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The death of "The Superette"


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Passing down Yale Street this afternoon, I noticed that Happy Land has closed and is up for sale. For those unfamiliar with Happy Land, it was one of the last Superette's, if not THE last one, in Houston. Where I was raised in the Heights, we had Tony's on E. 20th, and Van's on Aurora, both within walking distance of the house. For those unfamiliar with a superette, they were small, grocery/convenience stores (for the lack of a better term) that typically had your basic grocery items, auto supplies, household goods and a meat counter. What really killed the Superette in Houston? Convenient stores can't be the culprit as U-Totem, Baby Giant, and 7-11 all existed alongside the Superettes of Houston. These used to be everywhere, now they are nearly a mere page in Houston's history.

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I've never heard that term "superette", interesting. I remember the Baby Giant, spotted from the Pierce Elevated, behind St. Joseph's Hospital, downtown. It had that stick of dynamite - neon sign that always caught my eye. I always thought of it as a firecracker. We just had 7-11's and U-totem's in SE Houston. In the East End, in the sixties, my great grandmother would frequent the individually owned corner stores. They had those old screen doors. Of course, they were within walking distance from her home.

Do you have the cross street or approximate address for that store on Yale? I would like to see it.

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Nena, I don't know the exact cross street's name. It Is a small dead end street that actually is connected with Happyland's parking lot at the front facing Yale. Happyland was between Tidwell and Janisch, on the east side of Yale. It is about a block south of the old Hohl Elementary, now High School Ahead Academy. Best way to spot it us to look for the old sign in front with the yellow smiley faces. Coming up Yale from 610 it will be on your right, just past Esther's Soul Food. Of course, on your left coming from the 45 end of Yale.

Superette was a term used more frequently maybe 30 years ago, not so much now. Tony's was still in business until the early 2000's, when it finally closed down, bur it had become a shadow of itself in its last 20 years of its existence.

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It looks like there are a couple hanging on around the Cloverleaf area - streetview still shows the sign for Uvalde Superette and there is T&Js on Bandera. I need to get over to those!

 

uvalde714-superette.jpg

 

tjsuperette.jpg

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We've still got a "superette" in our neighborhood...KG Food Center at the corner of Tierwester and Mount Pleasant.

Owned by the same Korean family since it opened in the early 1960s. Mama (in her 80s or 90s) still works the cash register, one son works with her up front, and another son works in the butcher shop. The boys grew up in the neighborhood (South Union) but the family no longer lives in the neighborhood as they did for decades.

The place is about the size of a convenience store, but has meat counter, produce, everything you need. It's a neighborhood institution, a necessity for many around here who don't have transportation, but I wonder how long it will stick around.

I'm part of the problem, as I rarely shop there. I only go in for the essentials when I'm in a pinch. It really hit me the other day when I took my four year old son in...it was his first trip there since shortly after he started walking. He loved the place, so I'll make a better effort to support them.

This is the store my wife used to walk to as a kid to buy beer and cigarettes when the grown ups needed them. It's nice to know that my son has a place to go when I'm too incapacitated to buy my own beer and cigarettes. :-)

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Kids are missing out on so much these days.  I remember being dispatched on my bicycle to go get my dad's pipe tobacco and cigars.  I suppose the cashiers were pretty confident that a 10 year old kid wasn't picking this stuff up for himself.

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The little side street is Leago St. I work near W. Donovan and N. Shepherd and pass that store up on my drive home.

Thank you, Hanabi-Chan. It is indeed Leago. I had forgotten one other superette on Yale, farther north. This one's named Jimmy's. It is at the corner of Red Ripple and Yale. Apparently, the widening of Yale between Parker and Tidwell really did a number on this one's parking lot. There isn't one up front now, only 3 or 4 parking spots on the Red Ripple side. Also, lost its flashy sign with all the light bulbs flashing in a circular pattern, I assume, to the same construction. It looks abandoned on the outside, but I saw a man walking out with a bag as I passed this morning so they must be open for business. Great pics of the 2 still in operation. I guess there are a few more still alive than I was aware of. Michelle is absolutely right, there used to be one in every neighborhood, and in a lot of cases more than one. You could walk in the front door, and before it had a chance to close, you had already been greeted BY NAME. Nearly unheard of in this day and age of *ahem* "customer service".

