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H-Town Man

Breaks Your Heart

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This was on a link that Tory Gattis posted on HS. Actual color footage of downtown Dallas in 1939. And... wow. All the people. The storefronts. The GFR.

 

I'm not even a Dallas fan, but watching this was quite moving for me. I'm sure if there were footage of Houston in 1939, it would tell a similar tale.

 

Go to the 3:39 mark.

 

Edited by H-Town Man
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Great find!  Thanks for posting.

 

I've seen images of DT Houston from around that era and the throngs of people would make even Slick Vic spit out of sheer joy.

 

A shame we completely abandoned that form of living and are now paying to try and recover that which was lost 70 years later.

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The loaded rhetoric found in the video aside, I wonder if there are any "large" cities in the U.S. that kept many of their low-rise turn of the century era buildings in downtown. That type of thing can be found in small towns in Texas (et. al.) and even if it's not bustling, they at least put up a good attempt at keeping the buildings and some signage. Of course, they don't put up big skyscrapers, but you win some, you lose some.

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New Orleans and San Antonio kept most of their smaller buildings. So did Philadelphia I think, and Atlanta has a decent number.

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WOW, just WOW! I absolutely love this video. How great it would be to get transported back in time just to walk around American cities in that era!

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WOW, just WOW! I absolutely love this video. How great it would be to get transported back in time just to walk around American cities in that era!

 

Like my Grandma said sometime about 1980, "Everyone talks about the good old days. Well, I lived in the good old days, and they just weren't that good compared to today". She specifically mentioned cars, air conditioning, medical care and streets. Minorities were treated like crap, and the world was skewed in favor of white men. And, most things just didn't work as well as they do now.

 

 

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A lot of people tend to moan and groan about "why did we tear down our downtowns for parking lots?" but what is often missing is why they were torn down. For the most part, it wasn't "to create new parking", a lot of it (I know this was the case in Cleveland, and likely others too) was because those buildings were simply abandoned, creating blight, much like an empty strip mall or two. 

 

Parking becomes a placeholder, not an ultimate destination: that's why you can see on some blocks where buildings were originally. That's why parking becomes the prime choice for building again...and we are seeing that in Houston.

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Like my Grandma said sometime about 1980, "Everyone talks about the good old days. Well, I lived in the good old days, and they just weren't that good compared to today". She specifically mentioned cars, air conditioning, medical care and streets. Minorities were treated like crap, and the world was skewed in favor of white men. And, most things just didn't work as well as they do now.

I don't think anyone is saying that America as a whole was better in 1939. But there are certain things that some time periods do better than other time periods. So perhaps 1939 wasn't a great time when it came to racism, but did better than we do at other things.

Does our enthusiasm for this film threaten something you love about the world of 2014?

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A lot of people tend to moan and groan about "why did we tear down our downtowns for parking lots?" but what is often missing is why they were torn down. For the most part, it wasn't "to create new parking", a lot of it (I know this was the case in Cleveland, and likely others too) was because those buildings were simply abandoned, creating blight, much like an empty strip mall or two.

Parking becomes a placeholder, not an ultimate destination: that's why you can see on some blocks where buildings were originally. That's why parking becomes the prime choice for building again...and we are seeing that in Houston.

The question then becomes, why did some places abandon their downtowns and not others?

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The question then becomes, why did some places abandon their downtowns and not others?

People move around. It's the same reason why there's abandoned strip malls and other empty/underused structures in some parts of town.

Edited by IronTiger

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This was a cool video to watch. Made even cooler as I was listening to the Ameile movie soundtrack while watching lol. I think we need to be careful not to romanticize the past. The particular moment in time was that way and won't ever be that way again. Of course would it be better if all those neon signs and older downtown-esque buildings remained (most of them at least) for sure! I think we should remember though we have chances to recapture such life, and sense of place in our cities, but doing it within the context of our time.

 

IronTiger is absolutely correct and spot on. There are reasons why things come and go. America became the poster child of the car age which meant embracing the modernist movement in full force. WWII changed everything especially in how we would live. If you read into it many scholars will correctly point out that people saw the end of WWII as a way to turn the corner and imbrace a new future and a new way of building our cities.

 

It's important to always remember and never forget the past, but it can actually be a bad thing when it comes to being nostalgic about the past in terms of creating new architecture and development.

 

Luckily the tread is moving in the right direction, but as I said in another thread once. It's really going to be up to generations that aren't influenced by perfectionist 1950's suburban culture who will be the true city builders of the future.

Edited by Luminare

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I don't think anyone is saying that America as a whole was better in 1939. But there are certain things that some time periods do better than other time periods. So perhaps 1939 wasn't a great time when it came to racism, but did better than we do at other things.

Does our enthusiasm for this film threaten something you love about the world of 2014?

 

Nope, I'm not threatened at all. I just wanted to point out that romanticizing the past is usually a mistake. Sure, some of the stuff looks great through the mists of time, but there's not really anything that was better in 1939 than now. Heck, there's nothing I can think of that was better in the 60's, when I was a kid, than now,other than not having high fructose corn syrup in every type of food. Everything just works better today. Cars work better, roads are better built, toys are better, etc. And let's not forget that in 1939, everything likely smelled like tobacco smoke.

