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Carroll Shaddock

INTERVIEWEE: Carroll Shaddock (CS)
DATE: February 29, 2008
LOCATION: Houston, Texas
TRANSCRIBER: Melanie Smith and Robin Johnson
REELS: 2425, 2426 and 2427

Please note that the recording includes roughly 60 seconds of color bars and sound tone for technical settings at the outset of the recordings. Numbers mark the time codes for the VHS tape copy of the interview. “Misc.” refers to various off-camera conversation or background noise, unrelated to the interview.

DT: My name’s David Todd. I’m here for the Conservation History Association of Texas. It’s February 29th, 2008. We’re in Houston, Texas and we have the good fortune to be visiting with Carroll Shaddock, who is a—a corporate attorney here in town who has been very active over the years in trying to control billboards and in trying to have trees planted along the city’s streets and roads and generally trying to improve the scenic qualities of the city and the state and, actually, across the country. To that, I wanted to thank you for taking the time to talk to us.
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CS: Thank you for coming.
DT: I thought we might start with learning about your childhood and finding out if there might have been some influence from your early days that would’ve led to what you’ve done for scenic virtues and values later in your life?
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CS: Well, I guess I should start by saying, as a Texan naturally would, I’m a sixth generation Texan and my wife is also a sixth generation Texan and now we have seventh and eighth generation Texans, our children and—and grandchildren. And we have that special affinity for our state, formerly our nation, that people in Texas tend to have to the dis—dismay of others, sometimes. But actually I think it’s a—it’s a good trait and perhaps with that comes a deep feeling for the place, for the space. Sometimes the—the idea is—is advanced by people who are working to make Texas a more beautiful state, if they happen to come from other places, that it’s something of an importation of an idea—a beautiful, orderly environment is a—must be an idea that’s being brought here by people. And I think that those of us who are from
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families who have been here a while and we don’t think that that makes us any better than anybody else, but we definitely have a deep feeling for the land and a deep feeling for the state, a deep sense of place, a clear idea of who we are and I—and we know that we didn’t—our—our—our forefathers did not come here to mess this place up. And so we ch—although when you look in the past in any society, you find a lot that’s good and a lot that’s bad, but I guess I’ve always had a feeling that I was trying to advance those things that I found to be good in—in the—in the traditions of my family and my place. I was born in Beaumont, Texas and raised in Orange, on the Louisiana border near the Gulf of Mexico and I went to Rice here in Houston, which I’ll touch on. I think with respect to some of these topics, I went off
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to law school at Yale; otherwise I’ve been in southeast Texas all my life. I think there are two topics that you’ve indicated you want to talk about, things I’ve spent large amount of my time on—planting trees and trying to do something about the ugliness caused by the proliferation of billboards. And there—I do remember things from my childhood that—that—that bear on that. One, I grew up in a house that was built in about 1900 in Old—what’s now called Old Orange, which I try sometimes to imagine what it was like in the twenties or thirties. It was very Southern compared to the way our culture is today. It’s changed greatly over my lifetime. But Old Orange was a—had an area of about ten blocks by sixteen blocks with curb streets, sidewalks, it was really well laid out in an old fashioned kind of a way. And across the street from us was a—a two story house, a—a not overly imposing, but a
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nice two story frame house. Almost everything in Orange is built of wood because it’s in the—it’s in the forest in a—a big sawmill town. And a dentist lived there, I didn’t really know and I can remember when I was in junior high school, going out and looking down the side. Well, first, there were street trees in the—in—in our area of Orange, by which I mean trees planted in what I’m going to refer to as the parkway or the tree lawn, being the area between the sidewalk and the curb along the streets. And street trees, I—what—by that, I mean trees that are planted between the sidewalk and the curb in the tree lawn at regular intervals and of a coordinated species. As it happened at our house and our neighbor’s houses, the trees were live oak trees planted in—at a regular spacing. So I guess I grew up with that kind of order around me. But across the street, down the side of the dentist’s
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house was a row of perhaps four high arching Willow oak trees. I think that’s Quercus phellos is the botanical name of that, I believe, and I can remember how beautiful they would be in the spring and—and in the fall. And I—I think some—something—something was lodged in my mind there, which—we can come to this later—was certainly then solidified and amplified when I went to Rice, which has a—a remarkably beautiful campus which is a—a—a—a—a perfect example of anything that—that—that any of us might’ve tried to do in this area over the years. With respect to billboards, I only remember one thing. I don’t think we really had billboards back then to speak of. It’s true that in the country when Lady Bird in 1965 got LBJ to get the Highway Beautification Act passed, there was a lot of concern that
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we had billboards and yet, when you look back, the billboards that they were talking about then were just a—just a hint of signs compared to what we face today. But I remember in—in high school, we would read something called the Junior Scholastic, which was kind of a magazine, prob—or a newspaper. Probably everybody my age remembers the Junior Scholastic. And I remember one time reading an article which I didn’t think about afterward, but later on, I remembered it, in which it said that Dwight Eisenhower, the President of the United States, had announced that he wished to have the new interstate highway system, which was just being built at the time, be free of billboards and that he was sponsoring—he was going to cause legislation to this effect to be introduced. And that it then reported that some people were opposed to that i—I know without asking who they were.
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Yeah, they’re people who all worked for the billboard industry because it tends not to have any friends except for the people who make their livelihood either working for it—working for it, I should say, either—whether their jobs are in the industry itself or in government where they are—are generously fed by the—by this very active lobby and source of political funding. But I guess that just registered in my mind.
DT: You’ve given us a little flavor of growing up in Orange and having these deep Texas roots, coming to Rice and Houston and starting to appreciate how nicely both Orange was laid out and the Rice campus and starting to get some sort of context of what was going on in the country at large. I mean, the passage of the Highway Beautification Act and, earlier, Eisenhower’s interest in having control of billboards along the interstate highway system. What was the next sort of encounter with these tree issues or billboard issues in your life?
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CS: Well, let’s—let’s—let’s take the tree route first and let me talk about Rice. It—that made such a powerful impression on me. I—I went to Rice for four years and I lived on campus and for those, including Houstonians who’ve never gone behind the hedges that—that surround the Rice campus and looked around, it’s a thing to do. It’s a place of great beauty. We lived not far from there and have the occasion often to walk our dog there and I always feel like I’m in Europe. Maybe I’m in the—in the—in the court of the—Niedersachsen Court in—in Hanover over something like that, but beautifully laid out gardens and formal spaces. But the—when the campus was laid out—and it has to be remembered for those people who know Houston that everything south of Buffalo Bayou is in the coastal plain—there were very few trees at all. There were Water oak trees, primarily, and—and some
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Willow oak trees growing in the—in the—in the beds of the bayous and other water—places where water gathered. But otherwise, this was a treeless, barren plain. And the people who laid Rice out, Rice was started in 19—they opened for classes in 1912, so the construction of the campus occurred in 1905 to 1912, probably. And when it was laid out, it was laid out with streets and sidewalks and every street at Rice and every sidewalk at Rice had tr—street trees planted in geometrical patterns of different species of trees. One would be elm, another would water oak, another would be live oak. So there are thousands of trees that were planted there according to a grand scheme along the streets and—and walks. When I went—by the time I had gone to Rice, just a few years before I matriculated there in 1958, a plan had been undertaken to get the cars out of the heart of the campus and move them to perimeter parking lots and many of these streets had been taken up. And
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yet you can see where every one is because of the rows of trees. You can read the way the streets used to be at Rice. And by and large at Rice, in contrast to other places, those patterns were maintained when those trees died because trees—everybody seems to want to see—to save trees and not understand that, just as with our population, the only way you preserve trees or the human race is to reproduce or to plant new trees and—and a excessive amount of time worry—worrying about trying to prolong the lives of old trees is not, in my judgment, a—a good use of energy. And at Rice, they—they continued to replenish the trees. As a result of that, there’re rabbits—many rabbits on the Rice campus, which our dog, Henry, loves to chase. It’s quite something to see him in pursuit of a cottontail rabbit as they go
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scurrying across the campus and you hope the campus police don’t see him on the loose. And squirrels. Walking around, living in that environment had a powerful effect on me and I could comment about the surrounding areas because when these areas were laid out by developers—for example, the neighborhood, Southampton, which lies to the north of the Rice campus—the developers who laid them out laid out street tree patterns. The main arterial streets, heavily traffic streets were always planted in live oak. The interior streets were planted in other trees so that one street, Albans and I can’t tell you which tree goes with which street anymore, but I can remember forty years ago when you could still see the pattern. Elm trees on Albans, water oaks on Bolsover, et cetera. And there was a fall over there. Houston doesn’t really have fall color, but it—actually it has a lot of fall color, especially if
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it’s cultivated. And you knew it was fall in Southampton on the deciduous—the tree—the streets that had the deciduous trees. And so it was all around the Rice part of town that had been laid out in the teens, the twenties and the thirties, that these formal street tree patterns were everywhere. However, even by 1970, I went off to law school and—and when I came back and have lived in this neighborhood, this part of town since 1965, except for service in the military—when you go to Rome and you see the Coliseum and the other buildings, the—the—the vendors sell little books that show you a scene of what you see when you look at the Forum today and a plastic overlay that you can push over, I’m sure everybody who’s been there remembers this well, that shows what the buildings must’ve been like two thousand years ago. So you can start to read and even some people in other cultures have
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tried when they design buildings to think about what they will look like in a ruined state. But you start to read what was there. And I started in the seventies to start to read what had been in this part of Houston years ago because what happened is over the years, trees would be lost for one reason or another. And then as the trees started to—to end their natural lives, their—essentially all of those trees are now gone, monoculture of trees all planted at the same time, dying at the same time, you could read what was here and what was gone because while kind of a central authority of developers who had developed the neighborhoods had laid out the trees. Not cooperative efforts among neighbors, but—but by people who were planning
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whole neighborhoods and—and building them and somewhat in the backdrop of the so-called City Beautiful movement, which of course, had been many, many years earlier. As the trees though died, they would be cut down and the—the homeowner then would become the person who would deal with what was in the tree lawn. And it might be nothing; it might be a rose bush. It might be that the homeowner had an affinity for a pistache tree or a Chinese elm or whatever, but the idea of the pattern and the formal planting had totally been lost. And I was very aware of that when I—we moved into Southampton in 1971 for the first—our first—first time. Was very aware that you could see something had been here that had been gone and I must say during the seventies, I thought I might be the only person alive who was thinking about this.