Nena, I very well remember the Baby Giant. There was one on Main, next to Shipley's, and another on Main at Boundary, just over the bridge heading toward downtown. I always loved the neon dynamite stick sign. We were lucky enough to have both U-Totem and Baby Giant near my grandfather's house on DeGeorge St. That area certainly has changed since those days.

Edited by Purpledevil
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Maybe these were too big to be 'superettes' but I remember some Lucky 7 stores on north side of town (not to be confused with Lucky Stores' Eagle grocery stores which appeard in Houston in the late 1970's). I believe each was independently owned but the affiliation must have allowed for volume pricing of, at least, the packaged items. These stores were generally larger than a U-Tote-M but smaller than a Weingartens or Henke grocery store. The Lucky 7 at Airline and Gulf Bank was owned by the Io family. Chester Io was also a member of the Little York Volunteer Fire Dept. I'm not really sure but I think the store at Fairview and Taft was also a Lucky 7.

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I've always thought the name "Superette" came from the fact that these stores were miniature supermarkets.

 

Unlike convenience stories that only sell basic necessities at inflated prices, Superettes had everything a larger supermarket has but on a smaller scale.

Edited by FilioScotia
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Eh, Michoacan isn't really the same thing. Good place to get some good cuts of meat for a fair price though. FilioScotia described them to a tee. They were mini supermarkets. They sold what the big boys did, on a smaller scale. That's what made the superette special. When you went to your neighborhood superette, they knew you and you felt like a part of their family when you walked through the door. Try getting a loaf of bread on credit at Randall's or Kroger. They'll laugh you out of the store. Bounce a check? That's gonna cost you big time nowadays. That's not the way it was in the days of the true superette or neighborhood food mart. Convenience stores now are all the same, everything inside is easily interchangeable with another location, including the clerk. It seems to me the days of being "a regular customer" has lost its significance over the years, and no one seemed to have noticed while it was being allowed to happen.

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I've always thought the name "Superette" came from the fact that these stores were miniature supermarkets.

 

Unlike convenience stories that only sell basic necessities at inflated prices, Superettes had everything a larger supermarket has but on a smaller scale.

 

Exactly right.

 

I thought Baby Giants were convenience stores like U-Tote-M. We had a U-Tote-M in Baytown on Bayway Drive next to the Lakewood Pharmacy.

 

The Baby Giant I remember was on Spencer Highway in Pasadena.

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I suppose Freaky Foods (the Richwood Super Market, next door to King Cole Liquor on Richmond at Woodhead) would also qualify as a superette.  It certainly knew the neighborhood - in the late '70s - early '80s, it had an amazing selection of soft porn for every taste, quite the assortment of rolling papers, and a cookie aisle that was beyond belief.  And yellow beacons on top of the storefront.

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I suppose Freaky Foods (the Richwood Super Market, next door to King Cole Liquor on Richmond at Woodhead) would also qualify as a superette.  It certainly knew the neighborhood - in the late '70s - early '80s, it had an amazing selection of soft porn for every taste, quite the assortment of rolling papers, and a cookie aisle that was beyond belief.  And yellow beacons on top of the storefront.

 

It was open 24/7.....a real experience to go into at 3AM!!!!

 

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Awww the days of walking to "the little store" to buy kool-aid & candy cigarettes. It was a small grocery store that was owned by a man & wife. It was in walking distance. Nowdays can't let your children play outside in their own yard much less walk to a little store. Times have changed so much. Its not fun anymore for kids. No wonder they play video games. The world is to evil for kids to be kids. They will never experience childhood memories like we had.  Drinking out of a water hose, playing outside till dark, climbing trees, kickball etc.. It's a real shame.

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The east end still has at least a few of these stores.  I know of one on Canal, and one on Harrisburg at Forest Hill.  I think I know of a third on Griggs.  Just as described, large convenience store selection with produce and a meat counter.

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OK, how would you tell a superette from a convenience store by looking at it? Obviously, anything attached to a gas station would be a convenience store, but there are lots of other sketchy/older convenience stores that sell the same product mix (beer/wine, lotto tickets, snacks, etc.) at around the same prices of other convenience stores. Former UtoteM stores qualify, as Circle K began dumping the old 1960s ones without gas pumps almost immediately.

