Discovering Stored Treasures

Discovering Genealogy, One Ancestor at a Time.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Photo Detective Study of Produce Row

Last week we began to explore the great flood of 1935 which greatly impacted all of downton. Kathy Morales's photo, showed the area where both our families owned business since the early 1900s,  completely inundated.

History of Flooding in Houston's Downtown 

Before studying the photos and the effects of the flood on Produce Row and my family, a look back at the history of Houston's relationship with flooding is in order. The Allen brothers, who established the city of Houston in 1836, neglected to take take flooding into account. They built the new settlement where the White Oak and the Buffalo Bayou converged. By design, main street, ended at this exact spot. The strategic location was ideal for transporting goods, but being in a flood zone, was not conducive for building or farming. Early settlers were hit hard by flooding. They lacked understanding of flood prevention and instead focused on draining the water by directing the channels downhill without making provisions for heavy rains. In the next one hundred years, the downtown area experienced 16 major floods, culminating in the great flood of 1935. The 1929 caused staggering damages, but the 1935 flood was twice as costly, killed seven people and damaged many important buildings, destroyed miles of rails and paralyzed the port for months. This was the last straw for the citizens of Houston, whom finally demanded a better solution. The flood coincided with the great depression and the federal government's unprecedented investment in infrastructure projects. In 1937, the City of Houston submitted a petition to create the Harris County Flood Control District. This enabled the city to tap into the Federal fund. Thanks to this project, the Army Corp of Engineers build a dams and reservoirs to regulate water flowing into the bayou. This project has largely prevented Houston from major flooding. (

Photographic Evidence

Source: "Flood on Franklin Avenue." December 9, 1935. Online Image. University of Houston Digital Library. 25 June 2013. <,119>
The photo above from the University of Houston Digital Library Collection is very similar to Kathy Morales's photo (see last week's post: The Flood, Blog Hopping and Produce Row. The GE building is on the right, the Guenard Speed and Clemens building is on the left. Kathy's picture is of much better quality, but on close inspection, the sign on the Guenard building is different. In Kathy's photo the sign states: Wholesale Fruits and Produce Guenard Speed and Clemens. In the U. of Houston photo, the top part of the sign is illegible but the lower part clearly reads The Grocers Supply Company. Since this photo is dated 1935, I think it is safe to say, that Kathy's photo must have been taken during the 1929 flood.

The same collection, also had a photo of the front of the building taken at the corner of Commerce and Travis Street. It was difficult for me to identify at first, because the name of the business was The Grocer's Supply, and the familiar Guenard Speed & Clemens sign was missing, but once I understood that by 1935 the Guenard company had relocated, I was able to clearly identify the location. This picture is the first I have discovered which shows the other side of Commerce street, where the even numbers were. The front building, may be the 906 building where my family's business would have been prior to 1927. I have requested a high resolution copy of this image from the library, which may help confirm my theory. The Morales & Sons store should be on the far left side block, where the 800 numbers were.

Photo of Commerce Street from the 1935 flood. Note the Guenard building on the right, across the Travis street from the Myers Sidney Inc building. (Click to enlarge).
Source: "Flooded street." 1935. Online Image. University of Houston Digital Library. 25 June 2013. <,130>
Business Directory of Commerce Street-Produce Row

Produce Row Businesses
1929 Houston City Directory
A list of the business on Produce Row from 1929 and 1935, will help clarify and confirm the date of Kathy Morales' photo:

812 Morales M and Sons produce-Kathy Morales' Banana Business.
817 Topek Produce Company- Where Morris Aaron Pomerantz worked, looked next to the  819-821 Building known as the Guenard Speed & Clemens earlier (see picture of William Bloomfield in front of this building around 1919).
819-821- Vacant building. This explains why in Kathy's photo the sign on the back of the building advertises the Guenard Speed & Clemens Co. The Company had actually moved out, but the building was yet to be occupied by someone else.
901-905- Myers Sidney Inc- The building seen in the above photo.
906 Lang Paul produce- This was owned by the Houston Fruit and Produce company until 1927 when Morris Birnebaum one of the partners died and they closed the company.
907 Speed-Clemens Co Inc, Produce (Note: Guenard was no longer part of the partnership), they had moved out of the larger building, and occupied a different warehouse on the next block.
Picture of the a Speed and Clemens truck
with the buisness located at the 907 Commerce Street
Location, next to the Myers & Sidney Inc.
(Click to Enlarge).

