Houston’s historic 6th ward – what’s left?

Two things are for sure about Houston. If a neighborhood is still called a ward, it is or was a poverty-stricken area. Second, if a neighborhood is described as historic, in Houston it is already destroyed, or threatened. Are these true for the Sixth Ward, just west and slightly north of downtown Houston? According to Wikipedia, the Sixth Ward was created from the northern end of the Fourth Ward in 1876. Wikipedia says it is an intact neighborhood with more Victorian homes than anywhere except Galveston. It is bounded by Memorial Drive, Glenwood Cemetery, Washington Avenue, and Houston Avenue, south, west, north, east. I should check out Glenwood Cemetery sometime. But today I was just driving around Houston, from River Oaks (a topic for later), north on Shepard, then east, dipping into the Sixth Ward, then going east, through all the condos and townhomes, along the route for a new tram line, and home.

The Sixth Ward has a fan club, so maybe it will fare better. It was platted by a surveyor named Samuel West, and laid out according to true north instead of the way downtown is 45 degrees from true north. I have to say, it is annoying to deal with the downtown street orientation which is off everything west of it – look at any Houston map. If you look at the history described at old6ward.org, you can see it was once the fancy place to live, back before the auto changed everything. Then landlords came in, rented homes out, and politics kept them from being forced to maintain the homes for their tenants. The area became a historic district in 1978, and one where homes were protected only in 2007. Some funding came from the Mary Kay Foundation. Can you believe Mary Kay, the make up person, grew up in this neighborhood?

Someone loved this neighborhood enough to go through it house by house and photograph and here you can see them, from the 1970s, before all the renovation: Sitxth Ward Photos. I think it had to do with property taxes, and those disputes.

Clearly, I should do a more leisurely tour, maybe by bike, and see some of the homes of old Germans, the enjoined homes as people got more prosperous. But until I do, the Old Sixth Ward page has some great photos. I love the ones of teardowns that were restored, here. Makes me think we should get a small, historic home in St. Louis, fixed up, or needing fixing up, and get used to less space.

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About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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