DT: You had mentioned something that may be a root of this orderly landscape in many cities, certainly in Kansas City and maybe Dallas, I think that there is some touch of it in Houston. George Kessler, City Beautiful movement, can you talk about some of those origins for this kind of planning?
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CS: Yes, if you allow me wide swath for errors and oh, for misstatements and—and incorrect generalizations. You know, the story of the Chicago World’s Fair, which I guess was around 1900, was it not, is—is a very, very interesting story. The building of all the great—all the great, the monumental buildings that comprised that—that fair and it—I—I’m confused as to whether that had been preceded or followed by the St.—by World’s Fair in St. Louis. But the view of urban life you had around the turn of the century was of squalor, dirty, unhealthy, unpleasant places. Chicago certainly had that image, I think self image, and had that image elsewhere, where the teeming populations were coming, people who were more affluent and able to do so were moving to higher ground, so to speak, perhaps quite literally in some cases, where the beginning of the garden suburban neighborhoods were—
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were—were getting started. So a part of this was simply trying to make cities safe, healthy, decent places for people to live. The late—the last half of the nineteenth century had seen industrialization, people moving from the countryside, retaining their idyllic memories of pastoral settings and values in the city, but living in squalor and—and times that are not remembered with a lot of favor other than we could see that was maybe a necessary step in the industrialization of the country and the creation of a l—of an economy that provides more goods and is a basis for the kind of standard of living we have today. So there was a lot of just, I think maybe somewhat related to that also might even be cleaning up politics and the political machines and such. But one aspect of that then was the City Beautiful movement, which I think really refers to the period from 1890 to 2000—1890 to 1905. That
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would be in—and you—you—you—by the way, I see this everywhere I go. In Germany, used to call Ugansteel, the architecture. In Buenos Aires, when you look at the really beautiful buildings and the Belle Artes—and I don’t speak French so I say those words wrongly—the layouts of the beautiful things, so often they come from this era, 1890 even till World War I, which must’ve been a—a really fabulous time, all of which it seems our civilization collectively squandered when we had the Great War of 1970—17 and the society kind of committed suicide. That’s a whole ‘nother story. But during this time, these—these ideas of the—of the City Beautiful movement arose. Perhaps someone listening to this may have seen pictures of Main Street in Houston, which was called Main Boulevard. When I first saw an institution on Main Street putting its address as being 52-0-9 Main Boulevard, I thought it was
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another example of word inflation, which we—which leads us to have streets in Houston called Mountain View, things like that in the flattest place in the world. But then I learned that in fact it was a boulevard, as was Montrose a boulevard. Those aren’t just fanciful names. And there were beautiful street trees, right into the downtown area of Houston. So and I—I suppose, come to think of it, that’s when Orange was laid out and these things were done in Orange. But in 1970, these were forgotten values, forgotten ideas. But just like walking around Rome, you could walk around a place like Houston and you could see—or I use the word, read—what had been here. And increasingly, I felt a desire, a need, I would say, not a desire, to try to recapture that and I started doing it at my church. An expression is always used,
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“think globally, act locally” and I started—you can’t just go and change the world, but you can maybe change your block or your neighborhood and I started spending a lot of time doing that.
DT: You mentioned that some of the trees that were laid out and planted and cared for for many years eventually died and then they were cut down and not replaced, or at least not replaced with the same kind of tree. It seems that I recall that there were some trees along Montrose, as you’ve mentioned, that were down the—the esplanade. They were…
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CS: Palm trees.
DT: Palm trees and they were removed and there were also very large live oaks that were on Rice Boulevard, right smack dab in the middle of the street and they were removed with some celebrity. Was this something that influenced your interest in trying to take care of trees and plant more trees?
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CS: I’m not quite that old. The trees on Montrose, I—the palm trees, I have no memory of that so it’s before my time. Perhaps they were there when I was at Rice, but in those days, you tended to stay inside the hedges and really didn’t much know what was outside the hedges. Might’ve been there then. The tree though to which you refer, which is on what’s called Sunset Boulevard, although it is the street that then becomes Rice as it goes west, just about two blocks off of Main Street is a—is a pretty important tree in Houston history in some ways. If you drive there, that’s just outside Brown College, the entrance to Brown College. And when you drive down Sunset, although one would think of that as being called Rice Boulevard there, you—you notice that to the left and the right, the street bows out and—and the reason is
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because there used to be a tree right in the middle of it—of the street. Apparently, it had been a large prominent tree that when the street was laid out, people—and you see this still in Columbus, Texas, east of here, where there are just these huge trees right in the middle of the street and they just leave a little plot of land around them. A son of a family, I do not know who it is—who it was, excuse me—and—and I think it was a prominent family—I guess I don’t actually know that, but in any case was driving—I don’t know whether in a prudent or impr—manner or manner more appropriate to teenagers down that street one night, hit that tree and was killed. That tree was cut down because of that, the island removed and there was then installed in the collective memory of the city attorney’s office, who had defended the city and had to pay a large judgment that it had been negligence on the part of the
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city as I understand it—this is all just stories I’ve heard—had been negligent to have that tree in the middle of the street, probably to this day, the vestiges remain in the city attorney’s office of Houston that trees are dangerous creatures which represent a threat to the health and safety and welfare of the people. And probably—if you took all the total amount of energy that has gone into planting street trees in Houston in my lifetime, I think that it’s been blunted at least by fifty percent by city attorney’s office in Houston, especially staff members there whose tenures succeeded through different administrations, of trying to prevent planting trees anywhere where an automobile—an errant automobile—might ever go.
DT: Well, we’ve talked about trees being taken down. Maybe we talk a little bit about trees being put in and your efforts to help start a group called Trees for Houston in 1980.
