Saturday, March 4, 2023

Footloose in Houston in the early-1980s (TX 01)

Blog note

Dear Readers, this will be the start of a series on Houston and south Texas. I have hundreds of negatives from my previous life when I lived in Houston but will never have time to scan them all. Two months in Houston in late 2022 gave me a chance to explore the city again. There is so much to see!

I photographed in the Texas Panhandle in the past as part of my Route 66 project, at the Rio Grande border and Big Bend, and in Galveston. If interested, please type "Texas" in the search box. I will start numbering this new series to keep track of these SE Texas posts. Texas is endlessly fascinating. Enjoy the ride! 


In the early-1980s, I worked in the oil industry and lived in West University Place, a quiet enclave within Houston, Texas. Having moved from the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts, Houston was a culture shock for us (more so than Athens, Seattle, Providence, and any number of other cities). Houston was a new, noisy, vibrant, flashy, and disorganized city, so different from staid and traditional 350-year-old Boston or 3000-year-old Athens. West University Place was perfect, an established neighborhood with mature trees and handsome mid-century cottages within walking distance to restaurants, stores, and Rice University.

Our comfortable little home in West University Place, still extant but different paint. It had genuine wood floors and plaster walls. (Kodachrome 25 slide)

Downtown Houston

When I was in town (meaning not offshore), I explored and took pictures. Having a "real" job, I bought a Rolleiflex 3.5E camera at Southside Camera Center (long gone) and updated my 35mm equipment. I also took two full-semester photography classes at University of Houston from Dr. Suzanne Bloom. Here are a few examples from my early explorations.

The Houston skyline in 1980 from Glenwood Cemetery (Nikon 105mm ƒ/2.5 lens, Panatomic-X film)

Glenwood Cemetery is still a peaceful green relief from the highways and noise of the city. Today, many more skyscrapers fill the sky. I will show a recent picture from the same location later. 

In 1982, downtown Houston still had the look of "old American city" with grungy discount shops, loan stores, old-line clothing shops, and mature companies dating back before WWII.

Main Street view north

Elegant professional ladies with Samsonite briefcases. Wearing stockings? 
Cheerful gents

Main Street was boisterous and busy during the day. But after about 6 pm, Houston rolled down the shutters and the inner city became quiet. Few people lived downtown then, and office workers drove off to the suburbs. Today (2022), the downtown has apartments and restaurants, and the warehouse district just east of downtown is being redeveloped with very nice townhouses.

Abruptly, in typical Houston style, a furious rain storm engulfed us. What fun.

I took these 1982 photographs on Kodak Panatomic-X film with my Rollei 35S compact camera. I bought it in September of 1981 for $141 at Southwestern Camera, possibly at 1416 Main Street (now a parking lot). Rollei had just gone through bankruptcy and reorganization, and Southwestern was selling off their stock of Rollei products. This little camera, with its excellent 40mm ƒ/2.8 Sonnar lens, served me well for many years, especially when I was traveling. I convinced two coworkers to also buy Rolleis. 

In 1982, you could still buy a brand new twin-lens reflex Rolleiflex 2.8F or 3.5F from the New York vendors. Why didn't I jump on the opportunity?

You will see more Houston photographs in the future. 

Rollei 35S with 40mm ƒ/2.8 Sonnar lens, body made in Singapore (from Wikipedia). It used 30mm filters, which were hard to find.


Jim Grey said...

Nice to see Houston through your eyes in those days. I've never been so I don't have something to compare to, but you paint a useful picture of the city then through these images and your words. said...

Thanks, Jim. Houston was a boisterous and bustling city in the 1980s until the oil price collapse of approximately 1984-1985. Then parts of the city looked like a ghost town, with houses foreclosed or left by their former owners. West University was fine because it was close to the inner city and catered to the executive, faculty, medical, and legal demographic.

Suzassippi said...

Urban decay brought to light in Houston town! The last time I was in downtown Houston was sometime in the 80s, at which time we also visited Gilley's and I rode the mechanical bull for the full amount of time at top speed. My colleague was a former rodeo rider and he passed on a winning tip, and it worked. I probably could not even climb on it now, let alone last 8 seconds! The rain storm photographs are great--I note how people seem to smile for you, unless they are just generally happy people anyway. said...

Thanks! Houston people were friendly in the '80s, and I found the same recently. But some of the dudes in the Fifth Ward in 2022 were prettyr sketchy. Wait for some future photographs.