Houston in Black & White

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Photography book covers city from 1856 to 1970

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A horse with a docked tail stands patiently in front of his cart outside the Veterinary Hospital. Coming out of the building itself are two men and a youngster in a car. It’s 1910 Houston in a post-turn-of-the-century, two-worlds-collide moment.

Historic Photos of Houston is a handsome, fascinating look at the city through black-and-white archived photographs that, as the preface notes, are not easily accessible to everyone. Now they are. Buildings, streets and people fill up the city, scatter, and reassemble years later for good and bad, with more of everything.

Again and again, fire is the leveler. Just as you start to try to place the next building in the book, you learn how futile an effort that is. One of the first pictures – the earliest known photo of Houston – shows the 300 block of Main Street in 1856. By the next picture it’s only been 10 years and Main Street looks completely different, rebuilt following a fire. Another picture shows the fire that destroyed 40 blocks of the Fifth Ward in 1912.

It’s, of course, a fun game to try to place the remaining, recognizable buildings in present day. The Rice Hotel appears and reappears throughout the years. You find out the first Houston suburb was not a product of the post World War II building boom, but was in the 1890s – the Heights.

My only quarrel with the book is that the ending section covering the 1940-1970 years seems compressed compared to the other eras starting in 1856.

Author Betty Trapp Chapman, who writes a column “Houston Heritage” for the Houston Business Journal, does a nice job providing context to go with the photographs. Joel Draut, archival photographer at the Houston Public Library’s Houston Metropolitan Research Center, reproduced all the photos for this edition. -- Margaret Downing

Historic Photos of Houston, Turner Publishing Co., $39.95.

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