 

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To wish that our downtowns were as full and busy today as they were in 1939 is not "romanticizing the past" or saying that 1939 is better than 2014. If I wished there were still buffalo on the Great Plains or bears in East Texas like there were in 1850, it doesn't mean that I am romanticizing the world of 1850 or saying that it is better than 2014. I just happen to like wildlife.

There's something called a "straw man argument"...

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People move around. It's the same reason why there's abandoned strip malls and other empty/underused structures in some parts of town.

That may be good enough for you. But for me, there are deeper explanations for long term urban trends and the differences between cities than "people move around." To each his/her own.

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That may be good enough for you. But for me, there are deeper explanations for long term urban trends and the differences between cities than "people move around." To each his/her own.

Nearly every major American city experienced some sort of deep decline in their downtowns (or in their cities, Sunbelt cities did not have hemmed-in borders--St. Louis, Detroit, NYC, Philadelphia, Cleveland, etc. suffered massive population losses in the 1950s through 1970s), some deeper than others. Downtowns are romanticized. You come across a parking lot in a downtown, the type where you can see that buildings once covered the entire block: many regret that the buildings were demolished, maybe express some anger toward "car culture", walk away with a "this shouldn't have happened" feel; but demolished areas elsewhere will talk about things being overbuilt or maybe some sort of pithy statement about consumerism. No one would talk about downtowns being "overbuilt" even in their prime, but in both areas, demographics shifted, and the area was left with a surplus of abandoned buildings, but they're viewed totally differently.

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Nearly every major American city experienced some sort of deep decline in their downtowns (or in their cities, Sunbelt cities did not have hemmed-in borders--St. Louis, Detroit, NYC, Philadelphia, Cleveland, etc. suffered massive population losses in the 1950s through 1970s), some deeper than others. Downtowns are romanticized. You come across a parking lot in a downtown, the type where you can see that buildings once covered the entire block: many regret that the buildings were demolished, maybe express some anger toward "car culture", walk away with a "this shouldn't have happened" feel; but demolished areas elsewhere will talk about things being overbuilt or maybe some sort of pithy statement about consumerism. No one would talk about downtowns being "overbuilt" even in their prime, but in both areas, demographics shifted, and the area was left with a surplus of abandoned buildings, but they're viewed totally differently.

 

When you write "Downtowns are romanticized," what I read is "You shouldn't like downtowns." And all I can do is shrug my shoulders. I like downtowns, and I like them better when they're full of people and shops, not parking lots.

 

I could not understand what you were saying beginning with "demolished areas elsewhere will talk about..."

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When you write "Downtowns are romanticized," what I read is "You shouldn't like downtowns." And all I can do is shrug my shoulders. I like downtowns, and I like them better when they're full of people and shops, not parking lots.

 

I could not understand what you were saying beginning with "demolished areas elsewhere will talk about..."

1. There's nothing wrong with liking downtowns. That was mostly in response to downtowns are romanticized as opposed to the 1930s are romanticized. Of course downtowns would be better if the parking lots were full of actual buildings and people and all that, but I was arguing that people mis-blame the reasons as to why it happened.

2. Sorry, that last part should be "In non-downtown (suburban) environments, abandonment and demolition will be viewed differently. People will talk about..."

I think the greatest problem of downtowns is the common development issue of putting a single office building on a block with almost no street-level shops or access. That's one disadvantage of the new Marriott, I think: the old 806 Main at least had a Domino's on the lower level.

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That's one disadvantage of the new Marriott, I think: the old 806 Main at least had a Domino's on the lower level.

 

Not to mention a Christian Science reading room.

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I think the greatest problem of downtowns is the common development issue of putting a single office building on a block with almost no street-level shops or access. That's one disadvantage of the new Marriott, I think: the old 806 Main at least had a Domino's on the lower level.

 

Sorry, but no.  As compared to what was there before (even taking into consideration that it had a Domino's at street level, and a Christian Science Reading Room) there is just no disadvantage to the new Marriott.

Edited by Houston19514

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I'm not quite sure what the argument here is about, if indeed there is an argument.  

 

However, it is interesting to me to reflect on how I perceived downtown Houston when I was a kid, versus now.  (That would be in the early 60s.)  It was the only place to buy an out-of-town newspaper.  As far as I knew, the newsstand across from the Rice Hotel was the best place to go for that.  It seemed like the center of creation.  That was before John and Jackie Kennedy stayed at the Rice before they went to Dallas.

 

Living on the west side of town, downtown Houston was the closest place to shop.  Battlesteins, Sakowitz, Nieman Marcus, Foleys, etc. all had their main stores there.  The Houston Rodeo and "Fat Stock" Show were held in the Sam Houston Colliseum downtown.  The Houston Club was a big deal; I vaguely remember being treated to lunch there by my friend's dad who worked in the Esperson Building.  

 

I also remember going to the main library downtown (now called the Julia Ideson Building) and wondering why there were two water fountains, side-by-side, with the lower one having a handle labeled "colored".  I drank from that one, since it was more convenient for me as a kid, but I also wondered what the label meant.  So ... I can also agree that there was endemic racism in that era that people didn't think about, they just took things for granted. 

Edited by ArchFan

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I visited downtown Dallas in 1969 or 1970 on a school trip.  It was very cool, too.  I also visited several times in the 70s.  I sensed a vibrancy that was different from today, although Dallas is booming in other ways, other areas.  At that time, there were many interesting things to enjoy which seemed as if from a different era (which they were, I guess).

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