Many of the business on Produce Row either moved or closed by 1935. The flood of 1929 as well as the great depression must have severely hampered commerce in the area. Here is the list of the relevant business and their locations on Commerce in 1935:

810-812 Morales M & Sons wholesale bananas Produce Buffet. Note, they took over the 812 locale and seemed to have expanded and specialized in Bananas.
817- Topek Produce Company- remained at the same location.
819-821-The Grocery Supply Company. Hence the new sign on the front and back of the building!
901-903 & 905-Myers Sidney Inc
906 Lang Paul Wholesale Produce

Produce Row Businesses
1935 Houston City Directory

The next natural questions is where was my family during the floods and how were they affected by it? 
In the late 20's and 30's there were four branches of our Pomerantz family residing and working in Houston: the Kaufmans, the Pomerantzs the Birnebaums and of course the Bloomfields. I mapped out their whereabouts during 1929 and 1935.

View Pomerantz/Bloomfield/Kaufman 1929 & 1935 in a larger map

This google map, clearly shows both bayous, Produce Row and the various homes and business owned by the family, as listed in the 1929 and 1935 Houston City Directories. (Note: none of the original buildings remain standing). I plotted Morales & Sons with bananas. To get a better appreciation of the locations and the proximity to the flooding, I recommend zooming into the map. Note that Morris Birenbaum, original partner of the Houston Fruit and Produce Company, passed away in 1927. This is an important fact. It seems the remaining partner, Morris Aaron Pomerantz, closed the business, following his partner's premature death. In 1929 he was working as a manager at another produce company, the Topek Produce Company, located just down Commerce Street (see businesses listings above).  I was unable to identify the location of Morris Birnebaum's family and therefore they are not on this map.
Pomerantz Siblings with Spouses Dec 1956
 (photo from the collection of Martha and Seymour Pomerantz)
Left to Right: Fanny Pomerantz (Birenbuam), Morris Aaron Pomerantz,
Jake Palmer (change from Pomerantz),
Evelyn Palmer, Ethel Kaufman (Pomerantz) and Alex Kaufman.
Note: Jake was one of the original partners of the Houston Produce Co. He
remained in the produce business for many years in La Grange, Texas. The
Kaufman's were the first to arrive in Houston and were in the grocery business. 

From everything I've read, it's difficult to say how far the rising water reached. Some sources state that 25 square blocks in downtown were affected, while others state as many 100 square residential blocks. It is unclear what happened to sections further down the bayou, such as where the Bloomfield's home and store were located. Canal street is only a block away from a section of the bayou, but I can not yet state with certainty that the water reached the street. I can conclude that the two blocks of Produce Row were some of the most heavily affected by the flood. Morris Aaron Pomerantz, though no longer owned a business on the "Row," was working for the Topek Produce Company, which must have suffered heavy losses.

A Special Treat
The Texas Archive of the Moving Image has amazing footage of the 1935 flood from the Orris D. Brown Film Collection. It is a seven minute silent film mostly of the downtown area. I'd like to call your attention to minute 4:26 where I believe we see a glimpse of the Morales & Sons store and the damage near the store. I recognized the store thanks to the large banana sign. What do you think Kathy? Is this the Morales store? Also note, at minute 1:24-1:31, a boat floats in front of a grocery store called Minnie's Place. I don't believe this is my great-grandparents grocery store, but the name Minnie, did jump out at me, and the woman standing outside the store, could pass for my great-grandmother Minnie Bloomfield. Unfortunately, I have never seen a photo of the front of their canal street store. I also, don't know the name of their store. In the Houston City directories it is always listed as Bloomfield, William, grocer. In Laconia their store was called Bloomfield Market. Most likely, they used the same name in Houston, but I can not be sure. I do doubt it is their store but it did seem to be an amazing coincidence.