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CS: I lived in Southampton in the seventies and I—there’s a Southampton Civic Club that exists there and I went to the board. I guess I—I was born in 1940, so I must’ve been in my early thirties. And I talked about the fact that the street tree pattern was being lost and what the value of a—the street tree was and again, I have to say at the time, I thought I was the only person in the world who had any—it was—it was a very strange interest to have. But I found people were enthusiastic. People certainly were enthusiastic about trees, planting trees, saving trees and then sitting down and talking about trees and I guess I—a phrase I use, perhaps not a very adequate one, is using trees as an—as an element of urban architecture. Not just planting trees because they’re nice, which they are, or because they make the
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air clean, which they do, or shield us from the sunshine, which they do and—and—and—and—and preserve against global warming, which we didn’t know anything about at that time and all of these other things, but my fundamental interest has always been the visual aesthetic and the use of the trees as an organizing principle for the formation of what, in my view, is an orderly and beautiful environment, I guess would be a—a decent word to use for that. And I talked about that and—and I guess it’s still the case. When I do, I’ll be in a room of people and it’s sort of like most people have not really thought about it, but when they think about it, certain number of people quickly think, yeah, that’s a good idea. So we started a project of planting, going back and replanting street trees in Southampton. I just dubbed
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that Trees for Southampton, I don’t know where that came from. I remember—and I did this with my own money, I remember with our oldest boys, Christian and Peter Eric, were two years apart and they were like maybe four and six at the time or something like that and I remember taking my block of Ballsover in the next block and going block to block and saying I would like to plant trees in front of your house if you’ll let me. And people would say yes and then I would say I certainly offer you the opportunity to help me financially with this, but I don’t expect it and most people did not. And I was not a—a ho—a wealthy person, so my—my efforts were somewhat limited. But every year, I planted four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten trees, marching down the street and if you go over to look at the blocks of Ballsover where—where we lived back there in the seventies, you would think those
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trees were planted in the 1870s because they’re now huge, beautiful—beautiful trees. And some people would decline permission, wouldn’t let me do it. They didn’t want—they didn’t want trees. But it was funny, I can remember that one house, the man was very vehement that I couldn’t plant trees in front of his house. And when I got through planting, his neighbors—and he was the only tr—it was like a—a missing front tooth—he came to me and was—feigned anger that I had overlooked his house and not planted trees. And I had to go back and—I had to go and back and do it. So people catch on to it when they see what you’re doing. And yet, let me just say parenthetically, in the medical center on Main Street, on Main Street, the trees go for eighty city blocks, planted live oak trees on centers between the sidewalk and the curb. And there is—I don’t know whose project it is across from Texas Children’s
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Hospital—it’s a new building where they just cut down all the street trees that had been planted there. On the—I guess that’s the west side of the street—they’ve just gone in and planted all their required trees under the city ordinance and they plant them on the landowner’s side of the sidewalk. And I can’t understand that. I mean, just go out there looking. How—how is it people can’t catch what’s going on here? And yet I find if I take the time to go find whoever’s entitl—in charge of that project and walk them out front and say look this way and look that way, could you please do your part here, they—a light bulb goes off and often they’ll say well, of course. It doesn’t register naturally if it not—if it’s not suggested. Similarly, my wife and I were—always have been very active at Christ the King Lutheran Church in the village, which is across the street from Rice. So I organized a project that I called
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Trees for the Village and I went into the—first, there were no street trees around the church. There were really no street trees in the village. So I went and tr—and there’s a lot of cement in the village, not a whole lot of places you can plant street trees, and I went and found all the places and put them on a little map where I thought I could—could plant a street tree. Maybe the cost was a hundred dollars a tree, let’s say that, something like that, and put a chart up at the church and members of the church sponsored street trees. And we went in and planted fifty or sixty street trees in the village and every tree in the village is a tree planted by Christ the King Lutheran Church in about 1972. And I remember those were days of
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Vatican Two and ecumenism and I remember with great—with great satisfaction, one guy who planted a bunch of those trees in honor of Pope John the Second and others in honor of the children or memory of their grandparents. And—and so that was Trees for the Village. Then I went—we moved to a—an old, old neighborhood in Houston called Westmoreland. Bought a 1906 house and restored it, was quite close to downtown and there I organized the project, Trees for Westmoreland. And got the neighborhood pretty interested in it and we pretty well planted street trees around that area and called that Trees for Westmoreland. I had other projects. Trees for Other Things, but it was just a thing that I just did personally. Find a civic club that would help me, if I wanted to—I have to say sometimes when I’ve moved
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on to another neighborhood, the projects have gone on and sometimes that’s the last. I mean, whatever enthusiasm you might find for it and help and certainly I didn’t do these things myself. I did on Ballsover Street, but after that, I developed my—a little bit of a technique of how to get a neighborhood and neighbors to get together to do this.
DT: Well, why don’t you talk about the two aspects of this? How you organized the people, organized the fundraising and then the dirt and tree aspect of how you actually dig the hole, maintain the tree once it’s planted, what kind of species you used and so on?
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CS: Well, let me do that but if I could bridge my way there by talking about the founding of Trees for Houston and then talk about we did tr—the project, Trees for Boulevard Oaks. I’m about to sneeze. I sneeze once a day whether I need to or not. Usually it’s eight to twelve sneezes. Well, might—might have passed. I—oh, this is—yes, this is—this was a—something I spent quite a bit of time on. I became concerned about the fact that there were no trees downtown. Now, I’m a downtown guy. I live in—I work downtown. I live not too far from downtown. I think if my law firm had ever moved to a suburban location, I’d have moved back to Orange because I—I like small towns and I like being downtown. I guess I’m a very old fashioned person, maybe—maybe that’s the underlying theme there. The chamber—what was then called the Houston Chamber of Commerce, which is today called the Greater
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Houston Partnership—I might make reference to the Partnership later. I’m all—that is in Houston, the name by which the Chamber of Commerce now goes. The—the Chamber of Commerce had a downtown committee. I—I practice law, I should say, in a—in a mainline, business, banking, conservative law firm. Still do, I’ve been there now over forty years. And I—so that—I can’t underscore how important that is. All—my law firm has let me do these things and I shouldn’t talk about any of these things without expressing gratitude for that. But also being a partner in a established, well known law firm makes it possible to get things done that you couldn’t get done otherwise in two ways. The first thing is it puts you in an environment for people who are the—the people who really are the engines of society and our economy and I guess you could say there are people who have
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power, but they’re people who get things done and know how to get things done and you’re in that environment, watching that. Unless you’re brain dead, you learn something about how to do things. Secondly, you get taken seriously when you’re a partner in a law firm. You’re—you—and your contacts are—are—are widespread and an avocation of mine, to which I referred earlier, is church music. And I’m a, let’s say, an amateur musician, put it that way, with a great love for the music of the Renaissance and the Baroque, especially the works of composers named Heinrich Schutz and J.S. Bach. In some ways, I’ve been able to do so many things to advance those aspects of human culture in our s—in our Houston society that I could never have done being a musician. And so it is with being—in relating to the trees, being in this kind of position is so enabling. Well, I got onto that because I wanted
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to say I then became our law firm’s representative to the downtown committee of the Houston Chamber of Commerce. And I’m sure anybody who knows me would say with a—a little bit of an unpleasant expression on their face that I talk too much and I—and I do. But I think I started talking street trees in the downtown community. I was probably surrounded in that environment by people my age or a little older who were not yet at the top of their firms, whether they were law firms or business corporations or development companies or whatever, but it rubbed off. And over a period of four or five years on that committee, people started talking and thinking we needed street trees downtown. So we then advanced the project to the point where the committee then adopted and the Chamber of Commerce executive committee dir—adopted a—a policy that there should be street trees in downtown
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Houston. And it was then my job with every new building that was being built, and a lot of new buildings were being built, to go to the developers of those buildings and tell them what the downtown Houston community expected of them in this area. And the result was that the—the projects in downtown all started having street trees. Now I don’t fancy that it’s just because I went and asked them. It was all the—also the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times. Trees—you can go to a—I took a business trip to Calgary and they were planting street trees in C—Calgary downtown. They planted street trees in Dallas and other place—I had nothing to do with that. So it’s a—it’s a much—much bigger movement than just my wandering around downtown, talking to people, but that’s what happened in Houston. And then the next thing
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that happened was when the next generation of buildings started being built. The younger Turks, the people who’d been on that committee who had all become somewhat—the—and people start seeing things. When we talk about billboards, this is very important and that—I don’t want to use this expression—you plant the seed. But—but you do and—and people start thinking about str—about street trees and start noticing when they travel to other cities, they say I like this but why is it I like it? And people don’t always initially make the connection between—in fact, there was a magazine called Houston Magazine that made a presentation, the ten most beautiful cities—streets in Houston. And they picked them from the east, the north, the south, the west, all over town, trying to be balanced and not just say well, that—this is where the gentry live and this here or there. And what did all ten of those
