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. (http://www.hcfcd.org/hcfloodhistory.html)
|Source: "Flood on Franklin Avenue." December 9, 1935. Online Image. University of Houston Digital Library. 25 June 2013. <http://digital.lib.uh.edu/u?/p15195coll32,119>|
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. <http://digital.lib.uh.edu/u?/p15195coll32,130>
|Produce Row Businesses|
1929 Houston City Directory
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.
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.