By Terry Burge
During my 43 years as publisher, I came to view The Leader coverage area as more resembling a small town than a big city suburb. Over in southwest Houston, where there was a preponderance of highly mobile apartment residents, life was relatively anonymous. But here in our little acre of the universe where families tended to know each other, the wise went elsewhere to do their sinning. It made for a comfortable environment to raise your children.
Other important factors contributed to our area’s good graces. I truly believe that much of the pride of community that has made The Leader area special was born in the civic identity of the Houston Heights, a municipality that preceded the unincorporated northwest subdivisions beyond it (and not coincidentally, was the birthplace of The Leader). The Heights truly had been a small town on the edge of a bigger city, with aldermen, a mayor, fire stations and a police force; its residents were justifiably proud of their attractive, solvent, working-class hometown.
Their sons and daughters carried that civic responsibility to the later nearby developments like Garden Oaks, Oak Forest, Timbergrove and Lazybrook. They saw what happened to the Heights in the absence of land-use controls, and vigorously defended the deed restrictions in their new neighborhoods. Our pages recorded the decidedly uphill, but mostly successful battles to prevent the incursions of used car lots, tire shops, hair salons, fortune tellers, and other commercial entities that would have destroyed their residential integrity.
“Neighborhoods are protected one lot at a time,” Bill Dalton, a dogged foot soldier for the Oak Forest Civic Club, told me five decades ago.
The result was a more stable area where multiple generations of families were confident in putting down roots. Even today it’s not uncommon to encounter residents whose relatives date back three or more generations here. This lent tremendous strength to local institutions like schools, churches, youth organizations, hospitals and businesses (including The Leader), weaving the fabric of a tight knit community that endured even when our area became less fashionable … and had a lot to with making it fashionable once again.
I’d like to think that over the last 65 years The Leader has played a significant, positive role in that culture. During my time at the helm that was certainly one of my goals, and it has been gratifying to see how wonderfully my successor, Jonathan McElvy, has built upon it. Under his guidance The Leader is better than ever.
Of course, the rapid regentrification of our area has brought dramatic change. Bungalows disappear overnight, whole streetscapes are rebuilt in months, and entirely new populations move in, all of which can be disturbing to existing residents. I frequently hear that our neighborhoods are losing their personality and character. That’s the trouble with the future, it’s just not what it used to be.
And yet when I see children playing baseball at the Oaks Dads’ Club, or frolicking on the wooden train in Donovan Park, I’m reminded that the more things change, the more they remain the same. And as I watch new, interesting businesses open like they haven’t in generations, I can’t help but smile for the future.
There is a rich history in the communities (there’s that word again) The Leader serves, and as long as the people here appreciate and nurture that, we’re likely to continue to be a great place to put down roots. I’m confident that The Leader will be a vital part of that promising tomorrow.