Houston Historical Tours runs a guided bus tour to the East End
Tour guide and history professor Keith Rosen
As part of his tour of the East End of Houston, History Professor Keith Rosen took a group of seniors to the Harrisburg neighborhood.
“This is the oldest part of Houston where the old plantations were in the 1820s, 30s, 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, like Harrisburg, are even older than Houston.
Rosen said the East End was populated by many different immigrant groups, including Germans and Italians, until the early 20th century.
But that changed with the Mexican Revolution in 1910.
“In this type of political unrest, many Mexicans left Mexico,” said Rosen. “And they found a welcome opportunity in Houston to work not only on the ship canal, but also in related industries such as the railroad.”
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 checkout and it costs you less of all you 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 visibly excited and enjoyed the cultural experience.
University of Houston architecture professor Susan Rogers 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 coupled with its affordability.
“But the East End also has that kind of cultural strength, I think, that most other neighborhoods don’t,” 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.
But in recent years 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 accessibility and connectivity.
Light rail along Harrisburg
“Of course we had the light rail built 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 the 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 all of them accept 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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