South Park's Burger Park: Still Standing
It's uncharitable for certain, but South Park reminds me of nothing so much as a demilitarized zone or some postapocalyptic landscape wrought in a Houston setting. The neighborhood, which began as a bucolic, blue-collar suburb in the postwar 1950s, nearly cannibalized itself in the 1980s and 1990s as vicious waves of crime and violence pounded its shores.
Photos by Katharine Shilcutt Burger Park, still standing after 43 years. View more photos from South Park in our slideshow.
These days, South Park is definitely quieter than it used to be. It's not in the news as much. In some senses, it's been forgotten. But not by Gil and Oak Kim, the Korean immigrants who run Burger Park.
The burger joint that started out selling 25-cent cheeseburgers in 1968 has faithfully served the South Park community for 43 years and shows no sign of stopping. The Kims are only the second owners and they view the neighborhood -- no matter how desolate, how bombed-out it may appear to outsiders -- and its residents as their extended family.
People are just as likely to walk up to Burger Park as drive and many students at nearby Jones High School continue the decades-long tradition of cutting class to get burgers, bringing a box full of them back to other students and teachers alike.
A typical vacant lot next to an abandoned house in South Park.
But surrounding Burger Park is a neighborhood that still struggles to recoup its many losses after years of drug battles, violent crimes, natural disasters and city mismanagement. Just as many homes are abandoned as lived in. There are very few grocery stores; most are abandoned. Vacant lots are strewn with trash and old tires.
Despite all of this, there are signs of life. Take a look at the brand-new Bastian Elementary School on West Bellfort, which replaced an old school that had seen better days. Or at Burger Park, still standing and still serving delicious cheeseburgers and slushes after all these years.
You can read more about Burger Park and its intertwined history with South Park in this week's feature: Still Standing.