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I guess the easiest way to tell an old superette from your basic stop-n-rob is that the superette either currently has or at one time had a meat counter with a full time butcher slicing fresh meat in it.

Jimmy's on Yale still has their meat counter, I stopped in for a pack of smokes a few days ago on the way to the bank, so it qualifies. It didn't look like the counter had been used In years, but it was there nonetheless.

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I guess the easiest way to tell an old superette from your basic stop-n-rob is that the superette either currently has or at one time had a meat counter with a full time butcher slicing fresh meat in it.

 

 

OK, that brought back some scent memory... kind of a manky scent memory that would probably have sent Maaaaaaarvin Zindler into a swivet.*

 

 

*(Today is apparently turning into Vocabulary Day.  Sorry, I just can't help it.)

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I went to school in the 1960's with a guy whose father owner and Lucky 7 Grocery store. The store was located on the northside but they (the family) lived in Tanglewood and not the cheap seats either. So these types of stores must have been pretty profitable back then. 

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It was open 24/7.....a real experience to go into at 3AM!!!!

 

 

My family shopped at Richwood's in the 1950s--right up until the day in 1957 when my father went there to get an orange crate (Remember those? Flimsy nailed-together wooden boxes that oranges came in).  My kindergarten teacher had told us to bring crates to set up a pretend store. My dad came home from Richwoods's fuming. "They charged me ten cents for this rickety little orange crate! TEN CENTS!! Weingarten's would have given it to me for free! We're never shopping at Richwood's again!" And we never did. At least, he never did. When I grew up I went occasionally. Before the makover that changed it into a dime-a-dozen-gas-station-convenience store, it look just like an extension of King Cole Licquor Store--same architechture, building material, etc. When it was made over I was unaccountably sorry.

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Not a superette... but it has a launderette attached, like U-totem. I forgot about them. Sunny's had a kid in the logo, I vaguely remember. Guessing 1960's, from the Googie roofline and orange colored sign. 

 

*corner of Baldwin and 301 Tuam.

post-5666-0-80255100-1406776349_thumb.jp

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I went to school in the 1960's with a guy whose father owner and Lucky 7 Grocery store. The store was located on the northside but they (the family) lived in Tanglewood and not the cheap seats either. So these types of stores must have been pretty profitable back then. 

 

Was this the Orlando family by any chance?

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I never heard the word superette until I saw this thread; we just called them little grocery stores. Would the old Weingarten's on Richmond at Mandell have been one? Or was it a lbit too big.  But there's a surviving old-style smallish grocery store at 7548 Canal, on the East End:  Shew's Food Market. They still sell fresh produce and have a meat counter, unlike  the used-to-be-grocery-stores-turned-convenience stores that you see around. The very pleasant proprieters appear to be a young man, his middle-aged father, and the elderly grandfather, sometimes all there at once. Once I asked one of them where the Ramen noodles were, and he said, "Take ten steps straight ahead, turn left, and then take 5 more steps. They're on the left, the third shelf from the bottom."  And so they were!  I asked him how he knew the number of steps, and he said that he had trained himself that way in order to be able to come into the store after hours when he needed to, without turning on the light. He said they'd had the store since about 1957.

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Used to be one on Fulton at Joyce, just north of Calvacade, in Lindale Park. Don't remember the name of it, but I know my grandmother and I would walk the long block (Lindale Park has some long blocks) to go get bread or eggs when I was a kid. It was maybe nearly the size of two convenience stores, but it was a lot smaller than the Clayton's Supermarket further up Fulton. The building is still there (or at least was the last time I passed by) but it was no longer a store.

 

There used to also be a similar sized place on Clay Road near Greenhouse in west Houston. I'd go there sometimes to pick up things when my wife and I would visit my sister-in-law's family. It had a butcher shop and a produce shop, but it had maybe three aisles of groceries at the most.

 

I'd say you could call both of these superettes

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Used to be one on Fulton at Joyce, just north of Calvacade, in Lindale Park. Don't remember the name of it, but I know my grandmother and I would walk the long block (Lindale Park has some long blocks) to go get bread or eggs when I was a kid. It was maybe nearly the size of two convenience stores, but it was a lot smaller than the Clayton's Supermarket further up Fulton. The building is still there (or at least was the last time I passed by) but it was no longer a store.