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streets have? Street trees. Even if you’re—you talk about Polk Street, east of downtown. There’s a section of three blocks that has old live oak trees that are still there. Guess what? That was one of the ten streets and so forth. And so when this next generation of building started being constructed, the—the people who had become interested in this way of thinking were now decision makers. And so downtown—downtown Houston today and there’s a lot more story to that and Jim Rylander, who is now dead, s—such a hero with that. There’s so many heroes in—in this—in this is a—in this whole story. But downtown Houston is now a very green downtown. It’s remarkably different. Well, they established a street tree subcommittee of the downtown committee of the Chamber of Commerce and we then commenced with the idea of having a—a project called Trees for Main Street,
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picking up on the idea—of course, Main Street has beautiful street trees from the location of the former Warwick Hotel south, through the Rice campus to the Medical Center, where there were no trees, really, at that time. The boulevard that Bob Hope said when asked on the Phil Donahue Show—Bob, you travel a lot and have been over the—all over the world. What’s the most beautiful place you’ve been? And he said well, I think it’s standing at the Warwick Hotel, looking at the fountain and looking at the trees down Main Street in Houston, Texas. And the audience gasped as did Phil Donahue, who said a word that sounded something like this. Quizzical and disbelieving. Houston? Well, all in—all indeed he was talking about was the vision of people in 1915 or 1920 when all those beautiful trees were laid out on Main Street. That’s always been a powerful story to tell in Houston and some
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people have videos of that and it gets included in presentations in trying to plant. But if you—if Bob Hope turns around and looks the other way, he’s looking down a street that used to look that way that didn’t have a tree on it. It was an urban wasteland. So we arrived at the idea of having a project called Trees for Main Street and, at that time, the first of Houston’s regional business development entity, something called the South Main Center Association was being established. Candice Rylander was the executive director and I went and talked to her and she thought that was a great thing for them to do to try to establish some—some image of who they were and what they were doing. She also had to come to have a great appreciation for street trees. So we started with the—a project of the Houston Chamber of Commerce and the South Main Center Association, the planting of live oak—of planting of trees from the two thousand block of Main Street, which is where the Pierce elevated goes over, north of which you’re in a very strong urban,
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downtown cement environment. But from—from that point south to Rice, which is about—or to the Beacon Fountain, about forty blocks, generally speaking, there is a tree lawn between the sidewalk and the curb. You spend more money removing cement to plant a tree than it cost to plant five or ten trees. I—I don’t know the exact number. So you—you make a lot more progress where you don’t have to cut cement. And that project was decided upon, that project was implemented. It was later extended in the Medical Center by—by the Texas Medical Center. The street trees in this neighborhood where we are, Braeswood, continue on Main Street and when TXDOT [Texas Department of Transportation], about ten years ago renovated Main Street from approximately where we are at Braeswood to six-ten and beyond, under the—the Houston way of thinking about street trees and particularly the urging of the South Main Center Association, beautiful street trees were planted all the way to six-ten. So you have that—you
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have that tree lawn and beautiful street trees now for the entirety of Main Street, notwithstanding which Texas Children’s Hospital just goes out. And by the way, they did it in the middle of the night and cuts down forty of those trees. Notwithstanding that across the street, whoever’s developing the land plants their—does their plant—r—required planting as I mentioned earlier and doesn’t conform to it. So it’s—this is not without its frustrations. And at that time, a fellow named George Greanias, who was a young lawyer at our law firm and also a playwright, had a—was on the committee and he was—he then ran for public office, subsequently became the comptroller of Houston. But any rate, he was one of two or three fellows. Another, Hugh Rice Kelly, who became the general counsel and senior vice-president of what was then Houston Lighting and Power, today is one of the—with Dick Weekley,
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people who are responsible for tort reform in the state of Texas. Wonderful, wonderful man who is a—is a—knows more about trees than I do for sure. And so thinking about the future, I drew up—this was around 1980—with—and George—and George was a doc—a document for the formation of something called Trees for Houston. The idea that this would become a group that would carry out these kinds of projects, mean Trees for This, Trees for That, as I was describing. And we drew up but did not file articles of incorporation with the state to start such a group. We were on the cusp of doing so. Just at this time, I got a telephone call from a guy named Bill Coats. Bill’s a very distinguished lawyer, he’s a trial lawyer, his field is construction law, he’s a national and internationally recognized expert in the field. He and I are—both share that we’re poor golfers and we tend to have a weekly golf game and a lot of tree stuff has come out of those conversations. I didn’t know Bill
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at that time, I knew him only very vaguely. He was in my—lived in my neighborhood. And he called me and said I’d like to take you to lunch and talk about trees. Bill had been involved, I might say, in something called Citizens for Good Schools, CGS. Houston had a explicitly segregationist city council as late as, I’m going to say in the 1960s, and a group of public spirited people—Eleanor Tinsley was one, she’ll figure in this story, in all of these stories, as a city councilwoman. Wonderful people. It actually won a majority of the school board and commenced integrating the schools and also implementing more advanced ideas of education. I would characterize them, if I could say it laughingly and with affection, as a bunch of liberals. And they took over the school district and then they had their problems and
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then someone else took over the school district and they had their problems and so it goes. Wonderful people, but Bill had been, I think, a little bit bloodied by—by his very active public spirited work with Citizens for Good Schools. He took me to lunch and he said I’m tired of beating my head against the wall. I, by the way, is probably—is becoming clear, I’m kind of a—kind of a conservative old guy and always have been. So we were definitely political opposites except we’re very much alike and I hope that we’re both open-minded and people of good will. He said I just want to do something that people want to do. I want to plant trees and he showed me he had filed articles of incorporation for something called the Live Oak Association and he outlined that he just wanted to plant street trees and that he had asked people to whom—he had gone around town saying, to whom should I speak?
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Are there any other people who would be interested in doing this? And he said people had said you need to call Carroll Shaddock. And I think actually George Greanias was the person who most—most notably said that. So he—so we quickly realized that we were exactly at the same point in our thinking about this topic and so we—we trashed our articles of incorporation for Trees for Houston and the articles of incorporation for the Live Oak Society were amended to reflect the name Trees for Houston and that’s how Trees for Houston was born. I don’t want to forget to say when we get to the question of monoculture and—and oak wilt, which was a thing I—I know that you would want to ask about, that in the project of Trees for Houston, under the tutelage of Charles Tapley, a wonderful Houston architect who was also—he’s a fellow of the AIA and also the fellow American Institute of Landscape
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Architects. Charles, as I understand, had a stroke this year. I’ve not really seen him this year. I was the building committee chairman at Christ the King Lutheran Church and Charles was always the architect, so he and I had a long and I—I—I think fruitful collaboration in the—in the beautiful buildings that he designed that had been built at that location. He was engaged by somebody to help plan the—the Trees for Main Street and even though it had been a live oak allee, he thought that it was necessary to break that allay so that disease would be avoided that could—could come through and wipe all the live oak trees out, which he did by interspersing sections at intervals—not a bad idea—of what at the moment was the tree du jour of the—of the species diversification advocates in Houston, the Augustan Ascending Elm. Well,
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when Market Square was renovated downtown, they, on the advice of the professionals, planted Augustan Ascending Elms instead of live oak trees and I mean there hasn’t been one of those left for now for at least twenty years. And I just happened to observe two weeks ago the last of the Augustan Ascending Elms on Main Street being cut down because it had died, just outside the South Main Baptist Church. Meanwhile, every live oak tree we planted on that street is there. So we’ll talk more about that later, but I just wanted to make that little note of—of anecdotal evidence about this issue, which I recognize is an issue, but with respect to which we get more challenging questioning, I think then—then the facts warrant. So we started our association, shall I carry Trees for Houston forward?
DT: Please do.
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CS: Or do you want to take—channel me another way?
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CS: I’m sure that I—there are many things I forget. I’m sure that that’s good. Trees for Houston then began its activities as a group of lawyers, young, I would say, but you know, by now, we’re—come to think of it, we’re about forty years old, maybe not that young—who would have lunch once a month at Bill Coats’ office and he would provide the lunch. And they were mostly people Bill knew and recruited, some of them I knew and recruited but we ended up with, I’m going to say, ten to twelve lawyers who would meet every month and we would talk about planting street trees. And then we would then go do our projects. So for example, I’m doing Trees for Boulevard Oaks, which is the project I really want to talk about at some point here, to talk about how it—a project works, as you were asking. Jim Rylander said I think we need to plant trees downtown and so he started the project, Trees for
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Downtown. Jim died of cancer maybe five years ago, at an untimely early age, which is probably redundant. Jim was a real estate partner at Vincent Elkins and he always said shh, don’t tell them because he said he didn’t practice law for a year. He just went around raising money and he found somebody, he found a person who had money and know-how who shared his passion for greening downtown and planting trees, Ken Lay. And he was the fund—he was in charge of fundraising and they raised like a couple of million dollars and planted thousands of street trees, some of which, by the way, have been arrogantly cut down by developers, including a bunch just within the last six months downtown and which, I might add, are—are aided and abetted by our mayor’s office, I’m told, in gaining permissions to do that. I always say if—if Jim were still alive, none of those trees would be being cut down.
