Saturday, February 22, 2014

2/22/14 Mid-trip report

Quick mid-trip update before I forget everything!

Time really is relative to the enjoyment you are having, even when that enjoyment consists of 8 hour days hunched over a scanner slowly chugging out 600 dpis. 

Starting back from Wednesday morning...

This fox's face on my Frontier tail matched my own at having to get up at 4:00 a.m.

pre-dawn takeoff

Houston, we have landed...

I stepped out on the curb and started stripping. Steph, on the other hand, shows up in this coat. We don't have the same acclimation at ALL.

She dropped me off downtown at the library and headed back to work.

My view for the day, looking out east on McKinney.

My time at the Julia Ideson Texas Room on Wednesday was lovely. Aside from the trip to La Carafe which was wonderful, I got comfy on the floor in the back area of the Chronicle morgue microfiche files and went from A through Z looking at possible topics for the South Belt blog. Most of these were pretty old clippings. To wit:

The reference librarian, Tim, was very helpful. As it turns out, there are a number of archives that are not accessible by anyone except librarians, even when you are physically at the place. He was able to come up with a list of photo negatives from the Houston Post that referenced some of my search terms. These do not exist in print, so you have to put on gloves and use the light box and magnifying glass to view them. If you want a print made, depending on the resolution, you pay. I couldn't resist two out of the dozens I viewed. One is a 1969 shot of the mall looking down towards Penney's. I have one from the Chronicle files towards Foley's but had never seen this direction. The other was of the center court at Christmas with the train. All of these he pulled for me still have the old yellow carbon attached with the handwritten assignment and date. "Find something snappy..." etc.

Tim also pulled the Houston AIA book from 1972 and explained their system. They would photograph areas of Houston, divided by zone, and they hold the negatives, even of buildings they don't use in their guide. Tim is holding the box for me when I return on Monday since we ran out of time. 

I spent the last part of the evening as Steph was on her way to pick me up at 7:30 poking around the rest of the building, which was just stunning. The Texas room paled in comparison. The building was constructed in 1926 in Spanish Revival style and functioned as the main building for the public library until 1976.

Unfortunately I managed to misplace my little vial of pain meds I thought were in my bag, so I spent  the entire day off meds and in increasing pain. By the time I limped to Steph's pick up at the curb, I was completely and totally done in. 

Thursday & Friday
After doubling up on the Vicodin and getting a full night's rest, I caught up on work and then headed over to the Leader offices. Marie was heading out for a funeral and then a luncheon, but her sister was there to answer phones and help me pull out stacks of old papers. 

I started with 1976 at 10:00 that morning, took a break for lunch at Whataburger, 

and then kept at it until 6, which got me through to April 1979. Steph and Austin and I hit up Gringos for dinner and I managed to make it halfway through the plate and took the other half home for Friday night and collapsed.

Friday morning after catching work back up, with Lucy attached to my hip for moral support

I was back at the Leader to make it through 1979 to 1981 before taking a lunch break at Brown Sugar's. I talked up the lady at the counter to see if there was any chance there were old photos lying about. (There weren't.) The beef ribs, however, were still in place. I must've made an impression since they tossed an extra rib in for good measure.

 On the way back to the office, I drove through the Almeda parking lot and the back way around.

ye old Bracewell


the pharmacy 
Alicia's vet is still going

Mrs. Peter's house on the corner

The Kirkdale place

And then it was back at it, 1981 to 1985, knocking off at 5:00. As it turned out, the offices closed at two on Friday, but Marie and Davy were so kind and generous to let me keep going while they caught up on things themselves. I did As I was working, for two days, whenever folks would come into the office, Marie would introduce me, saying, "She's the only one I've ever let into the papers!" I did feel very honored. I hope I can do her proud. I met Bobbi, the woman Marie had started the paper with almost 40 years ago, too. 

It was interesting that the first day, in the oldest papers, the ink used didn't smear. By the end of Thursday, I did have a nice layer of dust, but no ink to wash off. By the end of Friday? My hands were black. They'd also swollen to 20 very thick heavy papered pages. 

Marie and I discussed trying to link up the paper and the blog in the future. She's interested in changing up the Look Back section and using some of the photos I'm featuring in the paper. She wants to start with the photo of the dismantling of the service stations at the Gulf freeway South Belt. On Thursday, she'd told me a woman was bothering her about when that had happened. I had to come clean and admit I'd started that discussion on Facebook, with everyone remembering a different year. Marie didn't remember the photo and wasn't sure it was actually of that event. I was pretty certain is was, but it was just a single black and white photo. I was thrilled to find it on Friday published on the front page with the caption:

She'd taken the picture, too!  The 50 cent sign is for a car wash, by the way. 

