A Historic Schoolhouse Needs a New Home
Commuters whizzing by on North Shepherd hardly pay a glance to the foliage covered red house near West 15th Street. They are more interested in getting in and out of Heights Veterinary Clinic next door. After all, it’s been there forever, nothing to see here. Bypasses by the naked eye at 40 miles per hour, however, is a forgotten piece of Houston’s history.
When you look close, the flagpole out front reveals that this was once the Lowell Street School, a traditional little red schoolhouse that has waited at this spot to be the classroom of Houston’s famous and not so famous since about 1918. When this was built, the Heights was just annexed by Houston, World War 1 was winding down, and North Shepherd was a country road named Lowell Street. The city limits would not catch up to this address for another 20 years.
To even know about this place is due to Kenneth Williams, the Veterinarian at the clinic next door. He has owned the clinic since 1975, and knew only that the property next door was some house that was used for campaign rallies, and was the home of the Rosebud Garden Club since the mid 1960’s. It wasn’t until a customer came in and told him about this that Williams had the revelation. Upon hearing the history of the little building, Williams started a personal investigation, which yielded few results.
According to city records, Magnolia Loan and Building Company deeded the land over to trustees of the Heights Annex Addition, an expansion of the Heights west of Shepherd, to pave the way for a school. Williams holds a black and white photo showing the entire class of 1921 at the front door. “Look here to the left,” he says. “That’s oil well firefighter Red Adair at six years old.” Adair was portrayed by John Wayne in the 1968 movie, “Hellfighters.”
While it remains unclear how the building was used in recent decades, and when the garden club took over, Williams says the garden club handed him the keys one day and abandoned the building in 1989, leaving a squalor in their wake. In the years since, Williams has taken it upon himself to spend thousands fixing up the windows, repairing the foundation and roof of the schoolhouse, and paid delinquent taxes on it to become the official owner of the land where a piece of Texas history sits.
Today, Williams has different plans for the lot under the schoolhouse, maybe for expansion of the vet clinic. To that end, the schoolhouse will need a foster home where it can be restored and used as perhaps a Scout meeting hall or a community center for a neighborhood. That is proving not so easy to do. Willams is willing to donate the building to someone who can move it, but after contacting the Heights association, the Heritage Society at sam Houston Park, the Galveston Historical Society, Avenue CDC and others, he still has no takers. “I really want to avoid demolition of this treasure,” he says. “I’ve seen too many great places here torn down in my lifetime, and I don’t want this to be the next one.”
Williams showed us around one morning to his time machine, this schoolhouse on Shepherd Drive. Layers of paint on the front doors complement ornate, but rusty doorknobs, long since out of use. We went back to a simpler time standing there, without cars, or televisions, or moon landings. What did kids see out these windows 100 years ago, instead of used car lots? “Kids learned here a hundred years ago, and kids can still learn from this place today, if we can save it.”
For further information on the preservation effort, contact Kenneth Williams at email@example.com.