Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Houston Area Yearbook Series, an introduction and index

1959 Bellaire

The Index:

Collections by years:

As posts go up, links above with become active for easier access than searching the blog at large.

The Process: 

After my trip to Austin and purchase of the Bailey photographs, the six week wait for their delivery was filled with a new project.

Originally, I'd envisioned just culling through the South Belt area high school yearbooks a bit more thoroughly to find old ads with photographs of stores and restaurants. It was so much fun though, and so surprising how many lovely photographs were hidden away, that I got a bit more ambitious. I branched out to reviewing Houston yearbooks, then adjoining counties' yearbooks. 

Then I started to survey the best way to organize and curate things. I couldn't decide whether to group them just by their years, as the little time capsules of the Houston area that they were, or group them by subjects that kept popping up. In the end, my intention is to do a bit of both. 

My first hurdle was identifying which schools and which years were available. It doesn't appear that there is a list online of Houston and surrounding area high schools organized by the year of their openings. That became goal number one. 

I'm sure I've missed some, but here is a chronological list of high schools that had yearbooks available to view through that I incorporated in my search:

Opened Prior to 1900 (8)
  1. Incarnate Word 1873 
  2. Sam Houston High School 1878
  3. Galveston Ball 1884 
  4. Booker T. Washington 1893 
  5. Alvin 1894 
  6. LaMarque 1895 
  7. Angleton 1897
  8. Katy 1898
Post 1900 (10)
  1. St. Thomas 1900
  2. Texas City 1905 
  3. Kincaid 1906 
  4. St. Agnes 1906 
  5. Tomball 1908
  6. Sweeny 1911 
  7. La Porte 1915
  8. Anahuac 1917 
Post 1920 (9)
  1. Pasadena 1924
  2. Yates 1926 
  3. Milby 1926 
  4. Davis 1926
  5. Reagan 1926
  6. San Jacinto 1926 - 1970
  7. Wheatley 1927 
  8. Baytown Lee 1928 
  9. Galena Park 1928
Post 1930 (8)
  1. Deer Park 1931
  2. Aldine 1932
  3. Stephen F Austin High School 1936
  4. Lamar 1936 
  5. Channelview 1937
  6. Pearland 1937
  7. Conroe 1937   
  8. Klein 1938
Post 1940 (5)
  1. Spring Branch 1940
  2. Cy Fair 1941
  3. St. Thomas Episcopal 1945 
  4. Needville 1948
  5. Lamar Rosenberg 1949
Post 1950 (15)
  1. Brazosport 1951
  2. Cleveland 1952
  3. Liberty 1952
  4. Smiley 1953
  5. C.E. King 1954
  6. Bellaire 1955
  7. Mt Carmel 1956
  8. Jones 1956 
  9. St Pius 1956
  10. Clear Creek 1957
  11. South Houston 1957 
  12. Worthing 1958
  13. Waltrip 1959
  14. Dulles 1959 
  15. Friendswood 1959
Post 1960 (15)
  1. Duchesne 1960
  2. Strake Jesuit 1960
  3. Furr 1961 
  4. Memorial Spring Branch  1962 
  5. North Shore 1962 
  6. Rayburn 1964 
  7. Spring Woods 1964 
  8. Madison 1965 
  9. Sterling 1965 
  10. Humble 1965 
  11. MacArthur (Aldine) 1965 
  12. Baytown Sterling 1966 
  13. Dobie 1968 
  14. Sharpstown 1968 
  15. Spring 1969 
I stopped the search for high schools built after 1970, just because 70 schools seemed like more than enough, and a nice round number. Of course, the beginning of a school, particularly the oldest, didn't mean yearbooks were available until sometimes decades later. Some schools had dozens of years available. Others, only a couple. I did not keep a count of the number of books reviewed, but it was likely nearing 700.  I would typically review all books through the mid-70s before moving on. At some point, I'll return and begin the rest of the 70s and 80s.

A few thoughts that occurred during the six weeks of yearbook scrolling . . .

Bless you, yearbook editors, who, rather dully, smashed all the individual photos onto pages without breaking them up with snapshots. It made for quick skipping! Same for the sports sections. Because the focus of the sports sections was on team photos and action shots, I scrolled very quickly through some 40 pages at a shot in every book to keep moving. 

