Heritage, Volume 4, Number 2, Fall 1986

farms are seen in the distance along the
bayous, but not one intrudes upon the
prairie. Why should such an expanse of
fertile lands be left in nature's wildness?
Why should this rich heiress not be
plucked? Simply because the Texan will
hug the forest and the stream. There he
builds his home and tills his field, and
this he leaves to his cattle to roam at will.
He little suspects and little cares for the
wealth of the virgin heiress. Give this
Houston Prairie drainage into the bayous
and then tickle her bosom with a plow,
and see how quickly she will laugh with
the choicest products of the earth. The
advancing tide of population will soon
overflow the valleys and break through
the forests, and then the Houston Prairie
will blossom like a great garden....
And yet these noble lands are now begging
for purchasers who will utilize them,
at fifty cents to two dollars an acre." Now
the developers are "tickling the bosom" of
west Harris County and even Fort Bend
County, but the harvest is of homes and
shopping centers, and the cost of the land
is more like a dollar a square yard.

Houston Skyline, circa 1948, courtesy Houston
Metroplitan Research Center, Houston Public

Although it may be hard for us to realize
it today, in the 1920s and 1930s Houston
was, despite its steady growth, seldom
an item in the national news. Smaller in
1920 than Birmingham, Memphis, or
Louisville, Houston did not really have
an identifiable national image. In fact,

A gelatin silver print of the Pennzoil Building,
Houston called itself "the Magnolia City,"
and considered itself more southern than
anything else. Albert J. Guerard, an eminent
French professor at Stanford who
was reared in Houston (his father had

taught at Rice), remembered Houston as
"a truly southern city then, with much
gentleness and charm." Houston continued
to grow during the Great Depression,
and then, during World War II, the
city's growth shifted into high gear. Scattered
articles in national publications began
to notice the adolescent city's energy
and vitality, but not until Life Magazine
featured the city in an elaborately illustrated
article entitled "Booming Houston"
in its October 21, 1946 issue did
Houston begin to claim the label 'boomtown,'
a sobriquet it still owns. That article
included a series of photographs of
buildings under construction, and the
first one showed the huge excavation for
Houston's "first really big department
store," a new seven story Foley's.
That store, the downtown Foley's (later
two more floors were added) was to capture
the national attention the way no
earlier Houston building had, and it was
the first of many buildings that temporarily,
at least, represented Houston in the
eyes of the nation as later the Astrodome
and then Pennzoil Place did, and now the
Republic Bank and Transco Tower do.
Foley's opened to instant acclaim. Newsweek
featured two photographs of the gigantic,
windowless structure and called it
"the most radical and practical store in
America." Air-conditioned, fluorescentcontinued
on page 42

Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 4, Number 2, Fall 1986. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45442/. Accessed November 28, 2015.