of tuition but the only drain on the taxpayers was to be maybe the lights and the—
MH: This was the idea of Oberholtzer. Wasn’t it his idea?
WK: Yes, and implemented under his direction by Dr. Kemmerer who later became the president of the University of Houston.
MH: Right, he was very interested in all sorts of vocational programs, whatever the people needed he would tailor a course for—
WK: He was an able man. Both of these men had their opponents.
MH: Oh, I’m sure. They were very innovative and they brought a whole new—
WK: They were innovative.
MH: I know Dr. Kemmerer seemed to have been terribly criticized about the time he brought the televisions to channel 8 to educational television.
WK: 56:15 Oh, yes.
MH: There was an article in Life or something and it even remarked on the fact that he was way ahead of the thinking of the community, that this was too far out, too expensive sort of tool for Houston.
WK: That has gone from my memory, all that, but it all sounds very—
WK: Very familiar (talking at the same time) Dr. Kemmerer. In those days the school board had able people on it that were concerned only with service to the public. There were no factions in the board.
MH: No liberal concerns—
WK: No division on ideological grounds—
MH: Whatever it is (talking at the same time)
WK: And had a very able business manager, Hubert Mills, my close friend, and worked ably and willingly under Dr. Oberholtzer and effectively.
MH: The—your sister then later served on the school board in the 1950s, didn’t she? About the time of the Brown case?
WK: Yes, she was on the board when the Brown case was decided.
MH: What was her attitude to the problems of integration?
WK: She is liberal in the matter of racial relations, as I am, and she made the first proposal of at least open compliance with the desegregation cause.
MH: How did this affect her colleagues?
WK: Well, by the time she did that the composition of the board had become conservative, and she came into a great deal of criticism from her colleagues and a great deal from the public. In fact, she had 2 crosses burned on her yard.
MH: She did?
WK: 58:38 During the—
MH: She was labeled a liberal at that time.
WK: And has been always and is now. Everybody remembers her and—
MH: I just know she’s active in the League of Women Voters.
WK: Yes, she was in the League of Women Voters at one time. She became quite an ally of the teachers, and the older teachers remember her with a good deal of respect and admiration. I’ve forgotten just what the issues were that brought her into running for the school board. I don’t know whether a division had begun to creep by that time or not but—
MH: Dr. Kemmerer was on the school board at one time too about this time I think, and I think he was a liberal also.
WK: Oh, he was liberal, but I don’t remember that he was ever on—a member of the board.
MH: I’m almost positive—well, I am positive.
WK: Yeah, well, you’re positive and (talking at the same time) but I’m willing to be—go along with you on that.
MH: Yeah, because he got a lot of criticism there as he had at the University of Houston.
WK: Yes, I’m inclined to believe that Miss Vanderport came on in one of those periods where the board was considered to be overly conservative. She came on and then it’s been swinging back and forth ever since.
MH: Ever since, right. Well, it should be very interesting. Maybe we can talk to her too. Another thing I’d like to talk about is your service on the city council 1947-49, and you were a member of the Citizens Charter Committee?
WK: Yes. I had been in the 30s a member of a commission that worked for several months to propose a new charter for the city of Houston, and we came out with what known as the “Houston Plan”, and it called for as I recall a strong mayor but a city manager too, and it was defeated by people.
MH: This was a time that there was a manager, a city manager.
WK: 1:01:26 No.
MH: No, there wasn’t?
WK: There was not, but this was the old commission forum.
MH: This was the end of the commission forum. You were criticized (talking at the same time)
WK: At the end of the commission forum and we were critical. Not unanimously critical, I mean we just came up with a substitute and it was defeated.
MH: That was in the 30s.
WK: Late 30s, ’38.
WK: I’ve forgotten at the moment who was the mayor and who was the chairman of that commission but we were—I’d like to get back into the records and have my memory (talking at the same time)
MH: I have that at home. I don’t have that with me.
WK: But later, in ’42, the citizens charter committee aided by Mrs. Frankie Randolph who had by that time started to do precinct work on a broad scale. They managed to pull over politically the city manager, the charter over the city manager, and that’s when Otis Massey became the mayor with a man named Beadey, experienced city manager holding that post. They lasted for 2 terms, ’42, reelected ’44, coming up again in ’46. I came back from the Navy for—it was the public welfare, not to start running for primary for public office although I’d thought about it, but realizing I had to get back into—find my way back into an executive position at the bank, and I was still not a city manager man until they started doing away with a strong mayor. I felt we ought to have a full-time mayor with authority, but they needed candidates, and I agreed under pressure from Miss Lana Coleman and Mrs. Fred Lumish to run, to go on the city charter commission committee’s ticket. We had I think Mr. Jefferson, Otis Jefferson, was our candidate for the mayor’s position and we had a—
MH: Full board.
WK: 1:05:08 A full slate, including one holdover, Clyde Fitzgerald, holdover from the city manager board.
MH: How did they come out in the race?
WK: Fitzgerald was reelected and I was the only one of the new ones reelected, and Mr. Hogram and his slate took office and within a year they did away with the city manager foreman and went back to a strong mayor with a city council as it is composed now.
MH: It ran by district then?
WK: Yes, with 3 at large and 5 district people. I was in the at large candidates.
MH: Oh, you were.
MH: At large. Why do you think you won? I mean—
WK: Well, I had the—I’d gotten notoriety because of having been on the torpedoed ship and—
MH: Popular name.
WK: The name had become well known and I wasn’t any—I had no factional or geographic support in that time.
MH: Did you campaign vigorously or just—?
WK: Oh, I campaigned. There was no really vigorous campaign. I made speeches around. I was well known to the blacks of Houston, favorably known.