The high schools that were in operation during WWII often ceased yearbook production due to short supplies going to the war effort. However, a few did continue and were available. Of course, the 1942 editions would have already been up and running by the time the U.S. declared war on Dec. 8, 1941. The most rare of all is that first full school year at war, 1943.

The oldest books contained giant sections of text to fill their slim volumes, pages and pages of "humor", class wills, class prophesies, with the few photos of static, clumpy, and grainy group shots, so those were pretty quick work. The advertising sections of the oldest books were largely business card/text squares.  Usually the hidden gems were in the "snapshots" section, where editors had gathered submitted photos and grouped them by the dozens, all on top of one another, on a single page. Sometimes the most delightful finds are these "throwaway" filler shots, without captions in tiny collages that require close attention, like little glittering gems among the mountains of faces. I lay little claim to finding even half of them. But those I have unearthed seem special. They are moments in time that can transport the viewer, for just a second, to a different place and space, one we used to know, if only vaguely, as our past.

That said, these are screenshots of compressed scans, and often of things as enlarged as possible only measuring an inch or two. Sorry for the quality, but it's what I've got to work with. On that note, a reminder that often times, splash pages that contained interesting photographs would be printed across the dreaded fold of the book binding. Quite a few aerials and skylines seem to get sucked into the black hole of the fold and warp the center. If a photograph looks "off" that's often the culprit.

By the time we get into the 1950s, the rise of consumer culture and catering to youngsters is in full swing. The influence of radio and then television is inescapable. 

The Beauty sections of the 1950s are fascinating, although I only grabbed a few of the big Hollywood names who chose that year's Most Beautiful Girls. Often times, the Favorites section yielded some wonderful background shots of Houston buildings and attractions.

Of course, most of the time, students are on campus and in their classrooms. [Of the some 1400 photographs gleaned from this project, a million more were skipped.] But sometimes, students ventured outward and the photographer was canny enough to capture just a bit of background that would jump out as part of the history of Houston in bigger ways than the people in the foreground. Sometimes, it's just a really cool staircase or fountain. Other times, it's the street for a parade, the skyline of a burgeoning city, or an aerial that is now a time capsule of the constant progress, and with that, the constant destruction of the "old" that now exists only in photographs like these.

These mini-time-capsules also include fashions, hairstyles, cars, and interior decorating. They remind us how fleeting all the "rules" really are. And, conversely, they focus us on the core of things that never change: our humanity, the desire to be recognized and remembered, the fleetingness of youth and innocence.

This is when the yearbooks really shine as tiny time capsules, with kids posing around jukeboxes, with bottles of Coca Cola, on statues and playground equipment. Things begin to turn a bit darker by the assassination of President Kennedy, which is almost always given space in the 1964 books. After that, election year bumper stickers and posters of candidates begin appearing with increasing frequency, as the up and coming electorate starts to engage in politics. Vietnam, however, is non-existent, except in the vague captions of a world in turmoil. 

By the late 60s, yearbook editors all over Houston were choosing between space and exploration themes, or something more groovy, like building their yearbooks around astrological signs or music lyrics.

After thousands of black and white pages, as the later 60s books began including a page here or there in blazing technicolor, it would become almost blinding. I included some just for their spectacular color and backgrounds to capture the period.

Finally, a quick word about the Almeda Mall (and its twin, Northwest Mall) center court, which seemed to offer a boon to yearbook photographers in the 1969 and later books. Since the South Belt area was anchored by Almeda, I would always delight to find these photographs in books from high schools all around Houston.  The domed skylight created fantastic natural light from above and its sunken feature meant the subject could be shot from a flattering angle above. The width of the fountain bricks meant you could stagger groups with some interest around a centerpiece and the planters and benches surrounding. And that water fountain, topped by our glorious pineapple, just prophesied the coming 70s grooviness. 

And lastly, if you are a member of and have access to see who has visited your profile, if you went to high school in Houston any time in the 20th century, you may see my name. The site is a boon for yearbooks, but it has the nasty habit of leaving "visits" on profiles that I'm simply scrolling across as I page down. Sorry about the stalker-fingerprints this project may have caused. 

Please enjoy, comment, and provide any additional insight on locations and history of things that spark your memories in the photographs as they are added. And, as always, thanks for your interest and support!

All the best,


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