  1. How wonderful that you have been able to access these archived resources to round out the picture of these devastating years for your family in Houston.

    When I first saw your mention of "Minnie's Place," I jumped to the same conclusion, Smadar!

    1. Houston has wonderful archives available on-line. I've really enjoyed exploring them! BTW, I walked passed the NY Public Library this weekend. It has two lion posts which made me think of you! Any progress on your building ID?

  2. This is awesome! You have done a great job with this and dating the photo. I am having trouble viewing the video. I get a big black bar that blacks out about a 1/3 of the frame and can't see a time counter either. I'll have to keep trying as I have yet to see the banana sign. Thank you for including the Morales' in your detective work! I'll keep studying the pictures and video and see if anything looks familiar.

    1. I'm glad you liked the post and you agree on the date. I fixed the link for the video. It's now linking to a different site which shows the full video.

    2. The video is amazing. Could it be the Morales store? Seems like a possibility! If only we could read all of the sign. There are definite similarities to my picture of the store. It would be great if I had a better picture of the Morales store that provided a view of the whole building. Then I think we could know for sure. I still need to study the photo you have above (what with being a bit under the weather lately and trying to catch up on life, TX politics raising my blood pressure, :) and other stuff, I haven't had the time today or yesterday to spend with it as I would like.) If I understand correctly, you think the Morales store is on the left side of the picture, but farther away in what would be the next block - possibly the shorter building with the decorative top or beyond? I'll keep looking. You have given me a good assignment!

    3. No worries Kathy. Take your time studying the pictures. The more I look at it, the more I am convinced that the video is of the Morales store. I have taken a screen shot of the video and zoomed in onto the Banana sign. There is not enough resolution to read the smaller words above the sign, but the layout is identical to the top sign from from your photo of the outside of the Morales store which reads M Morales & Sons. If you look at it, it's even lined up with the windows in the same exact way. In the 1935 video, there is no bottom sign, which probably indicates that the photo you have in your archive with the dear was taken earlier or later, but not in 1935. Also, if you study the photo from the University of Houston collection, there are more clues. The even numbers of the 800 block, are on the far right. I do think the Morales store is in that decorated building. The large rounded windows are divided into three, and all we can see in your photo is the bottom part of these large windows. These tripple windows are visible in the video as well. Also, there is a small sign butting out from that decorated building, which belongs to a neighboring business. If you look at the video, the identical sign is present. Unfortunately, it's illegible in both. Take your time and tell me what you think!

    4. The more I look at the video and the screen shot, the more convinced I am that this is the sign from Morales & Sons Bananas. Although you can't read the names on the sign in the video, the letters seem to match up just as they are in the picture on my blog.... coupled with the placement of the sign... Still need to look at the other picture. :)

    5. I'm glad you agree. Take your time studying the picture. I think between the two, you are beginning to get a real look at the building.

  3. You have assembled so many resources to bear on this question -- with photos and maps and directories and a video and the history of Houston and even a song! Very delightful. What serendipity that you and Kathy Morales are zoning in on the same area to know more about your ancestors' situations. You are bringing to bear all the tools of historical investigation!

    I hope that New York City can be as smart as Houston, now that storms have begun to flood the subways. It sounds like Houston did repair their situation.

    1. Thanks, Mariann. It is an excellent example of how studying a natural disaster can help understand family history. The whole east coast needs to do some major flood planning. If Houston could do it, I'm sure less flood prone areas can do it!

  4. This is so fascinating! The Chicagoland area could use this analysis as well :)

    1. Using your ancestors as the center of an investigation of local history is the key to focusing the investigation! Best of luck! Do let me know if you come up with anything interesting.


Thanks for sharing your comments!