What Houston looked like in the 1950s through these Fascinating Photos

The 1950s in Houston were a time of immense growth and change. The city was shedding its small-town feel and transforming into a modern metropolis, fueled by the booming energy industry and a spirit of innovation. From its evolving skyline to the bustling streets, Houston in the 50s was a vibrant place to live, work, and play.

Economy and Jobs: Oil and Beyond

Oil was king in 1950s Houston. The discovery of vast oil reserves in the Gulf of Mexico brought a wave of prosperity to the city. Refineries popped up along the Houston Ship Channel, and downtown office buildings filled with energy companies. This “black gold” rush created jobs and attracted skilled workers from all over the country.

But Houston’s economy wasn’t all about oil. The Port of Houston, already a major shipping hub, expanded rapidly, connecting the city to international trade routes. The Texas Medical Center, established in the 40s, continued to grow, becoming a renowned center for research and healthcare. This economic diversity laid the foundation for Houston’s future as a multi-faceted city.

Architecture: Modernity Takes Root

The 50s saw a shift in Houston’s architectural landscape. Sleek, modern buildings began to rise alongside older structures. The Shamrock Hilton Hotel, with its iconic Shamrock-shaped pool, was a prime example of this new style. Designed by architect Wyatt Hedrick, the hotel became a symbol of Houston’s modern ambitions.

Residential architecture also evolved. Ranch-style homes, with their open floor plans and large windows, became popular in new suburban neighborhoods like Sharpstown and Meyerland. These communities offered families spacious yards and a sense of community, reflecting the post-war suburban boom that swept the nation.

While some landmarks, like the Rice Hotel and City Hall, had graced Houston for decades, new ones emerged in the 50s. The Astrodome, nicknamed the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” opened its doors in 1965, becoming a revolutionary indoor stadium and a source of civic pride.

Other popular spots included the Sam Houston Coliseum and Music Hall, which hosted concerts, rodeos, and other events. The Shamrock Hotel, with its glamorous atmosphere, was a favorite among celebrities and socialites. These landmarks not only provided entertainment but also served as gathering places for Houstonians from all walks of life.

Dining Out: A Taste of Houston

Houston’s culinary scene in the 50s reflected its diverse population and evolving tastes. Classic diners like the Dot Coffee Shop and Avalon Drug Store served up comfort food favorites, while upscale restaurants like Maxim’s and the Petroleum Club offered fine dining experiences.

Barbecue joints like Goode Company and Otto’s were popular for their slow-cooked meats and laid-back atmosphere. Mexican restaurants, reflecting the city’s growing Hispanic community, served up delicious Tex-Mex cuisine. From casual to elegant, Houston’s restaurants catered to every palate.

Shopping: From Department Stores to Strip Centers

Downtown Houston remained the retail hub in the 50s, with department stores like Foley’s, Sakowitz, and Battlestein’s attracting shoppers with their wide selections of clothing, furniture, and household goods.

However, the rise of the automobile and the growth of suburbs led to the development of shopping centers outside the city center. Places like Gulfgate Shopping City and Sharpstown Center offered convenient one-stop shopping for suburban families. These strip malls featured a mix of national chains and local businesses, reflecting the changing retail landscape.

Entertainment: Fun for Everyone

Houstonians in the 50s enjoyed a variety of entertainment options. Drive-in movie theaters like the Shepherd Drive-In and the Airline Drive-In were popular for family outings. Live music could be found in clubs throughout the city, with blues and jazz being particularly popular genres.

Sporting events were also a major draw. The Houston Buffs, a minor league baseball team, drew enthusiastic crowds to Buffalo Stadium. The city also hosted professional wrestling matches and boxing bouts, providing thrilling spectacles for sports fans.

#3 Union meeting in Union Hall, Freeman and Hogan Streets, 1955.

#4 Fred Winchell Studio and Apartments construction, Houston, Texas, 1953.

