Houston Historical Tours runs a guided bus tour to the East End
Tour guide and history professor Keith Rosen
History professor Keith Rosen brought a group of seniors to the Harrisburg neighborhood as part of his tour of the East End of Houston.
“This is the oldest part of Houston where the old plantations were now in the 1820s, 30s, and 40s,” he said.
The East End is roughly the area between US-59 to the west, the 610 Loop to the east, I-45 to the south, and Clinton Drive to the north.
Some of its neighborhoods, such as Harrisburg, predate Houston.
Rosen said by the early 20th century, the East End had been populated by many different immigrant groups, including Germans and Italians.
However, that changed with the Mexican Revolution in 1910.
“With this kind of political turmoil, many Mexicans left Mexico,” said Rosen. “And they found Houston a welcome opportunity not only to work in the shipping canal, but also in related industries such as railroads.”
The East End is home to two of the city’s oldest Hispanic neighborhoods – Magnolia Park and Second Ward. Latinos make up more than 85 percent of the population there, according to the US census.
This becomes clear when you see the numerous Spanish-speaking churches, bodegas or markets and taco shops.
On the tour, the bus stopped at a Mexican bakery. Rosen explained how it works: “You just start picking up whatever you want, put it on the pan, no idea how much it’s going to cost you, and then it goes to the register and it costs you less of everything You guessed. “
Mexican Panaderia (Bakery) ‘El Bolillo’ on Wayside Drive
The tour participants, all members of a church in Houston, followed Rosen’s instructions and loaded their pans with some of the hundreds of baked goods. They were clearly excited and enjoying the cultural experience.
Susan Rogers, an architecture professor at the University of Houston, has worked on a number of projects in the East End.
She runs the Community Design Resource Center and said what makes this part of the city attractive today is its proximity to downtown and its affordability.
“But the East End also has this kind of cultural strength that most other parts of the city don’t have,” Rogers said. “I mean, there are families and companies that have been there for generations. There is a sense of community that you don’t get in every neighborhood in Houston.”
The East End is also a low-income area with few grocery stores, museums, or other amenities. Abandoned factories and warehouses are plentiful.
In recent years, however, the area has been the focus of redevelopment efforts.
“Livable Centers” is an initiative of the Houston-Galveston Area Council. As part of this, the Greater East End Management District has been working on a master plan to improve walkability and connectivity.
Light rail along Harrisburg
“Of course we built the light rail along Harrisburg,” said Diane Schenke, district president. “How do you make people have easy access to this light rail? Well, you need sidewalks.”
East End residents are still waiting for MetroRail to go live, but the new sidewalks on Harrisburg Boulevard opened to the public in 2011.
Wider sidewalks and a new esplanade are also part of the beautification of Navigation Boulevard.
Officials hope to stimulate economic development. At first glance, it seems to be working. New residential construction is increasing rapidly here.
But not everyone accepts the changes.
This was part 1 of a three-part series about what is changing in the East End of Houston. Click here for part 2.
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