Houston, Texas


Houston Photo Gallery


Houston, city in southeastern Texas and the seat of Harris County. Located at the head of the Houston Ship Channel, which links the city to the Gulf of Mexico, Houston is an inland seaport and a major financial, distribution, and manufacturing center for the southern United States. It is the largest city in Texas and the fourth largest in the country, behind New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. The terrain is level and drains into a number of bayous and canals. The city has a humid coastal climate, with hot summers and very mild winters. Houston was named for Sam Houston, a distinguished military leader and hero of the Texas Revolution (1835-1836).

Houston and Its Metropolitan Area

The city of Houston covers a land area of 1397.6 sq km (539.6 sq mi). The Consolidated Metropolitan Statistical Area includes the counties of Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Liberty, Montgomery, and Waller. In addition to Houston, the area includes Pasadena, Texas City, Galveston, Brazoria, and many other cities and communities.

Houston has sprawled into nearby counties, growing primarily to the north and west. The city is the largest in the country without zoning laws, so businesses are allowed to operate within residential neighborhoods. Despite the lack of zoning laws, the industrial and residential regions are generally separated from one another because the primary industrial section developed and remains along the ship canal, while residential neighborhoods developed mostly outside this area. However, some overlap does occur.

Interstate 610, known as the Loop Freeway, forms a belt around all of central Houston. At its core is the central business area, located just south of Buffalo Bayou, enclosed by Interstate 45 and U.S. Highway 59. The area is known for its distinctive contemporary architecture and includes buildings such as the Chase Tower (1982), designed by the Chinese-American architect I. M. Pei; and the Bank of America Center (1984) and Pennzoil Place (1976), designed by American architect Philip C. Johnson. The Market Square Historic District on Main Street, the site of the cityís original downtown, contains a number of important buildings and was entered on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. The Antioch Missionary Baptist Church was built in 1879 for one of the cityís oldest black congregations and marks the Old Fourth Ward, Houstonís first predominantly black neighborhood.

Houstonís lower-income neighborhoods lie to the south and southeast of the downtown, along the railroad lines and the ship channel. The affluent neighborhoods are to the west and southwest, and include Tanglewood, the home of former U.S. President George Bush (1989-1993). Outside the Loop Freeway is The Galleria, a shopping mall with an ice-skating rink. The focal point of the Galleria area, as it is known, is the Williams Tower (1985), designed by Philip C. Johnson and one of the tallest suburban office buildings in the country.


Situated near major petroleum and natural-gas fields, Houston is the center of the national petroleum industry. The metropolitan region leads the nation in petrochemical manufacturing and refining, and consequently ranks first in the manufacture of agricultural chemicals, fertilizers, and pesticides. Houston is the worldís primary producer of oil-field equipment. Although the U.S. market for offshore platforms and drilling rigs has slumped badly, Houston manufacturing firms ship equipment to North Sea sites, and, in limited amounts, to the Persian Gulf. Companies based in Houston and other Texas cities have traditionally supplied technology and expertise to the petroleum companies of the Middle East and have made similar connections to governments involved in exploration and drilling in Southeast Asia. Other important manufactures in Houston include paper products, electrical and electronic machinery, and iron and steel. Houston also has mills for rice grown in the surrounding area.

Houstonís specialized education and training facilities provide an extraordinary economic resource. Most economists consider the expansion of technological research and the growth of the medical complexes to be the result of the collapse of petroleum prices in the 1980s and the resulting forced diversification of the regionís economic base. The cityís centers of research and technology include the Texas Medical Center, which is world-renowned for its pioneering work in organ transplants. The center comprises 13 hospitals and two medical schools. Other local facilities are the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, administered by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); Houston Advanced Research Center, an organization funded by grants, which links technology to commercial uses; and the nearby Texas A&M University at Galveston, which along with the universityís main campus in College Station, has carried out important work in marine biology, oceanography, and other marine-related sciences.