 

I'm assuming this was on the west side of Fulton? There's nothing but residential on the east side of Fulton at Joyce (an apartment building on the north side of Joyce, and the infamous "Fulton Mansion" on the south side). On the west side of Fulton, there's a tire shop, and to the north of that the building I think you're referring to. It was most recently a furniture store. 

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I'm assuming this was on the west side of Fulton? There's nothing but residential on the east side of Fulton at Joyce (an apartment building on the north side of Joyce, and the infamous "Fulton Mansion" on the south side). On the west side of Fulton, there's a tire shop, and to the north of that the building I think you're referring to. It was most recently a furniture store. 

 

Oh, I forgot about Google's Street View!  I've attached a pic of the place as of April 2011 (according to Google Maps - guess they haven't updated it in awhile).

 

The location is actually at the corner of Fulton and Wynne. Joyce is on the east side of Fulton, Wynne is on the west. This would be catty corner from what you called the "Fulton Mansion." (The mansion is on what used to be the site of a movie theatre, as you probably already know). Directly across from this building (or behind the photographer) are those apartments you mentioned.

 

Yes, as you mentioned, from the photo it was a furniture store at least at one time. When it was a superette, the building was a light blue, not red.

 

 

post-2454-0-44630900-1407026957_thumb.jp

Edited by Firebird65
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Oh, I forgot about Google's Street View!  I've attached a pic of the place as of April 2011 (according to Google Maps - guess they haven't updated it in awhile).

 

The location is actually at the corner of Fulton and Wynne. Joyce is on the east side of Fulton, Wynne is on the west. This would be catty corner from what you called the "Fulton Mansion." (The mansion is on what used to be the site of a movie theatre, as you probably already know). Directly across from this building (or behind the photographer) are those apartments you mentioned.

 

Yes, as you mentioned, from the photo it was a furniture store at least at one time. When it was a superette, the building was a light blue, not red.

 

Yeah, that's the place I thought you were talking about. Google Maps has some pics of the building from August 2013, after it underwent a renovation (or at least a few coats of paint), but they're only visible from certain angles. Try this link:

 

https://www.google.com/maps/@29.80655,-95.369067,3a,75y,278.81h,86.24t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sfj1SCICskwY9Df-KvvwmSw!2e0

 

I wish the Al Ray theater was still on the site of the "mansion". The owner of the mansion had planned to turn it into a special-events facility and had been trying to get a liquor license not too long ago. As you might expect, this was not well-received by local residents. Haven't heard any more about it since then but I believe the liquor license application was denied after comments opposing it were filed by neighboring property owners. 

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The Fulton store was originally a Minimax (Joe Di Chiara's in 1955) then by the mid 1970s it was the Fulton Super Serv.

 

Thanks for the info about Minimax. Yes, the name Fulton Super Serv seems to ring a bell.  The early to mid 1970s would be the time I was referring to in my post.

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Yeah, that's the place I thought you were talking about. Google Maps has some pics of the building from August 2013, after it underwent a renovation (or at least a few coats of paint), but they're only visible from certain angles. Try this link:

 

https://www.google.com/maps/@29.80655,-95.369067,3a,75y,278.81h,86.24t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sfj1SCICskwY9Df-KvvwmSw!2e0

 

I wish the Al Ray theater was still on the site of the "mansion". The owner of the mansion had planned to turn it into a special-events facility and had been trying to get a liquor license not too long ago. As you might expect, this was not well-received by local residents. Haven't heard any more about it since then but I believe the liquor license application was denied after comments opposing it were filed by neighboring property owners. 

 

Ah, that does look at LOT better than that garish red paint. I wonder why you got a different, more up to date image than I did? I went to Google Maps as well, but mine said it was from April 2011.

 

As for the Al Ray, yeah, I would imagine the people in the neighborhood (Lindale Park) would have a problem with that. The used to be a rowdy cantina at the corner of Fulton and Calvacade that was always in the news back in the 1980s. While that was 30 years ago, the neighborhood was already at least 75 percent Hispanic then with the only white folks left being people in their 70s and 80s who had live there since the neighborhood was built. So I can't imagine there's been a lot of turnover in the years since, a that neighborhood had already undergone white flight in the 1960s and 70s.