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And that’s a frustration, I—I’m—so I should pause and say it’s very frustrating to see—to see trees cut down that had been planted. In any case, Jim did the downtown project. Bill did another project. Hugh Rice Kelly started planting trees in Southampton. I had been gone from that neighborhood for s—several years and others did other projects. And so for a year or two, we planted a lot of street trees just—I think every one of us was a lawyer, as I recall, doing our little projects. And one day on the golf course, Bill said me, Carroll, he said, it’s time we hired somebody to run this thing. He said can you imagine what we could accomplish if we had a staff person? So a woman named Donna Chambers was hired as the first executive director. Trees for Houston now has its third executive director—has just begun—and it’s true, once we did that, the organization started growing into a real
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organization and the efforts of many people were corralled and the energy increased and plantings on a wide scale begun. And in some ways, the organization had some effectiveness before that that it didn’t have after that. It’s—it’s all a mixed bag, but certainly it’s been a—a—a—a growth project and, again, the—really the first big project we did as Trees for Houston was a project that I sort of worked on, Trees for Kirby. The idea was to connect the trees on Allen Parkway to—Kirby from Allen Parkway, which is Buffalo Bayou, to Bray’s Bayou near where we sit and to make that an allay of trees through River Oaks, through the, what’s now called the Upper Kirby District, through the Village and on south by the Astrodome. Kathy Whitmire was the mayor of Houston and this project captured her fancy and only as we were preparing to give our little speeches at the ribbon cutting for the opening of the
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project at the River Oaks Elementary School did Steven Fox step forward, as Steven can always do, and tell us what—what we should know. And that is that Kirby Drive had originally been laid out by Will Hogg as—to be as a part of this parkway and formal plantings back in the twenties, the kind of things we were emulating and attempting to revive. But that had been intended to be the tree lined boulevard that would link Buffalo Bayou with Bray’s Bayou. And let me say parenthetically, Will Hogg had something called the Forum of Civics. That’s what the building at the corner of Westheimer and Kirby is. I don’t think many people know what that was all about but he actually published a magazine in the twenties and there’s no good idea that s—that anybody has thought of—Bill Coats, Carroll Shaddock or anybody else having to do with trees or really anything else good for the city—that wasn’t
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already proposed in Houston in the 1920s or even in the Parks Plan of 1917, which I think Kessler Architects to whom—Landscape Architects to whom you referred in St. Louis, did the first 1917 study which identified that Houston’s natural resource was its bayous. That the bayous should become—the floodplains associated with the bayous should become Houston’s parklands, that parkways should be built along them and then other parkways should be built connecting them and a whole master plan laid out in 1917 and I’ll tell you, it’s 2008 and people will wake up one day and say you know what we ought to do and they’ll say just exactly that. It’s an idea that keeps coming up. Zoning is another thing and, by the way, I spent two years of my life trying to help zone Houston. A huge project which was unsuccessful. All of these—all of these ideas, it’s a thing, really, your project might try to look at further
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is—is Will Hogg and the Forum of Civics and all the ideas of the twenties. They—if people think Houston is the Wild West, no planning, no zoning, no—no one cares and so forth, in fact, it had the most visionary civic leadership in the twenties that any city could hope for. But it—that became a matter of city political conflict, even, and that vision of Houston lost. That symbolized, if you want me to tell you briefly about it, by the construction of our pr—present City Hall. That Will Hogg asked the question—well, there’s a fellow named Ed McMahon on the billboard front who was executive director of Scenic—not the Ed McMahon that people know on television, a law professor at Georgetown who was the head of Scenic America. And he’s great at coining phrases and memorable ways of saying things. In another life, he should
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work for an ad agency. And he talks about character of place and always says you know, you could take me and blindfold me and drop me anywhere in America and I wouldn’t know whether I was in Florida, Maine, Minnesota or Georgia. Everyplace has become—the Pizza Huts look the same everywhere and we need to have character of place. Will Hogg and people in Houston in the twenties thought about that and they asked the question, what would be the ideal form of architecture for this place? Now, maybe this is a little too planned but they came up with an answer and that is by virtue of the climate and topography that we should emulate a Tuscan, Romanesque architectural style. And—and so it was then—then many projects began which attempted to do that. I could tick off just a few, the—some of which have been torn down recently and a lot of attention paid to that. But I guess the
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example that’s probably the best one is the Julia Ideson Library you got downtown. This, by the way, relates to the buildings at Rice for William Ward At—Watkin, in—in laying out the Rice campus, he’s an architect out of Boston, observed the similarity of the Houston area to—to Venice and the—and—and Florence and that area of Italy so that—in fact, Houstonians or especially people who went for Rice are forever walking around in that part of Italy and seeing the buildings after which the buildings at Rice were modeled and see the same architectural vocabulary being used. Julia Ideson Public Library downtown, the Star Engraving Building on Allen Parkway, which was torn down to a lot of controversy. The First Evangelical Lutheran Church in midtown, Palmer Episcopal Church, Saint Matthew’s Lutheran Church on Main Street. If you think about those buildings, you—you—you realize that they all share the
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same architectural style, which was this Tuscan, Romanesque style. And the masterpiece, the centerpiece of all of this was to be…
[End of Reel 2425]
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CS: Still shouldn’t have made that jab at the mayor, but I’m mad at him right now.
DT: When we left off on the last tape, we were talking about an area that included the City Beautiful movement and Mister Hogg’s Civic Forum and an effort to have an orderly and beautiful City of Houston and that towards the twenties, end of the twenties, there were some cross currents that changed that direction for the city.
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CS: Yes, it was—I was going to say that the centerpiece of this architectural idea was to be a City Hall, for which I think preliminary plans were made which would be a magnificent building in this Romanesque, Tuscan style. It suffered the same fate as the library at Rice. When William Ward Watkin laid out Rice, the centerpiece of the campus was to be a—a beautiful library building which he designed in the style of architecture which unified the old Rice campus, which at times has been followed and at times, then, not followed. We’re currently coming out of a phase in which the old forms were followed and entering into one where they’re—they’re no longer being observed again. But that comes and goes. The—the library was never built at Rice, but as I understand it, it was built either at USC or UCLA and it is a—it is a—a—a
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renowned building where it did get built. But that is the building that was originally built to be—designed to be the library at Rice. And then in—right after World War II, the library that was built there is of a—a somewhat nondescript or some would even say pedestrian building. Certainly nothing like the fantastical building that William Ward Watkin designed. However, the same thing I must say—same thing happened with the city, that the City Hall was not built and some of the things that signaled this shift were the defeat of zoning, the—the really, everybody forgetting about the implementation of the parkway and bayou floodplain plans and ideas and the construction of a City Hall, twelve stories in height of art deco architecture which was the symbolic way to shift that. Out with the old and in with the new and—
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and this is the land of opportunity and free enterprise and no planning and nobody tells anybody what to do. One other figure in this I want to mention briefly is Jesse Jones, who I think is—people familiar—all people familiar with Houston’s past know was the—the most important single figure in—in Houston history. I’m sure that one would still have to say that today. And incidentally, the man who I—our—the law firm in which I’ve practiced, which for—I guess for many years was called Liddell Sapp, now called Locke, Lord, Bissell and Liddell—seven hundred lawyers in seventeen cities or something like that. W—w—we—we represented the Jones people who constituted a whole law practice for a whole law firm in and of themselves. Jesse Jones, I mean, Jesse—Jesse—am I saying that right? Jesse Jones was a—a great admirer of Paris. He loved Paris and his vision for Houston was for
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Houston to be like Paris, the most important component of that being that there be a ten story height limit on buildings constructed in Houston. And through the twenties, when he was the biggest developer—he was sort of like Uncle Scrooge in—in the Disney Donald Duck comic books in that he owned the biggest bank, the main newspaper, the main radio station, later the main television station, the three leading hotels and the five leading office buildings in the city. He had one of everything in his empire, which today finds expression in the Houston endowment, which is a huge endowment which funds so many good things in Houston. He—Mister Jones lives on in the Houston Endowment. I don’t think you can talk to anything—anybody about anything—environmental, conservation, educational, social, medical or anything—without the hand of the Houston Endowment being
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everywhere, supporting—supporting things that could never exist without their help. But any rate, he lost that one and a building called the Scanlon Building was built downtown, nineteen stories tall. He fought very hard to prevent the construction of the building, saying that a city with high rise buildings would be an ugly city. It should be like Paris. And when they gave a permit to do that, he said well, okay, I’ll show them and he built the Gulf Building, which is a thirty-four story building which at the time was the tallest building in the United States west of the Mississippi and was then for decades the tallest building in Houston. And—but any rate, he had built that building as a—as a—as a d—statement of defiance that his—his dreams for a more beautiful Houston had been thwarted. There’s a nice symbolic thing about the Gulf Building that probably should be mentioned when we’re talking about visual
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aspect, visual conservation, scenic environment—there’s a lot of searching around for the best name for whatever you call all of this. In about 1955, the Gulf—it was called the Gulf Building because the Gulf Oil Corporation, they had their hea—world headquarters in that building along with Houston’s largest bank called the National Bank of Commerce. Jesse Jones and the National Bank of Commerce funded all the Houston banks so we had no bank failures in the Depression here due to his—due to his action. He was a figure larger than life. Gulf Oil, which in its marketing campaigns used a—a round orange circle—I think it had a—a white G imposed on the circle on all of its gasoline stations. It was announced in the early sixties with great fanfare that a sign would be placed on top of the Gulf Building and it was, which it was always referred to as the lollipop because this round orange disc was three or four building stories in height and dominated the downtown skyline for decades. And
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you know, I didn’t really have a—didn’t much of the—of—I did not have a passionate interest in these times—in these topics when this happened—I don’t think I was even in Houston when the sign got put up there—but I remember hearing the stories that many prominent Houstonians were publicly cutting up their Gulf credit cards. You we—back then you would have a credit card for just about everybody you did business with—saying they’d never buy Gulf gasoline. And I remember then Gulf had threatened to sue prominent Houstonians who were doing that, saying that that was a conspiracy and restraint of trade and actionable. But I guess the—the—the objections were a whimper and that was the—that was the zeitgeist of that time. My mother likes to talk about how, after World War II, as she said, we all gave away our Oriental carpets, we all moved to suburban new houses. She said our dream always that we would read is that you could push a button and it would clean your
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house and so that efficiency and ease and so forth came to be the new—the new values of the day. And one—one thinks of Italian villages which would gladly destroy all of their artistic and architectural heritage if they could just each have a washing machine. And it’s pretty easy for us not to appreciate that outlook today because we have so much more than they did then. But these were really the dark days whether we’re talking about billboards or trees or the preservation of—of character of place. The post World War II period is a low point and a big overarching story of my lifetime has been the—the huge shift to valuing and caring about these—these things and these values. And perhaps the challenge, the one I’ve experienced for the last two days being in Austin, trying to deal with the billboard issue before the Texas Department of Transportation, the frustration of it is that even though the battle has
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been won with the public, nobody has really figured out how to translate that into the operative mode by which our country, our city, our state are planned and what happens. We’ll come back to that theme.
