Houston’s East End: Past in the Present

By Marie-Theresa Hernández 

The plane, with the name “Tommy Joe” painted on its nose, is in the front yard of a private home on Navigation Boulevard. I wish Tommy Joe was still around to tell us stories about the plane in action. Photo by Golnar Makvandi.

In spring 2021, in the middle of the COVID pandemic, students enrolled in the University of Houston World Culture and Literature photography class planned to document Houston’s East End. Every time they ventured out, taking photographs through open car windows, they found something fascinating and have shared those here.  

As one example, architecture student, Golnar Makvandi encountered a Vietnam-era Cessna O-2 airplane, called Oscar Deuce, sitting in the front yard of a home on the northwest side of East End. It could be said the Oscar Deuce represents American capitalism in how it profited from its machines of death. Hundreds of Latinx young men from East End knew about Oscar Deuce because they served in Vietnam during the sixties and seventies when many lost their lives in the fighting. 

The Karankawa tribe settled the East End area long before Stephen F. Austin brought his colonists. Many of the events surrounding Texas Independence occurred in Harrisburg, and Houston was founded on Buffalo Bayou, which travels through East End. The bayou began being dredged in the late 1870s, forming the Houston Ship Channel, which opened to deep-water vessels in 1914. A hallmark of East End, Houston now has one of the nation’s busiest ports. But the wealth traveling through the port is strikingly different from the poverty that is often seen in the neighborhood, though things are changing. A new, wealthier population is arriving, remodeling the old houses and building multi-story townhouses. At the moment they live side by side in stark contrast. Even so, long-term residents are concerned things will change too much.

The words, “Dream Big,” take me back to the main reason families migrated to the United States: for job opportunities and the American Dream. This wish is shared by many East End families and the pushing force to give their children a better life. Photo by Aileen Mendoza. 
Ever since I was a child, I have always been very intrigued by this sign. Anytime we would drive past it on our way through downtown I always made sure I got a chance to see it. I was fortunate to get a good angle on it from the ground and the weather was quite nice that day. I felt like I captured the sign in a way that was true to how I remembered it as a child. Photo by Dylan Leffert. 

Below are some of the photos that were not included in the article due to space constraints:

These two faces occupy the same pole, yet they are not the same. One is full of hope and innocence, while the other is vandalized and obstructed. Although we East End residents all belong to the same community, our experiences and challenges impact how we perceive life. We either see the beauty or the challenges. The same idea applies to the skateboard park where a community of young children come together giving life to this place. Photo by Aileen Mendoza.
Coming out of 76th Street heading onto Harrisburg Boulevard, I kept thinking about the perspective some outsiders have of the East End, that it probably has a lot of crime. When I saw the sign with the black cat, I chuckled to myself because it says in Spanish, “We Do Not Want Crime in Our Neighborhood.” Ironically, the sign has some graffiti tags on it, but it represents a community coming together against outsiders wanting to harm the environment.  Photo by Tiana Orellana.
This photo was taken at the Harrisburg Art Museum. It features many different artists that collaborated to create an amazing product. There are also beer cans and energy cans hanging from the ceiling of the piece. I particularly like how the artists have used every bit of wall for their design. Photo by Elizabeth Newman.

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Read about Houston’s East End neighborhood with this article about Ripley House from Houston History Magazine!
Watch ABC 13’s short video on the evolution of the East End neighborhood

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