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Past is Prelude...

 
 

HISTORY OF SUNSET HEIGHTS

The following is based on an earlier work (2010) by John Ridgway

Background

The story of Sunset Heights goes almost as far back as the city of Houston itself.  As is now legend, the land on which Houston (& The Heights) now stands was bought and developed by the Allen Brothers beginning in 1836.  Because of several wars and recessions, part of that original land that included The Heights exchanged hands multiple times over the next 50 years.  The land that included the future Heights neighborhoods passed through the Houston and Texas Central railroad in 1859, but by 1888 the railroad was faced with bankruptcy.  Meanwhile, the Omaha and South Texas Land Co. founded a new neighborhood, called the Houston Heights, in 1891.  Independence Heights was created by the Wright Co. in 1908.  

In 1910, as the Houston and Texas Central railroad was being sold and mortgaged, it began selling land assets that had been used as collateral.  This is the land at the center of so much controversy as the land had been used as collateral more than once causing lawsuits over ownership.

Sunset Heights

A man named Richard Rodgers purchased 100 acres of this land for $18,750, or about $13 for each 3,000 square-foot lot in his new neighborhood.  By August 15th1910, Rodgers created the Sunset Heights Realty Co. to develop Sunset Heights.  Clear title to this land was challenged several times over the succeeding years, so Rodgers was compelled to create a $100,000 bond for Sunset Heights as the insurance policy to protect land purchasers against title suits in court.

The original platting of Sunset Heights extended from Yale to the west, 29th St. to the north, Airline & Link Rds. to the east, and just below E. 23rd St. to the south.  

Why did Rodgers choose the name “Sunset”?  As it happens, “Sunset” was a very popular moniker for everything from coffee to train lines to the new railroad hospital that opened in 1911.  It isn’t hard to understand that Texas sunsets could be so aesthetically inspiring.   

Sunset Heights had enough resources that in January 1911 it was able to successfully fight annexation by the Houston Heights. The Houston Heights was attempting to annex unincorporated areas around it to become so large that Houston would be unable to annex it.  Houston Heights was eventually annexed in 1918, and shortly after Rodgers died, Sunset Heights was annexed by Houston in 1927.

Schools

Harris County had been searching potential school sites before Sunset Heights was even built.  In 1911, taxpayers in School District 25 petitioned to raise $20,000 for building and equipping a new school.  The referendum passed in 1912 and construction of Sunset Heights School began that same year.  The school remained in use until 1926 when it was replaced by the newer Alamo Heights School.  The school building still stands at Harvard and E 27th and currently owned by HISD and used as a storage facility.  The property is currently for sale and listed by the Preservation Texas organization in 2009 as an endangered historic site.

Hamilton Middle School, straddling Heights Boulevard, was built in 1919.  It was originally named Heights Senior High School.  The name was changed to Alexander Hamilton Senior High School in 1925.  It became Hamilton Junior High School in 1926 when Reagan High School opened.  It is now a middle school.

Churches

The oldest standing example of the first churches in Sunset Heights is still located at 800 Aurora.  It has been the former home of the Aurora Picture show and 14 Pews more recently.  Most of the other churches followed this same design until most other churches had replaced their small wooden structures with larger stone or brick buildings by the 1950s.  The Sunset Heights Baptist Church at one time was one of the largest churches in the area.  It had grown to three buildings before closing in 1998.  

Sunset Heights Christian Church at E 28th and Harvard existed during the 1920s but by the 1950s appears to have been demolished.  The Bethel Temple Assembly of God Church located at 300 Aurora was first built in the 1940s and is still in operation.  St. Anne De Beaupre located at 2810 Link was established in 1948.

The Brethren Church was attended by many Czechs who immigrated to the United States after the 1850s.  In 1903, representatives of several of the area's congregations gathered to create the Unity of the Brethren in Texas in the effort to resurrect the Brethren Church which had been suppressed for many years in their homeland.  The Brethren Church located at Main and E 23rd was built in 1954.

Sunset Heights Civic Clubs

As an unincorporated club, the Sunset Heights Civic Club was the primary form of government. It was formed at the same time as the neighborhood in 1910. The SHCC worked with the electric companies to get the streetcar lines extended into the neighborhood in 1914. It worked with the county to make sure roads were graveled and that there was good drainage.  The area wanted to incorporate it self to become a city, and attempted this several times. The biggest attempt was in 1916, but it was stopped by the residents in the Studes Woods neighborhood, which is where the name Studewood came from for the street.  Studes Woods homeowners feared that their neighborhood would be encompassed by a Sunset Heights city.  The Sunset Heights Civic Club ceased operations shortly after Sunset Heights and several other surrounding neighborhoods were annexed by Houston in 1927.

In 1939, Charles "Chaz" Halbert set out to recreate the Sunset Heights Civic Club, which he did.  The club purchased a house on E 24th and SHCC members began petitioning the city of Houston to purchase land for a neighborhood park that, in 1945, was realized as Halbert Park.  The club went through another period of dormancy in the late 1960s, after which in 1984 was resurrected once again.  

These days, the club's efforts have been focused on Halbert Park.  Way back in 2007, the SHCC adopted Halbert Park via the City of Houston's Adopt-a-Park program.  In 2009, the club was awarded a $3,000 Neighborhood Matching Grant which was used to resurface the tennis court and revitalize other elements of the park in 2010. In that same year, SHCC and the East Sunset Heights Association assisted the Houston Heights Association in the creation of the Northern Heights constable program.

The Future

The Sunset Heights neighborhood has multiple organizations that represents its residents.  In addition to support from the SHCC and ESHA organizations which have collaborated on things like Yard of the Month, National Night Out, and the Centennial Celebration, the Houston Heights Association and Greater Super Neighborhood Organizations also help to improve the neighborhood. These organizations will continue to work together to improve Sunset Heights in the years to come.  You are invited to be a part.