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CS: The—what’s happened subsequent to the establishment of Trees for Houston and its having a staff is a pretty long story but I could try to hit a few highlights. For one thing, projects have gone on. The project that I really worked on the most was called for Trees for Boulevard Oaks—Boulevard Oaks is a neighborhood in which north and south boulevard are located—which most people would say—have said in 1982 when I moved there that—with my family—that that was—had the best trees in Houston. And yet, we surveyed and found that a perfect pattern of trees there would require twenty-three hundred trees and only thirteen hundred were in place. So we set of a goal of planting the thousand missing trees by the end of the century, not understanding that that was one year farther off than it was because the end of the century didn’t occur till the end of 2000, not the beginning of 2000. So we actually finished a—a year early. We set a goal to plant the thousand trees. We
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established a methodology for doing it whereby a neighborhood raises money at large and then goes block by block and plants trees, decoupling so to speak the idea that a person pays for a tree at the person’s house, but a neighborhood plants the streets, the public streets or what like sidewalks connect a neighborhood and give it connectivity. Biggest difficulty that we have in—in get—getting people to let us plant trees come firstly from elderly people, some of whom just don’t want trees, and—and the second group are design professionals, often landscape architects or architects who have very firm ideas about how they want their project to be seen and understood. So it’s a constant process of trying to shift the view from standing in the street and looking at the house or the building and instead turning and looking up and down the street and creating the ethic that says what you do on your side of the sidewalk is your project, but what the sidewalk, the tree lawn, the streets are the
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thing that establish connectivity in neighborhood and landscape the street and you must sublimate your own view of what you want to do to a larger vision. And—and that’s a process that’s been very successful but that’s the process that you have to go through over and over again. That project was successfully completed, the west end of South Boulevard, for example, is all white oak trees, which by—which turn beautiful red color every fall in Houston, Texas. Try to plant those wherever we can because they really do create a sense of seasons. They’re beautiful trees. You think you’re in New England in—in the twenty—twenty-two, twenty-three hundred block of South Boulevard, for example, now. Three hundred of the thirteen hundred trees died. Monoculture of trees planted in the twenties, they’re just about all dead now.
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People go to great e—expe—links to try to save trees and I applaud that but I think sometimes it’s not completely thought through. Cut down three thousand trees, dig up the stump right where it goes because according to the plan, that’s where it needs to be, wait six months, plant the tree back. From 2000 forward, Boulevard Oaks has a perfect street tree plan. I think they’re down now maybe to sixteen houses that won’t let trees be planted and it’s beautiful. And the—the—we’ve now moved away to this neighborhood last year and the project is carried on by other people. They survey the neighborhood every year, see what needs to be done and do it and have planted hundreds of trees on business streets not in the neighborhood, including hundreds of trees on the Southwest Freeway, so it’s a spillover from the Boulevard Oaks neighborhood, causing Hugh Rice Kelly over in Southampton to do a similar project which has been done. And I’ll close this part
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by saying we’ve moved to Old Braeswood and the numbers here are there are eighteen hundred needed, nine hundred in place, so a deficit of nine hundred trees. We’ve been here a year and we planted three hundred of them so we’ve got a good neighborhood effort going here. It’s a methodology but—but by the way, this methodology still just kind of follows a few of us around personally and has never really been captured by the organization Trees for Houston as a module that it can work on. And I—I won’t explore the whys and wherefores of that, but it’s something we’re still working on.
DT: Let me ask you a question about what happens after a tree is planted and how you work to protect those? And I think it would be interesting to know about the tree ordinance here in town and where that comes from. And secondly, how you deal with sort of specific threats to trees, whether it’s traffic or signs or power lines? You know, where there are safety considerations or view considerations and trees get cut back or removed, how have you dealt with those kind of issues?
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CS: See if I can briefly answer those. The first question had to do with the ordinance. I went to a Scenic America meeting, which we’ll talk about in minute—in a minute, the billboard organization in the eighties and a presentation was made on the Tree Ordinance that had been adopted in Raleigh-Durham and in Charlotte, North Carolina. And they told about how, in connection with new commercial projects, tree plantings were mandated. By the way, we should note that all over the country, there are areas that have street tree districts or where the Parks Department has a street tree row—for example, Madison, Wisconsin. You play—pay a—a—a street tree tax, just like here, you—you pay a mosquito control district tax
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and they plant the trees, they plan the trees and the public ethic is that’s a city function. And when we started Trees for Houston, we always intended that this would someday transition into that kind of thing. But it—we just have had little or no success in being able to inculcate this kind of a—of a—of a—of a tree ethic into the City Parks Department. We even have had City Council pass ordinances mandating these things and I think we could say that every parks director and e—every—especially every city forester who’s been around all this time just blithely neglects or rejects that. And so this is not a suc—a story of success in every possible way. And I think through all of this, whether we’re talking about trees or billboards or whatever, as Pogo said, we’ve met the enemy and the enemy is us.
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And certainly the role of government in these things never ceases to disappoint. Right now, the trees on Kirby Drive, which have met or sh—already somewhat mature are now all going to be cut down because the director of public works, with the support of our mayor, believes that the lanes need to be not ten feet wide, I think it is as they’ve been for the last eighty years, but they—all the lanes on Kirby Drive and the resurfacing have to be widened to eleven feet. And to do that, you have to cut down all the street trees between Buffalo Bayou and University Boulevard. It’s just—I can’t say how disheartening that is or how un-understandable that is. Concerning—so our ordinance that we passed then, I—I—when I—I heard the presentation about the ordinance and I learned that businesses were mandated to plant trees but that the experience had been after three or f—on a schedule way
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off into future years, but that—when they—and the business community was opposed to it, when they started planting the trees and seeing what it was doing for the community, the businesses through the Chamber of Commerce changed their position completely and decided that this was a good thing and under their sponsorship voluntarily did all the things they were going to be required to do in future years. I came home and went to see Kristen Harten, who is a city council member. Eleanor Tinsley, as we’ll get into, had become the leader of the sign—billboard effort in city government and Kristen was very supportive of that and I suggested to her that she might want to take on the mantle of trees, which she did. And she then sponsored an ordinance which was much weaker, but nonetheless, patterned after these North Carolina cities. And Hugh Rice Kelly then came forward
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as the negotiator for the green people, so to speak. And I—and I—and I sort of bowed out and really didn’t have anything to do with that. Hugh just take—took it and Kristen took it and ran with it. We passed an ordinance that basically required or attempted to require the planning of street trees in connection with getting permits for commercial construction and also the planting of hedges around parking lots. Architects and others tell me if you can just plant a hedge that covers the wheels of cars that you just affect a—a sea change in—in appearance and I’ve been suggesting that for fifteen years to the downtown management district and they’ve started doing it. And it’s really true. I mean, you can take the bleakest old block
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downtown Houston that has a big old parking lot on it and just put a little hedge around it all and visually transform the feeling of the place. So that was required. But there were many problems with the ordinance and there was then a subsequent renegotiation of the—of the ordinance and it had no tree protection aspects to it. And so it was subsequently amended, strengthened and—and tree protection elements put into it. And now it’s yet in a third iteration. It’s interesting that the people in the business community—who speaks for the business community? Is it some cracker jack, redneck person who has some little store somewhere who’s trying to have no trees to interfere with the visibility of the business and to have signs that’ll attract everybody’s eye, oh, you can understand the—the—the economic
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motives of that. We can all relate to them. But is that what sets the pace for a community or is the development community that speaks to these topics? The people who, when you scratch the surface, I find with developers, they’re all frustrated architects, they’re all frustrated artists, they’re all making very fine livings, very successful people. But they also often are people who are deriving a lot of emotional satisfaction from what they do. And if they speak for your community, you get a totally different kind of a community and, in fact, I think they’re the engine, whether we’re talking about signs which we’ll come to soon or trees. They’re the engine for good as I see it. So the—there—there are a couple of tensions here I might mention that are ongoing and my positions or thoughts about them are clear. One of these is the question of planting trees or preserving trees.
