Elaine O’Connor moved into her Norhill home in 2017 and is now the president of the neighborhood association at an auspicious time.
Depending on how you date it, Norhill is either at or close to its 100th anniversary. According to the association website, the name Norhill comes from the geographical location of the neighborhood as “north” and “higher in elevation” than the Houston Business District of the 1920s after World War I.
For the centenary, O’Connor said that one of the goals is to improve the neighborhood for members and residents through a beautification program. As part of this effort, a program to install historic blue tiles is being piloted. It is spearheaded by the Mike Clennan, the association’s community projects director.
“He has put so much energy into it,” O’Connor said.
As Marks Hinton noted in his book, “Historic Houston Streets: The Stories Behind the Names,” there are still streets that have their names and block numbers in blue tile on the curbs at the end of each block.
Hinton said the city used this form of identification from the 1920s to the early 1950s because “it was cheap, attractive, durable and easy to read.” But because drivers in faster-moving automobiles needed something more visible, street poles on signs became the norm.
In 2015, The Leader profiled Joey Sanchez, who had started The Blue Tile Project to catalogue the tiles for the city and rejuvenate interest in them. Two years later Eric Maier, who was interested in learning how to install the tiles, connected with Sanchez.
By happenstance, Sanchez was able to find a manufacturer and supplied tiles to Maier to come up with a process for installation. It has been a good collaboration as Maier estimates he’s done 350 blue tile projects in Houston and another 40 in Dallas.
Clennan said Maier put in six new tiles around the neighborhood last weekend to give a glimpse of what the refurbished tiles would do to refresh area streets. One example of the original tiles can be found at the intersection of 14th Street and Norhill Boulevard.
“They are practically gone,” Clennan said.
If the board approves further expenditures, another 38 tiles will be installed along the neighborhood’s 44 blocks.
Other beautification efforts include cleaning and painting the concrete post markers in the neighborhood and planting more trees through the association’s partnership with Trees of Houston.
At some point, there will be a party for residents to mark both the centenary and the beautiful streets.
“Because of the age of a lot of residents, we want to be sure it is safe (to have),” O’Connor said.