Thursday, January 26, 2017

Foley's First Color: 1967 & a Plea

This probably ranks as my favorite find of the 2017 trip. On a single page, in an obscure little high gloss trade publication, buried among many others, was not only the first clear full-color photo of my Shoe Ship, but three other full color photos of Foley's Almeda including the exterior at night. 

The Wohl Shoe Company out of St. Louis, MO published its 1967 Spectator Easter edition with a two page spread, one text, the other the photographs near the back, specifically focusing on, of course, the only months-old Foley's shoe departments and their shiny new store.

At the top of the photograph spread, the stand alone, pre-mall Foley's building, crisp and clear with the lighting shining under the awnings at night. 

There was the grand chandelier in the middle of the women's departments amid the louvered shutters and gas-looking lamps

The 1967 "French" women's shoe styles 

And, the pièce de résistance, the Children's Shoe Department

I have people regularly ask me how I keep finding these photographs of a lifetime ago, particularly when, only a few years back, the idea that I would ever find a single good photograph of my long remembered Shoe Ship seemed a silly little fantasy, a bit like hunting unicorns.

The answer probably comes down to a whole lot of stubbornness, a surprising amount of patience (for me), and a little bit of luck. 

It also helps that my M.A. degree is in History and English, so I'm predisposed to love meticulous research and reading as well as long hours in the library among the wealth of knowledge, excited to uncover hidden treasures if only I dig long enough. 

But the truth is, I despair a bit when I implore readers of the blog and members of the Facebook pages, again and again, to help me preserve this little corner of our earlier lives, and get nowhere. 

I know there are so many longtime South Belt residents still living in the same homes in which they raised their children, and sometimes grandchildren, who have dusty photographs and deteriorating scrapbooks piled in closets, or attics, or trunks, just waiting to be discovered and preserved. But, unlike public and university libraries, I can't just go poking around in them. 

I have to beg for their younger relatives to perhaps take a look when they're visiting, to ask about old photographs or home movies, to be willing to unearth these treasures and bring them into the light of day.

I have the ability to scan and color correct and clean up the photographs myself. I would happily do this for pictures the include the area, and return the originals as well as the cleaned up digital files, free of charge. 

We have the amazing TAMI, Texas Archive of the Moving Image, who gladly digitizes almost every moving film format you could find, does so for free provided they are shot by a Texan and/or of Texas related places and people and you are willing to let them file a copy in their online library. (You get your original formats back along with a digital copy of everything.) 

Guess who that qualifies?!  All of the South Belt!

Like that crazy initial dream of seeing, once again, the Shoe Ship of my childhood, which turned into this even crazier project known as the South Belt Houston Digital Archive, I imagine someday being able to rally the troops still near the area, enticing those who have moved away to contribute remotely, and creating a grand assembly of memories for the purpose of preserving the history of our tiny little corner of the universe. 

Why go to all this trouble? 

For one, it's not trouble to me. It's exciting every time I think about how much I've been able to accomplish, largely on my own, and with the support of the blog's little community to acquire holdings that require us to pay. 

And, equally important, I know what it feels like to see something you'd long forgotten: that rush of memories that takes you back immediately to days gone by, and makes you glad to be alive. I've seen it happen time and again to others when I share my findings with them. It's both profoundly personal and fosters a precious sense of community, of memory, of history, and of humanity, among us all. 

How can I make this happen? Only with your help and input. This dream is just in the planning stages, but I would like to make 2017 the year we finally get an action plan in place to preserve our community's history, from its first days on the outskirts of Houston, in the middle of rice paddies and cow pastures, to the long-awaited, almost mythically conjured completion of the South Belt's namesake, now called Sam Houston Tollway/Beltway 8.

Could we actually make a community-wide weekend drive where people came with their stacks albums and boxes of photos, and shared them for preservation? I can't do it alone. But I'm willing to do whatever I can. If you have ideas, or if you would be interested in sharing your photographs or home movies, please feel free to email me at or to call the South Belt Ellington Leader. Together, we could make this a reality.

“Everybody is a story. When I was a child, people sat around kitchen tables and told their stories. We don't do that so much anymore. Sitting around the table telling stories is not just a way of passing time. It is the way the wisdom gets passed along. The stuff that helps us to live a life worth remembering.” ~Rachel Naomi Remen  

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