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The future of the greenery of Houston is not so dependant upon our saving the trees that we have, all of which are going to die and have limited life spans, but rather with the planting of trees for the future. Now tree preservation has a role. I hate to see a nice tree cut down and I think there should be laws against that. But still, what takes the public and focuses its attention is when a tree is cut down. And then there’s an analogy in the billboard area that we’ll get to later. A big beloved tree somewhere is cut down in Lufkin, Texas. Huge energy is generated among the populace of outrage about that and wanting to do something about it. But it’s pretty plain that there’s nothing you can do because people do not have the ability to take that tree and cause it to be put back in place. It’s gone. So the h—I think the future of greenery, so to speak, is taking all the passion and energy that’s created by those
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events and turning it into energy to plant trees. Not far from here, Metro needed to widen a street. There was an ancient tree there. They spent a hundred twenty-five thousand dollars picking up a large, mature mi—live oak tree—tree and moving it back ten feet, knowing that it would die. And it died. But they did so because they felt that public opinion required that they do that. That hundred twenty-five thousand dollars could’ve been used to plant two hundred fifty trees on streets somewhere. It’s the conversion of the what’s wrong with that—that equation that we need to have to plant trees. Monoculture and disease. I share concerns. Oak wilt has not come here. Maybe it never will but maybe it will and obviously planting all these live oak trees is—is—should be a matter of concern if we think that the oak wilt will come and just mow them down as you go down the streets. At the same time, some people have thought that means we need to have a—an oak tree, a plum tree, a cherry tree and—and—which loses the architectural elements, which by the way, are in a book by—by Hugh Arnold called Trees in Urban Space, which is a, I
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think, a wonderful explication of the principles by which Trees for Houston and its founders have thought about trees. We actually had those thoughts and then we found some guy who said it all so much better than we did and said so much more. It’s all in that book I want to tout. But we need to think in terms of having different species of trees, but not on the same street. We need to have one street in one tree and another street in another tree. And yet, the fact remains that on the barren, hostile, sun-baked thoroughfares of the city, the live oak tree and only the live oak tree works in Houston, Texas. And I—if time permitted, we could get in our cars and I could go show you a thousand examples of where trees were—other than live oaks—were planted in these locations. No tree has been found that will survive.
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And the live oak trees, God love them, you can find them near downtown where they’re this big around and the cement surrounds them right to the trunk. I don’t know how they live on. David, is there anything else about trees that’s burning. I know we’re—need to move along.
DT: I think we’ve covered it. I think it’d be good to hear what you have to say about the signs, billboards.
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CS: Well, it is the big—the bigger issue and the harder one to describe, so I’m going to have to be much more economical in my descriptions. What happened to Dwight David Eisenhower’s proposal not to have billboards on the federal highways? The Federal Highway Administration, under a law that was passed called the Bonus Act, said that any state that did not allow billboards on the—on the freeways would receive an extra one percent of highway funding. I think twenty six states elected to do that. So when you drive through the United States, you know whether you’re in a Bonus state or not. If you’re in a Bonus state, there are no billboards on the freeways and if you’re not in a Bonus state, there are. I’m a son of the South, not that I do not share all the values that I inherited from that root. There’s much very wrong with that tradition, but much that’s right and, at any rate, that’s where I come
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from. But I have to say that not one Southern state is a Bonus state, not a single one. And Texas isn’t one. Also a thing that’s little realized is that Texas is the only state in the Union really that has frontage roads. The original Federal Highway Beautification Act prohibited frontage roads and Sam Rayburn famously overcame that on behalf of Texas and basically, using his political power, forced frontage roads to be permitted and only Texas—it has a—a—availed itself of the opportunity to have frontage roads with the result it—in a way that doesn’t exist in any other state—roadside—I mean, businesses have all moved to the roadways. My hometown of Orange, when they built Interstate 10, every business in downtown Orange closed and moved out to the Interstate Highway. Downtown Baytown is now located on Interstate 10. And so it is everywhere you go this—in this state, we have all our commercial development along the roadways, which in my mind doesn’t make any transportation sense. Not that the roads create their own traffic as opposed to point
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to point traffic, but certainly from the point of view of the visual environment, frontage roads are an absolute disaster. You can get on Interstate 45 and go toward Dallas and you have this jungle of junk and when it ends is exactly the place where the frontage roads end. But you will also notice on a continuing basis for the last thirty years and I presume for the next thirty years, that—at that point, you will see the frontage roads under construction for the next mile or two because that changes the value of the adjacent land dramatically and that change in value creates, shall we say, a political process that results in the construction of—of frontage roads. In 1965, Lady Bird Johnson, who was of course the President’s wife, made a plea to her husband to do something to create legislation that would control billboards and
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junkyard—automobile graveyards along federal highways. And the result was the passage of something called the Federal Highway Beautification Act. If nothing else, it certainly did focus a lot of attention on the question of billboards. Unfortunately, the act that was negotiated was severely flawed in that it basically delegated to auth—to rule making authority. It required states which, lest they lose ten percent of their federal funding, to pass conforming laws that would say that signs would be con—billboards would be controlled—this is off premise billboards. A billboard—by that, we mean an off premise sign, a sign that advertises a business that’s not on the premise as contrasted with what we would call business signs, which are called on premise signs, which are telling you about a business at that location. This law only governs off premise signs, which I’m going to call billboards in this
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conversation. The—the—the code basically made what I think is a fundamental—a fundamentally wrong—took a fundamentally wrong approach. The theory of it was to restrict billboards to commercial areas and to leave rural areas without billboards. Therefore, it permitted the basically unhampered construction of billboards in urban areas while requiring the removal of the signs in the pristine rural areas. Well, the fundamental problem with that is the billboards in the rural areas have never been taken down and, in fact, I guess his name is Harry Reid, the Democratic chairman—I’m sorry, leader in the Senate, has become a one-man automaton to create legislation that will make clear that no—none of these billboards, quite apart from ever being taken down that were required in 1965 to be taken down and never have been, but now where they were blown down by the hurricane in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, that they can be rebuilt. So I mean the perversion of
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everything we do is—is—is so—is so thorough and the examples of it are so numerous. But the—the h—the—suffice it to say the highway bill—the Highway Beautification Act hasn’t taken down signs and is flawed in its attempt to do so. The more important point is—and I think people who’ve been opposed to signs have focused excessively on taking signs down where the real dynamic is in what signs are built. I’ll—I analogize this to tr—cutting down trees and planting trees. A billboard goes up in a community and huge effort is made by people to try and take that billboard down, which is essentially impossible to do. The task then of Scenic People is to take that energy and transform it into energy to stop billboards from being built. In the big picture nationally, all the effort that’s been made to take billboards down in America, which has resulted in nothing, has simply distracted
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attention from the fact that the billboards that have built since 1965 now so overwhelm what was here in 1965 that it would be any billboard control person’s dream just to return to what hap—what was there in ’65. But the further point is that in 1978, the billboard industry in a—in—in a breathtaking example of a—of a regulated industry turning that into its own device amended the law to say that cities and states could not take billboards down visi—that which are visible from federal highways without paying cash compensation to do so. In forty-nine states, state law had developed that you could require billboards to be taken down by amortization, a very complicated topic we don’t have time to get into. But s—suffice it to say that that’s the only way you can take billboards down and it is prohibited by federal law
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and that’s the principal legacy of the Federal Highway Beautification Act, a law which the billboard industry loves to call a law that works. And it does, it works for them completely.
DT: Can you back up just a little bit and express some of the concerns about having billboards? I mean, it seems like there are lots of reasons not to like billboards, whether it’s the visual clutter, but there’s also the highway safety issue. Perhaps there’s some other reasons that sort of undergird Lady Bird Johnson’s worries about billboards and your own.
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CS: I think that—that this is primarily a—a visual pollution or visual environment issue with people who oppose billboards. Yes, people are concerned about the safety aspects of billboards, but that’s not the thing that drives it. What really drives the whole effort is the way they despoil the—the view from the road. And as Texas urbanizes—I—I drove back from Austin yesterday—two new billboards in Fayette—in Fayette County, where LaGrange is, just right back out in the middle of nowhere. As—when—when traffic on certain roads reaches a certain point, all of a sudden, boom, boom, boom, here come the billboards. And I think our polls—this is a big issue. Our polls consistently show, everywhere, every time we go, no matter what we ask and we—I mean, we have a baseline study, which is kind of the Republican preferred public opinion polling group so that, I mean, they’re business—that they
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could never be seen as being anti-business—shows over eighty percent of Texans think there are too many billboards and want to do something about it. And—and by the way, a big theme here is how can eighty-five percent of the population have a view that can never be successfully expressed in the political processes. And we—that’s a whole ‘nother morning to discuss. But what are the dynamics about a billboard? William F. Buckley died a couple of days ago and I think he’s seen as the person who is best described in—in an essay he wrote in 1966, which is in his book, The Jeweler’s Eye, which is just a collection of his essays, in which he tried to talk about what is involved. The fundamental thing that’s involved in a billboard is that the billboard is not a use of public prop—or private property, but is a use of the
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public property, the public property, the roadway that’s been built by the public. So when people talk about their right to have a sign, he expresses it this way. The right to have a sign is an absolute right in his view and a landowner, as a—as an incident to his exercise of his property rights, has a—an absolute right to put any kind of sign on his property he wants to so long as it’s not visible from other people’s property. And he gives the example that a homeowner, if he wished, could construct a porch and then put a full array of signs in the yard facing the porch so he could go out on his porch and be reminded of what deodorant to use and to be reassured that he was buying the right gasoline and all the other things that these signs might tell him and that that’s a use of his property and his right. But that when that sign is then turned around and beamed at his neighbor, he’s now using his neighbor’s property. And
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when that sign is beamed at the roadway, he’s now using the public roadway and that the people who pay for the roadway, all of us, the public, the government, have the absolute right not to permit our property to be used to beam these messages onto the roadway. I know this has been talked about by theorists, economists and others of all stripes over the years. I don’t cite William F. Buckley or people of—who would be strongly identified with having private property positions, conservative positions in terms of limitation of government and other things. I don’t cite them to indicate a preference on my part for their thinking—although in fact, I do have such a preference—but rather to say that this—this is where I think there would be the greatest tendency for a concern to exist and that even in your most free enterprise, private rights group, the analytical thinkers are clear that we do not have a
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requirement that we have to look at billboards. And that it is appropriate if the community, if the public wants to not have billboards, then that is something that we, as a matter of our collective property rights, have the right to do.
