Discovering Stored Treasures

Discovering Genealogy, One Ancestor at a Time.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Flood, Blog Hopping and Produce Row

Last week's heroic flood rescue story, was brought to my attention by his Barney Kenet's daughter. My interaction with her required a deep knowledge of our joint family history, local Vermont history and the power of the internet which brought us together. The next part of the flood series is less about heroism. There is no 150 feet chasm opening up in the middle of the night and taking with it, eight houses, leaving half of a house hanging over the cliff. Rather this tale, has more to do with serendipitous discoveries, the importance of natural disaster such as a flood for genealogical work and once again, the internet, which never ceases to amaze.

William Bloomfield standing in front of the
Guenard, Speed & Clemens
Quick Recap
This story, begins with the post, Where Was This Picture Taken?  Back in January, I approached blogger and genealogist Lorraine Arnold, a specializes in the history of buildings and business. Through skillful detective work, she identified the building behind my great-grandfather William Bloomfield to be Guenard, Speed & Clemens building, located at 817-819 Commerce Street, Houston, Texas. William's place of employment between 1915-1920—the family owned Houston Fruit and Produce Company—was just across the street, on the next block at 906 Commerce Street.

Historical background:
Commerce Street, also known as Produce Row, became the heart of the Produce business in Houston. Betty Trapp Chapman of the Houston History Magazine, wrote a nice article discussing the evolution of Commerce Street into Produce Row titled Houston’s First Ward: Producing Food from Farm to Counter. In the article she describes how Main Street was designed to end at the intersection of two of Houston important Bayous, the Buffalo and Oak Bayou. Allen's landing, at the bottom of Main Street, was the main docking point for the boats who transported products into the city and further down the bayou. Warehouses popped up around the docks as a weigh station for the fresh produce. Commerce is the closest street to these docks.

Blog Hopping
Now, for the serendipity. Earlier this month, I recommended Lorrine's services to a fellow blogger, +Jacqi Stevens of A Family Tapestry. Jacqi was looking to identify a building from an old photograph in her Bean Shoebox collection. Another of Jacqi's readers, Kathy Morales, noticed my comment and followed the link to Lorrine's website Kathy, a member of the genealogy blogging community, immediately recognized the Commerce Street building. She continued her blog hopping and landed on my blog, where she learned that "my people" and her "husband's people" (as she put it), were working side by side on Produce Row. She proceeded to leave me a long comment, linking to her blog Abbie and Eveline, and a beautiful post she had written about the Morales family Banana House Business. Her Sepia Saturday post, is complete with photos of the Morales & Son's storefront (at 812 Commerce Street), promotion paraphernalia and some great music videos of two banana songs!
The Guenard, Speed & Clemens building during one of Houston's major floods
Photo not dated. Most likely taken in 1929 or 1935.
Photo belonging to Kathy Morales (Click to enlarge).

Allow me redirect you back to the photo from Kathy's collection of the Guenard, Speed & Clemens, which she has kindly given me permission to share.

The Guenard building (click on the photo to enlarge) is on the top left hand side of the photo. The view here is from the back.  The flood that we are looking at is not Commerce Street, where both our family businesses were located, and where William was standing, but rather of the overflowing bayou which ran immediately behind the Guernard building. Observe the General Electric Supply Company building (on the right). According to the 1929 Houston City Directory, the GE building was located at 5 North Miliam Street, at the corner of what was then Washington Av and the T & N O Railway (Texas & New Orleans Railway). Today Washington Avenue terminates at the freeway and does not reach Miliam Street. Neither building remain standing, but a google map view of the area clearly shows Commerce Street, the Bayou and the train tracks.
The ad from page 143 of the Houston City Directory 1929

View Larger Map

Location B is 906 Commerce where the Houston Fruit and Produce company used to be. The 800 block where the Guernard building and the Morales Banana House were located is the next, between Travis and Millian Street. Location A is 5 North Miliam Street where the GE Building stood on the other side of the bayou. Because of the wide gap between the buildings which seems to converge to a more populated area at the back of Kathy's picture, I believe the picture was taken from the Main Street direction.

Harnessing the Internet 
Cousin bait, using the internet to fish for long lost relatives, is the stated purpose of many family history blogs. Kathy and I pulled each other out of the vast internet sea! We are not cousins, but it's been just as exciting and probably more fruitful (pardon the fruit pun) to find each other. Our common interest in Houston's historical Produce Row has enabled both of us to progress in our own family research.

I is impossible to say, whether our "people" knew each other. We have found no evidence so far, besides the proximity of the two business. They clearly crossed paths as they shared the same stomping grounds. It has been eye opening to think of the various immigrant communities, including the Jewish (my ancestors) and the Italian (Kathy's husband's ancestors) communities, obviously interacting with each other during the early years of life in their new adoptive country.

Seeing the photo of the flood, naturally led to the question: was my family's business affected by the floods? Kathy, has shared three other flood photos with me. I have not been able to determine with certainty that the rising bayou waters reached commerce street, but in all likelihood they did. Kathy can document that her relatives experienced the flood. They photographed and document it! To address the question of how my family was affected by the flood, I need to do a bit more digging and write another post!

For now, I'd like to end this post with another Banana Song! This was a favorite in our home when the boys young. I dedicate it to Kathy, the Morales Bloomfield and Pomerantz families and the rest of the descendants of Produce Row!

Raffi singing Apples and Bananas:


  1. Love it! You have done a great job identifying the view from the photograph, as well as telling the story behind it. We did not find cousins, but this is just as fun and interesting. Maybe our blogs are also "neighbor bait"?
    Oh - and we loved Raffi too, so I appreciate the banana song! :)
    I hope we can discover more about Produce Row.

    1. We do tend to overlook neighbors in our research. This is a good reminder of the wealth of information out there if we look our right and to our left! Glad you liked the Raffi song. I can't tell you how many times we used to listed it! Stay on the look out for the next update!

  2. What a great story of "neighbor bait."

    1. I think Kathy has coined a very useful new term. The concept of "neighbor bait" is often overlooked in our research and should not be. It's very useful! Maybe the term will help remind people to study their ancestor's neighbors.


Thanks for sharing your comments!