Swamp & Sand: The History of Magnolia Park

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By Christi Vasquez

The history of Magnolia Park is the history of Houston.

Magnolia Park was annexed to the city of Houston in October 1926, having been it's own city for almost 30 years prior, when Thomas Brady laid it out in the 1800s. The 1800s! With new, slapdash developments popping up around the city, it's refreshing and heartening to experience and celebrate such a historic neighborhood. The very first Magnolia Park settlements were built on the sands taken from the widening of the Ship Channel's Turning Basin. This relationship with the Ship Channel directly affected the growth of the neighborhood and of Houston, attracting skilled craftsmen and workers to further develop the channel into an industry resource that still continues to power Houston's economy.

With the onset of the Mexican Revolution in the 1920s to 1950s, many Mexican migrants moved to Houston to get away from the violence and economic insecurity. A huge majority of them settled in Magnolia Park, making it Houston's first true barrio--the Spanish word for neighborhood, but in daily use, a neighborhood made up of Latino residents. If you consider the city's population today with the majority of citizens being of Latino descent, it's astounding that at one point, there was only a single neighborhood that catered to, housed, and celebrated the Mexican family. In addition to being the first true barrio, Magnolia Park supported the first Latino-majority elementary and middle schools in the city. During the Civil Rights Movement, Magnolia Park and the Northside were the beating hearts of the Chicano rights movement in Houston.

If you aren't from Magnolia Park or familiar with the area, you can tap into this rich history by driving through the present day area--so much is untouched by the development marathon taking place in other neighborhoods (to the detriment of history and longtime residents). Take a drive east down Magnolia Park's Canal Street, starting at 65th. This street is my favorite in the neighborhood: it's always busy, always bustling, and you can grab a mangonada from Magnolia's Ice Cream & More before you start your trek. Amidst the tiny shops--tortillerias, mom-and-pop Mexican restaurants, Sellers Bros., an immigration attorney, and more--you can see the vestiges of old Houston and the present-day, complex lives of its residents. To have history so seamlessly meld itself into the lives of current residents is a rare thing in Houston these days.

I still marvel that I have a home in such a fascinating and thriving neighborhood. Pineview Place--where my fiance and I host a block party every second Saturday of the month, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.--was a subdivision created by E.L. Crain in the 1920s, and was incorporated into Magnolia Park soon after. While the historicity of Pineview Place lies mostly in the brick of the subdivision's older houses (which were made right down the street at a long-defunct brick factory on Harrisburg!), the original brick gates still stand at Harrisburg and 75th, across from the famous Magnolia Park Avenues.

I'm excited to be a civically-engaged member of my neighborhood, and excited to bring some of it's amazing history to light. With neighbor collaboration, preserving historic structures, and making sure the community's seniors are taken care of and can pay their property taxes, I believe we have a bright future ahead--but we might have to fight for it.