August 05, 2005
I-45 testimonials: Michael Catrett

I've been asked by the I-45 Coalition to do a few profiles on residents of the area that are likely to be directly affected by the proposed widening of this freeway. All of the neighborhoods that I-45 runs through are among the older ones in Houston, and they were all deeply affected by the original construction. The purpose of this is to give some personal perspectives to the process of freeway construction.

First up is Michael Catrett, who lives in a restored old house in Lindale Park. He sent me the following history of his home:

I first moved to Lindale Park about 10 years ago, after having a couple of houses in the Heights area. I had redone those old houses plus another in Galveston and wasn't really looking to do another just yet when the house at 417 Woodard caught my eye. It had a serenity about it that really struck me. It sat comfortably on its large lot, with oak trees wrapping their limbs around the upper stories. The crisp clean lines looked much like a prim old maid who had withstood time and changes.

When I bought the house, I knew nothing about its history. However, neighborhood lore plus a little research turned up that it was built by the developer of the neighborhood, W.R. Reid, and his family resided in it during its early years, beginning in the mid-1930's. In the attic was an original abstract tracing the land back to the transfer from Mexico, along with extra rolls of wallpaper that must have originally been in the livingroom. An upright piano is in on the third floor with no idea how it could have ever been put there, given the treacherous steps to the upper story. An elderly resident recalled how when she was barely a teenager, she went to a Christmas party in the house and was quickly hustled to the third floor where the owner's son played the piano, and everyone danced the holiday evening away. Another elderly resident turned up an original sales brochure for the neighborhood which feature this house on the cover, in its original location.

I say original location because my house was moved in the late 1940's. It originally sat at the corner of Linder Avenue and Irvington. It would be hard today to find Linder Avenue because it now lies underneath 610. When they began right of way clearance for 610, a contractor bought the brick, three story house, and moved it to its current location, which had been a nine hole golf course. Yes, Lindale Park was a "planned" development, complete with its own golf course, swimming pool and clubouse. Now only the clubhouse remains. The golf course was subdivided to make room for veterans returning from the war. A series of owners resided in the house; a friend at the YMCA downtown remembers playing with his toy cars in the driveway when he was five years old; a late night knock at the back door revealed four sisters, now in their fifties, that had lived in the house and drove by when they had returned to Houston for a funeral. In the late 1970's, Larry Williams, active in the community, bought the house and brought it back from a sure death. I purchased it and again, breathed life into it with yet another restoration and renovation. The house continues sit comfortably with its large oaks, wrapping it for safety. It's a great house that has been saved once from the bulldozers of a freeway expansion.

About six years ago, the wheels of TxDOT again threatened the house. Although very quiet when they conducted their public meeting in our community, once they were at the meeting in north Houston, they rolled out their grand plan to "clear away all that mexican rental property" and build lanes of freeway that could stretch out blocks to the east. The service road would obliterate all the homes to the west of me, and bring the service road almost to the edge of my side yard. The prim maid of a house would be threatened again.

The neighborhoods, much as now, stepped forward to fight. Communities separated by the first construction of I45 joined arms against the TxDOT. Members both east and west of I45, north and south of 610 protested. METRO and city council joined in. An already existing transportation coalition, the North Corridor Coalition, headed by Jack Drake of Greenspoint Development, invited us to join them to develop transportation alternatives that addressed everyone's needs, not just the commuters or TxDOT. Plans were developed with community input and approved. TxDOT committed to remain within the existing right of way.

However now TxDOT seems to have been struck with bureaucratic amensia. They have forgotten their committment. They have forgotten the hours spent by community people to develop a consensus. They have forgotten their promise to remain within the right of way.

I wonder if my house is again at risk.

Thank you, Michael Catrett. Look for more of these stories in the coming weeks. If you live in the affected area and have something to say about it, please drop me a line.

As a reminder, the next town hall on the I-45 construction is Saturday, August 13 at 2 PM, Jefferson Davis High School, 1101 Quitman.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 05, 2005 to Elsewhere in Houston | TrackBack