Saturday, April 25, 2020

First Video Find: Foley's at (not yet built) Almeda Mall 1966

At some point since I last searched, the Texas Archive has placed online the first video I've located of the grand opening festivities of Foley's in October 1966.

I've found written documentation that video was taken at both the groundbreaking in 1965 as well as KHOU, KPRC, and Bob Bailey Studios on hand for the 1966 opening. 

It's a start!

Sunday, March 1, 2020

The Almeda Mall Arboretum: a History

Almeda Mall's central court arboretum and skylight, in the very center of the mall, between the mall entrance to Palais Royale (now gone) and the food court hall is long gone now. 

Only the skylight remains, its light designed to nourish a now extinct miniature exotic jungle, shines onto blank open space below.

But the sunken brick area with the large pineapple fountain and lush tropical plants in the middle of the mall is a fond memory for those of us living in the South Belt from its unveiling in 1968 until the start of the 1990s.

These are the photos I've collected of that space in the course of this blog.

An early mock-up of the area in promotional brochures prior to construction had it glassed in, which did not occur.

The arches reached up 40 feet to the domed skylight above and referred to the center space as the arboretum. 

This was in keeping with the exotic garden feel of trees and tropical plants, although I am unclear on where the exotic birds in cages would have been kept other than at the pet store. I've not uncovered any photos of caged birds in the mall. 

In early October, shortly before the grand opening at the end of the month, the Houston Post had come over to take pictures of the installation of one of the 3500 pound ficus trees inside the arboretum. 


Houston Post 1969

The very first Dobie yearbook, 1968-1969 coincided with the opening of Almeda Mall, and this center court area was very popular with the yearbook photographers for arranging group photos, thanks to both the backdrop and the natural light.

These are the Homecoming Queen nominees that first year the school was open:

from the 1970-1971 book


Dobie was closest but I've come across many high schools who used the Almeda arboretum for their yearbook, not just Pasadena, Rayburn, and South Houston, in the PISD district, but from miles around. The Texas City book in 1970 used the arboretum photos of different sets to be the chapter divisions between all of the sections. 

I also tripped over one of the few color photographs from Houston area yearbooks in 1968-1969 from Milby High School, of the arboretum and its Television Cuties (including Mod Squad, Flying Nun, Hawaii 5-0, That Girl, Flintstones, Batgirl, Bewitched, Mission Impossible, Lost in Space, Gunsmoke, and Big Valley)

Pasadena Yearbook 1969-1970 had another color photo, and even more unusually, featured a night shot, so that you can see the lights from under the water. 

Another photo from a brochure I procured on eBay had a nice shot with both daylight and the fountain lights on

this was taken in December, as you can see the Poinsettia tree bottom right, 1973. 

1973 is also the first year of photographs unearthed from Almeda Mall management this past summer and gifted to me for the blog. 

The poinsettias were built around the fountain, so the pineapple disappears.

In full color glory from that set:

and at night:

1974 Houston Post photo

Other arboretum photos from the era through all seasons and celebrations:


they filled in the area with sand one year and had a treasure hunt!

(one of the earlier finds among the 1976 microfiche highlight why the gift of the old digitized color slides are such a treasure. Newspapers preserved on old technologies are virtually useless for finding clear photographs)

Christmas 1976 Houston Post photo

Christmas 1983, South Belt Leader

1986-87 Dobie Yearbook photo: the fashions change, the pineapple stays the same. 

1989 KQQK at Center Court

the above photo is the last showing the sunken area and fountain. 

The floor will be raised and the fountain removed some time during the year. 

When the Christmas decorations are installed, the floor is now level with the rest of the mall. 

Christmas 1990, the last year of the original ficus trees

November 1991 Ficus Removal ahead of Christmas decor installation

1991 Christmas Train and decor, which now stretches into each corner of the arbor-less-etum

1992 Easter Train

1992 Christmas, the year before the Carousel arrives


 Easter 1998

New trees were installed, I assumed whichever year the carousel was dismantled?

A decade later, in 2009, I found myself back in the area after a long absence, on the way to Clear Lake for a friend's wedding and stopped in to have a look around. I took these two photos of the center area then

It was actually this visit that made me create the Almeda Mall '68-'88 page on Facebook in 2009, seeking photos of the mall back in its heyday. Four years later and back again for a high school reunion, and I would stumble into my partnership with Marie Flickinger and all of the old South Belt Leader photographs, when I inquired if they had any old mall photos.

This blog was born out of that friendship in 2014 and I made regular sojourns back to Houston to scan and preserve as much as I could. 

On one of these trips in April 2015, I was alerted by a post on the Facebook group from Major Henderson, who still walked the mall regularly, that walls had been erected around the arboretum and skylight area. 

Checking in with mall management that same day, I learned that all of the original structure enclosing the center as well as the benches, trees ,and corner planters were to be dismantled and removed overnight. I rushed over, Marie's camera in hand, with their permission to get inside the walls and shoot what would be the last time these awnings would be seen, having stood since 1968 as the centerpiece of the mall. 

By that time, the trees installed in the late nineties were climbing to the top of the 40 foot span and were pushing up against the skylight.



And with that, what was described in 1968 as "the single most striking architectural highlight inside the mall," the 40 foot arched arboretum was gone.