 

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I can remember a Tony's on 20th circa 1956, but it wasn't the all look a like and was more of a stripmall apppearance with large plate glass windows. I lived on Oxford and often had to go fetch a gallon of Milk which of course was a large glass bottle in those days, might add it was worth 25 cents for that bottle so you always had to take along the trade bottle or pay that extra 25 cents.  I always made the trip on my  bike.  I think every trip I made my Grandmother would have me ask for soup bones for the dog, and naturally the dog got the bone after the soup was made.  Our mailman lived just down the street from this market on 20th.  I forget his name it has been decades ago, but he always pulled a little tripod bag carrier behind him, his route must have been pretty large and I'm sure the bag was heavy.  In the 50s there were always tons of freebies mailed out from retailers.  Time keeps marching on, I think soon there will be nothing left from my childhood. 

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Ah, that does look at LOT better than that garish red paint. I wonder why you got a different, more up to date image than I did? I went to Google Maps as well, but mine said it was from April 2011.

 

As for the Al Ray, yeah, I would imagine the people in the neighborhood (Lindale Park) would have a problem with that. The used to be a rowdy cantina at the corner of Fulton and Calvacade that was always in the news back in the 1980s. While that was 30 years ago, the neighborhood was already at least 75 percent Hispanic then with the only white folks left being people in their 70s and 80s who had live there since the neighborhood was built. So I can't imagine there's been a lot of turnover in the years since, a that neighborhood had already undergone white flight in the 1960s and 70s.

 

 

You have to zoom in or navigate up and down Fulton a little from the exact address in order to see the newer photos. They apparently haven't updated all the viewing angles yet.

 

An example of the trend you refer to is the transition undergone by the church on the corner of Fulton and Link. When we first moved into the area almost 15 years ago, it was a Methodist church whose congregation was comprised almost exclusively of elderly Anglos who had been here for many years. The congregation was clearly on its last legs then, and several years later a Hispanic church moved into the facility. One of the other buildings on the property had previously been named after a longtime member of the Methodist congregation who was also a longtime resident of Lindale Park, and still bears the sign denoting that honor. 

 

Younger people have been moving into the neighborhood for some time now, although there are still a fair number of retirees. Like most other places inside the loop, property values have skyrocketed, but for now it remains relatively affordable compared to the Heights or Oak Forest. It used to be the rare house that even approached the $200K mark here; now, of the 9 houses currently listed on HAR, 6 of them are over $200K, and 2 of them are well over $300K. The civic club is in the process of trying to get minimum lot size restrictions in place before developers start itching to subdivide the typically large lots and throw up townhomes on them. 

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An example of the trend you refer to is the transition undergone by the church on the corner of Fulton and Link. When we first moved into the area almost 15 years ago, it was a Methodist church whose congregation was comprised almost exclusively of elderly Anglos who had been here for many years.

 

You are speaking of Reid Memorial Methodist Church. My great aunt and uncle (who lived on Caplin) attended services there for many a year. I'm surprised the place lasted into the 1990s considering the changes in the neighborhood.

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I never heard the word superette until I saw this thread; we just called them little grocery stores. Would the old Weingarten's on Richmond at Mandell have been one? Or was it a lbit too big.  But there's a surviving old-style smallish grocery store at 7548 Canal, on the East End:  Shew's Food Market. They still sell fresh produce and have a meat counter, unlike  the used-to-be-grocery-stores-turned-convenience stores that you see around. The very pleasant proprieters appear to be a young man, his middle-aged father, and the elderly grandfather, sometimes all there at once. Once I asked one of them where the Ramen noodles were, and he said, "Take ten steps straight ahead, turn left, and then take 5 more steps. They're on the left, the third shelf from the bottom."  And so they were!  I asked him how he knew the number of steps, and he said that he had trained himself that way in order to be able to come into the store after hours when he needed to, without turning on the light. He said they'd had the store since about 1957.

 

Cool story and building. 

Here are two more I ran across in the East End recently. 