The service and trade sectors account for the largest percentages of total employment, while government ranks third. The Houston Port is among the nationís busiest for total exports and foreign trade, with petroleum, petrochemicals, and organic chemicals leading the list of exports. The Houston Ship Channel, which runs a length of 84 km (52 mi), connects the city to the primary shipping lanes of the world through the Bay of Galveston, the Gulf portion of the Intracoastal Waterway, and the Gulf of Mexico. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which took effect in 1994 and eliminates most tariffs on trade between the United States, Mexico, and Canada, enhanced the portís importance.

Several railroad lines and highways serve Houston. The Houston Intercontinental Airport is second in the state in total passenger service, while the older William P. Hobby Airport, which handles only domestic flights, is third. The Houston Chronicle is the primary daily newspaper in the city. KUHT, the nationís first public television station, was founded in 1953 in Houston.


Houstonís population climbed from 1,630,553 in 1990 to 1,953,631 in 2000. The Houston Consolidated Metropolitan Statistical Area grew from 3,731,000 in 1990 to 4,670,000 in 2000.

Houston is a racially and ethnically diverse city. According to the 2000 census, whites constitute 49.3 percent of Houstonís population; blacks, 25.3 percent; Asians, 5.3 percent; Native Americans, 0.4 percent; Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders, 0.1 percent; and people of mixed heritage or not reporting race, 19.6 percent. Hispanics, who may be of any race, represent 37.4 percent of the population.

Education and Culture

Among Houstonís numerous institutions of higher education are the University of Houston (founded in 1927 and now with three campuses in the city); Texas Southern University (1947); the University of Texas-Houston Health Science Center (1972); the Houston Community College System (1971); and private institutions such as Rice University (1891), Baylor College of Medicine (1900), the University of St. Thomas (1947), Houston Baptist University (1960), and South Texas College of Law (1923).

Prominent historical and cultural institutions include the Civic Center Complex, located in the central business district. The complex is composed of the George R. Brown Convention Center; the Wortham Center, which is the home of the Houston Grand Opera and the Houston Ballet; and the Jesse H. Jones Hall for Performing Arts, which is the home of the Houston Symphony. The nearby Alley Theatre houses a professional repertory acting company. Among other local professional performance groups are the Main Street Theater and Theatre Under the Stars.

Houstonís museums include the Contemporary Arts Museum; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houson, which includes the outdoor Cullen Sculpture Garden, designed by Japanese sculptor Isamu Noguchi; and The Menil Collection, housed in a building designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, and containing art from antiquity, the Byzantine world, the 20th century, and tribal cultures from Africa, Oceania, and the American Pacific Northwest. John and Dominique de Menil, who amassed the Menil collection, also funded the nondenominational Rothko Chapel (1971), decorated with interior paintings by American artist Mark Rothko. Close to downtown are the Heritage Society, a collection of 19th-century buildings; the Museum of Natural Science; the Burke Baker Planetarium; and the Museum of Medical Science in Hermann Park. Battleship Texas and The San Jacinto Monument and Museum of History are in nearby Pasadena.


Houston has an extensive park system that includes Hermann Park, the home of the Houston Zoo; Memorial Park; the Armand Bayou Nature Center; and the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center. The Houston Astros of major league baseball play in Minute Maid Park. The Houston Rockets of the National Basketball Association play at the Compaq Center sports and entertainment complex. Among the cityís many annual events are the River Oaks Garden Clubís Azalea Trail, a tour of azalea gardens at Bayou Bend and homes in River Oaks; Houston International Festival, a ten-day downtown celebration of the cityís different cultures; and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.


Houstonís government consists of a mayor, a 14-member city council, and a city controller, all elected to two-year terms. The mayor serves as the cityís chief executive, the city council is Houstonís legislative body, and the controller is responsible for the cityís financial transactions. The mayor, the controller, and five council members are chosen in citywide elections, and the other nine council members are chosen in elections within individual districts.