#7 Technology Annex exterior view from a distance, 1950

#8 Ezekiel Cullen Building construction side view, 1950

#9 Exterior view of Ezekiel Cullen Building, Houston, 1950

#10 Original M.D. Anderson Library building construction, 1950

#11 Construction on University of Houston campus, 1950

#12 Ezekiel Cullen Building interior fire aftermath, Houston, 1959.

#13 Ezekiel Cullen Building exterior during fire, Houston, 1959.

#14 American flag at half-staff at Ezekiel Cullen Building, 1957

#15 Field House exterior, University of Houston, 1950

#16 Ezekiel Cullen Building wide exterior view, Houston, 1951

#17 Walter W. Kemmerer with group and concrete truck, Houston, 1950

#20 Lumber pile outside warehouse, Houston Ship Channel, 1951

#21 SS Gulf Banker at Long Reach Berth No. 5, Houston Ship Channel, 1958

#22 Jessie L. Lott and others outside building with pillars, 1950s

#23 The Lemond Sisters performing at May Day Fete, 1955.

#24 Wyatt Chapel Baptist Church congregation, Houston, 1956.

#25 East view of Franklin Avenue, Houston, circa August 1950.

#26 Front of Las Palmas Inn from street, Houston, circa August 1950.

#27 Front of Las Palmas Inn, Houston, circa August 1950.

#31 Houston Transit system buses at night, November 2, 1959.

#32 American Airlines inaugural flight ceremony, Houston, 1956.

#33 Downtown Houston skyline and nearby houses, 1950s

#34 Plaza Hotel, Houston, designed by Joseph Finger, 1950s

#35 Englewood Radar Yard opening, Houston, February 15, 1956.

#36 Lincoln Theater exterior, Houston, December 28, 1954.

#38 View of City Hall from Interstate 45, Houston, 1954.

#39 Texas Portland Cement Company office, Houston, 1950s

#42 Central freight lines at Long Reach Docks, Houston, 1950.

#44 Sears building on Main Street, Houston, December 1951.

#45 Fidelity Bank and Trust Co. building, Houston, April 1951.

#46 Master-Bilt Fixtures Co., Inc. building, Houston, April 1950.

#47 Farm & Home Saving & Loan Association buildings, Houston, February 1952.

#48 Jefferson Davis Hospital and nurse’s home under construction, 1950s

#49 People gathered for President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s visit in Houston, 1950s.

#50 Reamer’s Service with Conoco gas pumps, Bellaire, 1950s.

#51 Shopping center at Rice and Bellaire Boulevard, Bellaire, 1950s.

#54 Shopping center in Bellaire, Texas, with a record store, 1950s.

#56 Pump at train station with “The Super Chief California” train car, 1950s

#58 Building in Bellaire, Texas with external restrooms, 1950s.

#60 Heights Neighborhood Library, Houston, renovated in 1951.

#61 Couple behind bar at Pan America nightclub, 1950s.

#62 Mariachi Infantil de Monterrey performance, 1950s.

#63 South facade of Texas Instrument Co. in Houston, Texas, 1959

#64 Exterior of Texas Instrument Co. in Houston, Texas, 1959

#65 The new Houston International Airport, Houston, Texas, 1955.

#66 Downtown Houston’s growth along Texas Avenue with new constructions, reflecting the expansion of the Rocky Mountain Empire, 1951.

#67 An astronaut simulating a walk at Johnson Space Center, the control and training center for human spaceflight.

#68 A competitor holding his saddle at a youth rodeo in Houston, Texas, with other competitors and judges in the background, 1952.

#69 The coach of the ‘Trailblazer’ monorail service in Houston, featuring individual contoured plastic seats, circa 1956.

#70 Cameron Mitchell as lawyer Mark Costello in the unaired CBS television pilot “I Am a Lawyer,” filmed in Houston, 1958.

#71 The inaugural service of a new monorail in Houston, Texas, circa 1950.

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Written by Kevin Clark

Kevin Clark is a historian and writer who is passionate about sharing the stories and significance behind historical photos. He loves to explore hidden histories and cultural contexts behind the images, providing a unique insight into the past.

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