 

1. Wing-On Foods - Canal x Super St.

2. Sherman x Latham St.

post-5666-0-71184100-1407339843_thumb.jp

post-5666-0-54779700-1407339896_thumb.jp

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You are speaking of Reid Memorial Methodist Church. My great aunt and uncle (who lived on Caplin) attended services there for many a year. I'm surprised the place lasted into the 1990s considering the changes in the neighborhood.

 

Right you are - the name escaped me when I posted that. It was known as "Reid Casa de Alabanza" or just "Casa de Alabanza" for a while after the transition, and I believe it may have changed names one more time after that, but the signs have since been taken down. The property has been for sale for a while, so I suppose it's only a matter of time until it's redeveloped - they're sitting on a pretty decent-sized chunk of land right on the light rail line.

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Right you are - the name escaped me when I posted that. It was known as "Reid Casa de Alabanza" or just "Casa de Alabanza" for a while after the transition, and I believe it may have changed names one more time after that, but the signs have since been taken down. The property has been for sale for a while, so I suppose it's only a matter of time until it's redeveloped - they're sitting on a pretty decent-sized chunk of land right on the light rail line.

 

 

Yeah, I suspect you are right about redevelopment. Makes sense.

 

As a kid in Northline Terrace, I attended Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church, across from Aldine High at West Rd. and Sweetwater. I moved away to the westside in 1990. My parents moved away in 2003 to Spring. But my mom kept going to Beautiful Savior, at least most of the time.

 

As with Reid Methodist in Lindale Park, eventually most the original white population moved away and was replaced by Hispanics (who generally aren't Lutheran or Methodist), leaving only scattered older people. The congregation got so small, it couldn't afford the upkeep. A few years ago, my mom told me the church sold its building to an Asian church and then leased back the sanctuary for its services as a tenant, presumably to hang on until the last of the older folks there either passed on, went to a nursing home or moved away.  The website is still up, although it hasn't been updated since last November, so I guess the church is still in existence.

 

Same thing almost happened with Memorial Baptist Church on Airline and Gulf Bank. That church had been on that corner in one form or another since 1925. In fact, in 1932, it was where the first classes for what would eventually become Aldine High School were held. But by 2000, all the members had moved to other parts of Houston. Rather than die out, the church sold its property and moved to Kuykendahl in Spring and still exists today.

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Same thing almost happened with Memorial Baptist Church on Airline and Gulf Bank. That church had been on that corner in one form or another since 1925. In fact, in 1932, it was where the first classes for what would eventually become Aldine High School were held. But by 2000, all the members had moved to other parts of Houston. Rather than die out, the church sold its property and moved to Kuykendahl in Spring and still exists today.

 

Memorial Baptist Church was certainly a community landmark for a long time. As I'm sure you know, it's now the Cathedral of Saint Matthew (http://www.cathedralofsaintmatthew.com/) - was that the entity that purchased the property from Memorial Baptist, or were there any other churches that occupied that space in between those two?

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Memorial Baptist Church was certainly a community landmark for a long time. As I'm sure you know, it's now the Cathedral of Saint Matthew (http://www.cathedralofsaintmatthew.com/) - was that the entity that purchased the property from Memorial Baptist, or were there any other churches that occupied that space in between those two?

 

No, there were no other churches in between. The Cathedral of St Matthew was who bought the site back 10 years or so ago from Memorial.

 

Speaking of Memorial, I'd sure like to get a peek at their church records to see what agreement they had with Common School District 29 (the predecessor to Aldine ISD) to house the first high school classes during the fall of 1932 and early winter of 1933 until the brick school building now known as the Lane School was completed. I've tried to contact some people there, but I've never heard back from them.

 

Talking about  area churches, the Ukrainian Catholic Church a short distance away on Meadowshire is an interesting mystery. Seems like it's been there forever, but I think it only dates from the mid 1960s. How in the world a Ukrainian church got there I'd like to know. And a Catholic one, at that. Most Ukrainians are Orthodox, so you've got a minority of a minority situation going. There can't be that many Ukrainians living in Houston as it is, especially in that area, but then to further segment it into Catholic Ukrainians...

 

I know I've hijacked this thread royally now and I surely apologize for it. If someone wants to create a new thread and move the off-topic posts there, I'd be all for that.

Edited by Firebird65
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