HISTORY OF ESHA
By: John Ridgway and Dorothy Hester
The Start of the Club
As an unincorporated area, the Sunset Heights Civic Club was the primary form of government. It was formed at the same time as the neighborhood in 1910. The Civic Club worked with the electric companies to get the street car lines extended into the neighborhood in 1914. It worked with the county to make sure roads were graveled and that there was good drainage. It worked toward getting the fire hydrant system implemented which lead to setting up the Sunset Heights Volunteer Fire department in 1914, a volunteer group of eight men who used a hose wagon to fight fires.
The area wanted to incorporate itself to become a city, and attempted this several times. The biggest attempt was in 1916, but it was stopped by residents in Studes Woods. Studes Woods was a neighborhood created out of Henry Studes Woods. On a side note, that is where the name Studewood came from for the street. These homeowners feared that their area would be included in the city. Even though no evidence can be found that Sunset Heights ever officially became a city, it was listed in the Houston city directories as a town. The Sunset Heights Civic Club ceased operations shortly after Sunset Heights and several other surrounding neighborhoods were annexed by the City of Houston in 1927.
The Second and Third Coming of the Civic Club
In 1939, Charles “Chaz” Halbert decided that the area needed a civic club so he set out to recreate the Sunset Heights Civic Club. He got residents from Milroy Place, the area between E 23rd and E 25th, Gostic, the area east of Oxford and south of E 23rd, and residents of Stude, the area east of Main below E 23rd. He reached out as far west as Nicholson St. He donated a lot located on the 700 block of E 24th where a club house was built. Sadly, Mr. Halbert died in 1941 after successfully reviving the civic club. As a memorial, the club members had a plaque created and placed on the club house. His motto on the plaque reads “To make Sunset Heights a better place in which to live.”
SHCC members had been petitioning the city to purchase land for a neighborhood park and so in 1945 the city purchased the land for Halbert Park from a couple of home owners and the DePelchin’s Children’s center. In 1951 the city made some improvements to Halbert Park like the addition of a flag pole and new playground equipment including a merry go round.
By the late 1960’s the SHCC had once again disappeared, but in 1984, residents once again resurrected the civic club. There were numerous abandoned properties in the neighborhood and people wanted a civic club to address these issues. Back in action, SHCC members were researching the ownership of one of the properties when they discovered the lot where the civic club house used to stand. Although the club house had been demolished the memorial plaque for Mr. Halbert had survived. Once the civic club found out that years of taxes and fines had not been paid for the property they were forced to sell the land. The civic club salvaged
the plaque and had it installed in Halbert Park in 1985 as part of a park rehabilitation project. Olive DeMar, the daughter of Charles Halbert was able to attend the ceremony. She was the treasurer of the Sunset Heights Civic Club for many years in the 1940’s and 1950’s.
The East Sunset Heights Association Forms
The unofficial beginning of the East Sunset Heights Association took place in May, 2002 when several neighbors who lived on the east side of North Main concentrated their efforts to improve the area between Airline and North Main which had been deteriorating for years. The official boundaries are E 23rd, Airline, 610 North Loop and North Main. Buster & Sharon Pendley, Holly Hughes, Chuck Shoults, Juan Arroyo, and Gary & Dorothy Hester called neighbors and knocked on doors to invite residents to the first meeting; it was a huge success, and the association was officially formed in October, 2002. The purpose of the organization is to encourage and promote the enhancement of the East Sunset Heights community.
In the early years of the association, speakers from the various departments of the City of Houston attended the ESHA meetings educating members about what could be done to improve the neighborhood through the existing City Ordinances and the Police Department. In October, 2004 the East Sunset Heights Association was recognized with five other Houston civic associations as Community Stars of Houston. The mayor held a banquet, presented ESHA with an award, and the city placed a billboard displaying the association’s name on Yale Street to recognize ESHA’s effort to change the neighborhood.
ESHA continues to improve the neighborhood today, welcoming and encouraging neighbors to attend the meetings, organizing neighborhood events, and most importantly bringing neighbors together to build a stronger community. ESHA’s motto, displayed in its newsletters, has always been “It’s All About The Neighborhood”.
Sunset Heights Civic Club Today
The club’s recent efforts have been focused on Halbert Park. In 2007 the SHCC adopted Halbert Park via the City of Houston Adopt A Park program. Since then, the civic club has worked with the city’s Parks Department to install and maintain a doggie waste bag dispenser, an information shelter, and a butterfly garden. The SHCC was awarded a $3000 2009 Neighborhood Matching Grant which was used to resurface the tennis court and install a new bench during the summer of 2010. Halbert Park continues to be a focal point for the neighborhood and is the location of the centennial celebration on September 25th, 2010. SHCC joined forces with ESHA to assist the Houston Heights Association in the creation of the Northern Heights constable program which started this past July.
The Sunset Heights Civic Club has been around since the beginning of the neighborhood, and while activities have sometimes slowed, it has always rebounded. The original charter, by Charles Halbert, was simple:“To make Sunset Heights a better place in which to live”. He did not limit the organization to the strict boundaries of the neighborhood when recruiting volunteers. Rather, people living in close proximity to each other all had a vested interest in the area and the organization welcomed them all.
The Sunset Heights neighborhood has multiple organizations that represents its residents. In addition to support from the SHCC and ESHA organizations which have collaborated on things like Yard of the Month, National Night Out, and the Centennial Celebration, the Houston Heights Association and Greater Super Neighborhood organizations also help to improve the neighborhood. These organizations will continue to work together to improve Sunset Heights in the years to come. You are invited to be a part.