The Karankawa people lived on the Gulf Coast before the arrival of the Europeans. The first European settlement in the area, Harrisburg (1824), was destroyed in 1836 by the advancing Mexican Army in the Texas Revolution. That same year, Augustus C. Allen and John K. Allen laid out Houston. The Allen brothers persuaded the legislature to designate the site as the temporary state capital, because the present capital, Austin, was close to the fighting during the revolution. Houston served as the capital from 1837 until the permanent capital was returned to Austin in 1839. The legislature granted incorporation to Houston on June 5, 1837, and that same year it became the county seat of Harrisburg County (renamed Harris County in 1839).

From the early days of the city, businesspeople counted upon Buffalo Bayou, which served as a point of connection to Galveston, to encourage trade and growth. However, the Bayou was difficult to navigate. Various efforts were mounted to dredge a better canal, and a turning basin was created in 1881. The Houston Ship Channel, which created an inland ocean port, opened in 1914. Since then the channel has been widened and deepened, making Houston a deep-water port that is among the busiest in the United States. Houston residents also built railroads into the outlands, which complemented the water route. The Houston and Texas Central Railroad, a local railroad, was completed in 1853, but the American Civil War (1861-1865) interrupted further railroad construction, and the city did not join the national rail network until 1873, when the Houston and Texas Central met the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railroad at Denison.

The growth of Houston was also limited by the cityís climate and unhealthy coastal environment. Yellow fever epidemics struck often in the mid-19th century. In 1839 the disease killed approximately 12 percent of the cityís population. Despite coastal quarantines after the Civil War, yellow fever was not controlled until widespread spraying for mosquitoes began in 1900.

Lack of potable water, another environmental problem, was not addressed satisfactorily until the mid-20th century. Houstonís water supply had been improved in the 1880s with the drilling of artesian wells and the replacement of bayou waters that had been used to dispose of solid wastes, creosotes, and other impurities. Continued pumping from the aquifer, however, led to the sinking of land in southeast Houston in the 1960s. To correct this, the city turned to the Trinity and San Jacinto rivers for their water supply. These actions did not solve all the problems, however, and surges of rainwater into the bayous, rivers, and ship channel have caused pollution problems in Galveston Bay. Severe floods in 1929 and 1935 led to the formation of the Harris County Flood Control Districts. Houston and areas to the south still suffer from periodic flooding.

The livelihood of the city depended on commerce and cotton throughout the 19th century. Oil was discovered nearby at Spindletop in 1901, and the completion of the ship channel in 1914 encouraged oil companies to locate refineries along the channel, where they were safe from Gulf storms. By 1929, 40 oil companies had offices in the city, but cotton was still the driving force behind the cityís economy until World War II (1939-1945). The war created demand for not only oil and gasoline, but also synthetic rubber, explosives, ships, and other Gulf Coast products.

Houston became the center for this wartime economic development. The city built upon this base, becoming the largest city in the South and overseeing an industrial complex of 250 interrelated refineries that extended from Corpus Christi, Texas, to Lake Charles, Louisiana. The collapse of oil prices in the mid-1980s caused Houston to lose population for the first decade in its history. However, as its economy diversified, the city has returned to moderate growth.

The cityís expansion into the suburbs and its reliance upon the automobile for primary transportation resulted in the construction of more than 320 km (200 mi) of freeways by 1990. This new infrastructure produced pollution, urban sprawl, and traffic jams, and it changed the character of the region. The new freeways created a new opportunity for commuting, which enabled members of the middle class (mainly whites) to move from the city to the surrounding suburbs.

While this population shift lessened racial hostilities in Houston, separate residential areas for blacks, Hispanics, and whites continued to exist until the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and riots and confrontations between ethnic groups and the police were common. However, as the city grew more multicultural and multi-ethnic, the city leadership and institutions have become more sensitive to nonwhites and more concerned about the livability of all the neighborhoods.

Houston Photo Gallery