The two day total of individual files scanned from the Leader = 448. I did ten years of papers, so with 52 issues a year, that's 520 papers. So I didn't pull a picture per paper, but I have PLENTY to work with for the blog for the next few months. I'm hoping I can score another super cheap flight later in the year to get back and get the rest of the 80s Leader issues as well as hit the Dobie bandhall for their old historian albums that I've verified are stored away in the back. By that time, Marie may have tracked down her contact that could possibly have old Almeda mall photos stored somewhere and I may have come up with more possibilities, too. 

Last night, in full-on party mode, Steph and I heated up leftovers, popped in a movie, and went to bed at 10:00.

This morning, the Texas food trip continued with a trip to Shipleys, still in our PJs.

Which brings us to now, on a beautiful day, with the doors flung open and 66° degrees.

And I think it's time for a nap.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

La Carafe, Houston's Oldest Building, 1847

La Carafe is one of Houston's longest running bars (1957) housed in Houston's oldest building, the Kennedy Bakery, built in 1847.

my favorite shot of the bunch

Let that sink in just a minute. 


Ten years before, Houston was incorporated, with a population of 1200 people. Sam Houston is head of the Republic of Texas.

One year before, Texas enters the Union as the 28th state. Stagecoach services are now running through town. Buffalo Bayou is being cleared so the Port of Houston can be established not only in name. 

When these walls went up, the War with Mexico was still ongoing. The sewing machine was being invented, as was the rotary printing press. 

Cherokee Indians would trade with white men at this building in the late 1840s and the 1850 census would report 2396 Houston citizens.

When John Kennedy immigrated from Ireland to settle in Houston in the early 40s he established a trading post built in 1842 that burned to the ground. He constructed the current building where it still stands in 1847 to run a steam bakery.  (His son-in-law would be W.L. Foley, who also had an interest in buildings.)

With the advent of the civil war, Kennedy leased the space next door as an arsenal for the Confederate Army and turned the bakery into a hardtack supply for the military. If only this concrete slab and plastered brick walls could talk.

In 1873 the space was turned into an Apothecary (they wouldn't be called pharmacies for another 80 years) and remained as such until 1932. From what I can find online, a print shop may have taken residence here after that until 1957 when it was opened as a bar and restaurant, bought by Houston entrepreneur William V. Berry in 1963 and christened La Carafe. He decorated the walls with various ephemera and paintings, largely from estate sales in New Orleans. 

I wanted to get a look at the place with a much light as possible, since most reviews noted that a flashlight would be helpful after dark just to see where you're walking, much less take in the decor. 

Gladys -- A Portrait
The largest piece on the long wall is the only one currently with a known story. A patron recognized it and send Carolyn Wengar, ,the owner, what information he had. 
Gladys' portrait stands 7'1  and was painted by J. Guthrie.
The information of her portrait: "Mrs. W. Barr Knox, daughter of Mr. George Burrell.
Full length in white evening dress, with gold cloak over her left arm, standing before a white chimney piece. Begun c. 1918, finished 1923. A copy hangs in a museum in Scotland.

James Guthrie was a Scottish painter who created large portraits of many well-known state leaders.  I am floored that this original has landed in a Houston bar, where her white gown is now yellowed from so many decades of smoke, that it is indistinguishable from the gold cloak.

I was unable to track much about Gladys herself, although she seems to have lived in this area of Scotland, married to William Knox, who used the Ryefield house as an art gallery. Her father William Burrell, a Scottish shipping merchant, established an art collection in Glasgow in 1944. The story of how this painting of his daughter made its way across the sea is currently lost to us. 

Other shots of the interior:

1901 National Register is still in operation. 

The pillars of three decades of candle wax flank the register on the bar that is believed to have been installed during the building's apothecary days.

Dust and old portraits add to the charm

The upstairs bar is only open after 9:00 pm on the weekends, but with no one else in the place, a tour was in order.

Upstairs, a turn of the century ice box is used as the wine cooler

The upstairs bar with carousel horse and Tiffany inspired lamps

Great light fixtures -- would you call it a chandelier without branches, though?

the upstairs register. The bar is cash only.

This is the window/door visible from the east side of the building, pictured above. It was once connected to the demolished building next door through this entryway.

Going back down what is the original narrow stairway, where ghost sightings are most often reported. 

A number of the portraits were down as they are refinishing the plaster and painting it fresh.

Lighted bottles under the staircase

The not-so ancient jukebox is stocked with 50s sounds and has earned Best Jukebox in Houston.

If you didn't read the five million reviews that mention that THIS IS A CASH ONLY BAR (beer and wine solomente), there is an ATM conveniently located beside the tunes.

I had a glass of the 10 year port and it was excellent. 

The only thing I didn't get a picture of was the restrooms. A lot of reviews were complaining about how narrow they are, so I was prepared for full-on airline lavatory space. It's not that bad. And they were very clean. This also seems to probably be the best lit place after dark. 

Bring an appreciation of history if you're here during the day, and bring a torch if you're here after dark. Bring cash, either way.