When Houston was established in 1837 there were about a dozen residents. Over 180 years later that number has grown to 2.3 million and clocks in as the fourth largest city in the country. And although it isn’t the official capital of Texas (even though it was for two years 1837-1839) it is by far the cultural capital of the south.
Houston’s stats may be great but nothing beats exploring the history first hand. These days, even historic buildings have taken on new purposes. Where an old Victorian home used to operate there is now a LuLu lemon for instance. But some places have aged well and still operate as they were originally intended, adding a layer of nostalgia to the historic facades. Take some time this summer to mosey around to some of these historic spots.
Augustus Allen, one of Houston’s founding fathers, dedicated this park to the city in 1854. The park was initially used as an open air produce market - hence the name - and early city landmarks found a home in and near the park. They included the briefly used Texas Capitol and White House. In addition, several City Halls rose and fell at Market Square, each destroyed by fire. The Houston Downtown Redevelopment Authority and Management District invested millions of dollars into this park in recent years. Improvements included the addition of local restaurateur, Niko Niko’s; regular programming of events like movie nights and a gathering square for parades and events. This revitalization also made for significant economic growth. Within the last few years several luxury apartments have sprouted where parking lots used to be. Best of all, this historic attraction is free.
Across the street from Market Square Park (and slightly younger at 125 years) is La Carafe. This historic candlelit bar is located in the oldest building in Houston. Walk through the front door and you feel like you’ve walked back in time. The juke box is always playing something haunting and classic. Look closely at the engravings on the bar and you might see a few famous names rudely carved in. There is a cozy upstairs balcony that gives you great views of the park and the city. Bring cash though, the bar only serves wine and beer and they don’t take credit. The ATM is happy to charge you for a withdrawal if you’re cash poor.
Located on the most historic street in the most historic neighborhood of the same name is the Heights Theatre. When the Heights neighborhood was established in 1891 as one of Texas’ oldest planned communities, 19th street and this theatre served as the neighborhood high street. Over the years as the Heights went in and out of fashion with residents, the theatre itself took on other purposes like an art gallery and event space. Recently, the theatre was restored to its original glory and is now an exciting venue to catch smaller acts and even Netflix comedy specials like Tig Notaro’s, which was filmed in the space. Before or after the show, take time to also explore the rest of 19th street and all of the shops it has to offer.
This historic theatre, built in 1939 in the famed art deco style that Houston is known for, has dodged the wrecking ball so many times you’d think it had nine lives. In spite of all that it has been showing movies great and small since it opened its doors. It only has three screens and the seats are old fashioned ones - no recliners and waitstaff like modern showplaces, but it just feels cool watching a movie here. You feel like you’re back in 1939 (but with air conditioning).