MH: How—what kind of connection there?
WK: Well, I was on the school board and I’d always been—and I had served on the Integration Commission that operated under the Chamber of Commerce in those days and then later—
MH: What would you call the name of the committee? The Racial—
WK: The Houston Interracial Committee.
MH: 1:07:32 We’ve had—
WK: There was a Mrs. Crate of Houston that if she’s still alive was director to that committee.
MH: I might check that out. You had the support of the blacks and—
WK: That was half white and half black.
MH: And you probably had the support of the business community?
WK: I think yes.
MH: Through your connection to the bank.
MH: And your popularity with the—
WK: Yes, the naval veteran and an old Houstonian and I served 2 valuable years. Valuable for me, but I became a close friend of Mr. Hawkins whom I’d never supported, had not supported in the past.
MH: He was a strong mayor.
WK: He was a strong mayor and an experienced municipal manager.
MH: He combined both personalities.
WK: Yes he did, and I became to be a great admirer of his, and he was good enough to say that I have served acceptably on the council, but I had to get back into my full-time—give full-time—
MH: Did the city council at that time take that much time up?
WK: I don’t know. It was distinctly part-time and yet we found ourselves taking more and more.
MH: Well, this was the complaint of the day, of course, and then probably (talking at the same time)
WK: 1:09:23 And we were paid—
WK: Miserably. It’s phenomenal compensation.
MH: Not for your time, certainly, because I’m sure it would take more than that.
WK: We finally had our offices and a secretary.
MH: You were in there in the new City Hall, is that correct?
WK: Oh, yes.
MH: So the present City Hall had been built.
WK: That’s right, and there was plenty of room then.
MH: Right, they had rented out the old Market City Hall to the bus company as I recall. Well, we’ve talked about—go ahead. Something else about the city council?
WK: No, I just was about to say I think you’ve extracted about everything I know.
MH: I wrote down here to say something about baseball, and you’ve explained that about how you played it as a youth.
WK: Well, I can—if you want to go on and I can tell you about the fact that my first city activity was in the Houston Recreation Association which later became the recreation department of the city of Houston. It was a private activity with Miss Corinne Bundy as the paid director and ladies like Mrs. James A. Baker and Mrs. F.M. Laurel and others were the leaders of it.
MH: Instrumental in getting support for it.
WK: Yes, private support, and my job was in the athletic end of that activity and consisted primarily of finding baseball fields for the many teams of all ages, age groups, to play on. And my best ally, closest ally, was Andy Anderson, a sports writer for the Houston Post, later for the Houston Press, and we would find vacant lots that were easily accessible, get a little money together and hire Mr. Higgenbotham with some mules and a grader to tear up the land and level it off and mark out the base lines and that was just all that was done, make the field available without charge and from there we went on into a little broad activity. We organized the Houston Amateur Baseball Association. We were—of which I was president I think at one—Lett Myer joined us and he was president for a while, Mr. Dackman of the Texas Oil. We were instrumental in joining and helping the formation of the Texas Amateur Athletic Federation as they would call it, which had to do with amateur tournaments around the state on the scale of the interscholastic league. I imagine that’s—there were representatives of various cities. San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth, Waco, and gradually of course it became a city activity and was well staffed. Dix Reilly was under Mr. Fondy, the head of the athletic end of it, and then I drifted down from that into numerous other civic activities, but I like to think that my final big one had to do with finding a baseball diamond, and that was as chairman of the Harris County Board of Park Commissioners which was charged with the responsibility of getting a stadium for a big league team to play in. It was to be done by revenue bond under a tax that we had—a group of us had persuaded Senator Stacy Bracewood to put through the legislature and it involved doing so by revenue bonds only. You couldn’t get a franchise without having a place for the team to play in, and you couldn’t get a stadium without having a franchise. So we had 2 years of activity in which we did spend $10,000 given to us by the (unintelligible) and the Houston Sports Association, a group headed by Clay Sullivan who was trying to get the franchise. With that money we hired engineers and architects Russell, Crane and Abbotson and got an engineering firm to give us preliminary ideas of a stadium and to analyze, make site studies, and although some people wanted to place the stadium in Memorial Park and this guy Mahog who had a revisionary interest said definitely no. I was never in favor of that, and the site where the stadium now is was my favorite from the beginning and when we—then when the citizens of Houston took enough interest to vote tax supportive bonds to build a stadium they asked—the Harris County Board of Park Commissioners passed out of existence because then Harris County with its own engineers and construction people were able to proceed from there. But we did go to the point of getting options on the site and in our meetings one of our commissioners, a very able man named Herbert Allen, brought a sketch pad and came up with little sketches of his own dreams, and he told us from the start that it would have to have a roof on it, and it would have to be used for other sports than baseball, and that he thought that sections seats could be pulled by tractor on tracks and brought around to the 50 yard line for football and baseball seats on the 3rd base line and the 1st base line, and so the architects took his ideas and began to develop them and that’s—and then in dealing with the sites I approached Bob Smith, who owned 62 acres, and he referred me to his real estate associate Loren Hyperns, and that’s when Mr. Hyperns came in and he saw these sketches and he had a model built. He picked it up from there and—
MH: 1:17:30 He laid the groundwork for it. Interesting.
WK: So I feel that I started with baseball and ended with baseball.
MH: Yes, that’s the first domed stadium.
WK: Had a lot of criticism but—
MH: It’s a nice place to go.
WK: It certainly has been a great asset to Houston, and it was built before it was too late.
WK: I believe that’s—
MH: I think we could—(tape ends 1:18:10)