Capturing Diversity in Houston’s Northside

By Marie Theresa Hernández

Mural inspired by Texas legislator Senfronia Thompson demanding justice for all. Photo by Nicholas Vega.

University of Houston Anthropology and World Cultures photography students enrolled in the Visual Stories class experienced the world of the historic Near Northside as they walked about the neighborhoods during the spring of 2023.  

Impressed by the multi-layered history of the city, they looked for the firsts in the neighborhood. Although we could not see it, the old Houston City Cemetery established in 1840 still exists underground. All sorts of people were buried there, from the wealthy to the enslaved. In an odd moment in Houston history, the first Jefferson Davis Hospital (now the Elder Street Artist Lofts) was built above ground over the graves in 1924. In 1968, the city constructed a Houston Fire Department facility over some remaining graves.  

Back stairs to nurses’ home for the Southern Pacific Hospital, built in 1911. Photo by Madison Cook.

In exploring the area, we also found the Southern Pacific Hospital (still housing the Thomas Clinic in spring 2023) built in 1911 and surrounded by bungalows constructed between the two world wars. Owners have remodeled many of the houses, making the neighborhood look like an artist colony. Very few appear today as they might have in 1940. Nearby stand the ultra-modern townhouses with slanted roofs painted in bright colors or stark white or black. 

After World War II, Latino families began to move to Near Northside, looking for affordable housing. Many young people living there attended college at the University of Houston-Downtown. In 1978, a tragic event occurred, precipitated by the murder of Army veteran, José Campos Torres at the hands of Houston police officers. Light sentences handed down to the participating officers provoked a large riot in and around the neighborhood’s Moody Park, leaving hundreds injured.  

In time, some Latino families moved away. Those remaining in their original cottages often have wrought iron fences with lots of roses and a dog. The area is now priced out of reach for many people except high-income families. Those who can hold on to their homes will pass on a generous inheritance to their descendants. 

What remains behind is a hodgepodge of architecture, telling us the story of those who stayed and those who came to the neighborhood later. The new houses show lots of imagination, they line the streets, looking almost like dreams. 

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Virgin of Guadalupe at Hollywood Cemetery. Photo by Chloe Levy.
Statues standing guard against nearby gentrification. Photo by Imicca Franco.
Blue Horse from Luis Jimenez’s Vaquero statue, Moody Park. Photo by Nicholas Vega.

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