DT: How would a billboard opponent respond to a First Amendment claim?
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CS: The—the law on that topic was set in a case about twenty-five years ago in—involving the City of San Diego and basically what the court did was to dr—draw a distinction between commercial speech and political speech. And basically what the court said—you have—there were like six opinions given in the case and you have to look at the different opinions to see what six people had in common, but the analysis of the case by everybody is that the pub—under Free Speech, the public may, through government, prohibit commercial messages from being beamed onto public roadways, but that, with respect to political speech, there is a right that exists in a person to express himself and that that right cannot be abrogated. It can be regulated, but not prohibited. So—and I think the law has been clear ever since that time in that respect. I mean, these very issues get litigated over and over and over again, including in Houston where the firm of Sussman, Godfrey, which is a
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renowned, high powered litigation firm, represented the billboard industry in what I would call a very energetic attack on the Houston sign code based on the idea that it was—it was in derogation of Free Speech rights. And again, the court held, as it always does, that the city—cities can do that with respect to commercial speech.
DT: Let’s talk a little bit about the codes that you mentioned and about the formation of Billboards Limited, which I guess led to the creation of that sign code in Houston.
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CS: One thing that happens is whenever the word billboard appears in the newspaper, efforts to do something about billboards pop up everywhere. Now this is an exaggeration, but let’s say if in the State of Arkansas, the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce decided billboards are good for Arkansas and they issued a press release that said billboards are good for Arkansas and it got—made it into the newspapers. Don’t be surprised if in Rogers, Arkansas one week later, somebody’s down at City Hall complaining about billboards. It’s just the mention of the medium makes people think about it and a fundamental thing that people traditionally have thought that billboards are like the weather. There’s nothing—you can talk about it, you can complain about it but there’s nothing that you can do about it and people don’t have a feeling of empowerment about that. Oh, I’m sorry, I lost my thread. Back to where we started.
DT: Well, you talked about this sort of philosoph…
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CS: Yes, I—I—I know now, exactly.
[Speaking at the same time]
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CS: I know—I know where I’m headed. The—the—the conversation that occurred resulting from the passage of the Federal Highway Beautification Act and the proceedings surrounding it in 1965 under the principle I was just saying just was a catalyst for concern to be expressed about billboards everywhere and the issue just arose everywhere because people heard about it and had the idea that maybe they could do something about it. So it was in Houston. I was not involved in the founding Billboards Limited. The man who did, Ralph Anderson, is dead, he can’t tell you about it but I—but I—and I—and I think Ralph is a great hero and I say a word about it. The American Institute of Architects held its national convention in Houston in 1965, the very year that this Federal Highway Beautification Act was
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passed and it was all in the news. When the AI meets, the local chapter does what’s called a charette. I don’t exactly know what that means, but certain kinds of architectural projects are done by the local AIA involving civic or public issues and are then in some way displayed to the people who come to the convention. Ralph Anderson, a graduate of Rice University and a—a principal in a leading architectural firm called Wilson, Morris, Crane and Anderson, designer of the Astrodome, of the Super—the Super Drum at the University of Texas in Austin and many other well known buildings around the country, was president of the AIA and so he set up a charette and asked for five ideas for the betterment of Houston. One was to make the Port of Houston a tourist attraction, as an example, and there were others. One
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of the five was to do something about signs, billboards in Houston and so they worked up some ideas and out of that grew the formation of the organization, Billboards Limited. I was in New Haven, Connecticut at the time, had nothing to do with this, which Ralph started and Ralph was the president and Ralph was the guiding light. In my experience, more often than not, efforts—you find a person who’s doing—a lot of people do a lot of things, but there’s a person who’s a catalyst. Ralph was that person and remained that person all his life. He must’ve died or—in the nineties, I’m thinking. Maybe fifteen years ago. They thought that they would just make a good reasonable proposal for the control of billboards and all march down to City Hall and the City Council would pass it. And if you got all the—and so many leading citizens and good people all banded together in this organization, including Gerald Hines, a very prominent local developer, who to this day remains a
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very big booster of sign control. And they went down to City Hall and they found out there was not one member of the City Council who would even make a motion to do anything about this. And that then followed the dark years for Billboards Limited, through the rest of the sixties and all through the seventies. I came here from law school, started practicing law and was—joined what was then called the Houston Junior Bar Association, now it’s called Young Lawyers. I don’t guess Young Lawyers want to be seen as junior anymore. And I was the program committee chairman and I heard about this and I—so I called Ralph and asked if he wanted to come and do a program on Billboards Limited. This is after the effort had failed, the initial effort. And we held that—we had that luncheon, I attended—I listened to Ralph and I’m afraid my life is irrevocably changed because very soon Ralph had a—had another
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guy who is thinking about these things and we worked together on these things for years and years and years. In the seventies, issues arose which we don’t have the time to talk about involving the Federal Highway Beautification Act. In fact, the people who opposed billboards in Washington attempted to repeal the whole act. In other words, its protection of billboards from removal on federal highways was seen vastly to overpower any good that might come of the law in general. In Texas, we really didn’t have anything else and so Ralph and I went to Aus—to Dallas to testify in favor of the federal—of not repealing the Highway Beautification Act. We were there and speaking with us were all the representatives of billboard industry. And
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people from other parts of the country came to speak in favor of the repeal. And after we had all spoken and expressed a diametrically opposed views, we went to lunch and I don’t mean the sign people. And out of that came our participation in the founding then in 1980 of a national organization, Scenic America, which has as its mission the whole cluster of issues related to the way America looks vis—the visual environment, scenic conservation. When environment got to be a suspect word, we started talking about scenic conversa—conservation. Now I hear the word environment again—no one’s ever quite sure what to call this. It, like the trees organization I mentioned, Trees for Houston, was for a couple of years kind of like a club. It had no staff, it was just people who were involved in this effort from around
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the country joining—coming together once a year in Washington. Ultimately funding was found from the Rockefeller family, David Rockefeller the III, I think, is the particular person involved and he did some major funding that permitted the establishment of an office and executive director and Scenic America still exists. We were just totally in the woods through the seventies and that’s when all these billboards in Houston were built, so that by 1980, we had over ten thousand billboards in the city. And we’re called the Billboard Capital of the World, a term that our local industry reveled in. Due to the Civil Rights Act, Houston was required to create single member districts and in 1980, an election was held and the city council was expanded from eight people—one of whom, an architect named Howard—
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Howard Ford, I think, it’s Har—I think Howard’s right—would come in the middle of the night and say I want you to know I’m for you and if there’s ever another person for you, then we’ll talk about it. But for now, I have to keep it secret. And all of a sudden, that city council became a fourteen member city council and a man named Frank Mann, who was a very—because I—I—I revere the word, I hate to call him conservative, but let’s say very old fashioned man—somebody who was against everything—was just absolutely adamant about the virtues of billboards and how wonderful they were. And the woman, Eleanor Tinsley, who had been involved in CSG, Citizens for Good Schools—CGS, I’m sorry. A lovely, refined, wonderful woman ran against Frank Mann and she made billboards a political issue and she beat him. And six new people came to the Houston city council and voila, we suddenly went
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from being zero to eight to being eight to seven, having the votes. And promptly under the leadership of a man named Lance Lalor, who subsequently kind of disappeared from sight, he was a state representative who was elected to the city council and very much acting independently, crafted, introduced, fought for and got passed the 1980 Billboard Law, which fundamentally said this—no more billboards could be built in Houston. It also required the removal of perhaps ten percent of the billboards in the city. Very modest in its takedowns, but it said no new billboards. David, this topic and—and the different laws and the different fights is a difficult one to—to in capsule form, I’ll try. The billboard industry immediately went to Austin and
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got passed a law that basically said the Houston sign code is hereby overridden and void by the Texas legislature and a couple of people happened to be having dinner with Mark White, then the governor. I mentioned in particular Ray Hankamer and had dinner with him and talked to him about this and the next day, he vetoed it, saying it was an unwarranted intrusion on local government and the rights of home rule cities. In 1985, the billboard industry came back. This is a huge lobby. The amount of political money they hand out is staggering. I remember we were in front—we, Scenic America, in front of us—one committee in the House of Representatives and—and—which was considering a—a minor billboard manner and they handed out three hundred ninety-five thousand dollars in honorariums to the
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members of that committee in a thirty day period. If we—if we come back now to the intel—intellectual or theoretical side of things, remember, billboards are a use of the roadway, according to—to William F. Buckley. They’re not a use of the private property. So that basically means that we’re—and—and billboard companies price their product according to what they call circulation. And circulation like a magazine for them means how many cars go by. Basically this is a parasite industry that—that takes circulation provided by us, the public, and then converts that into a commercial product that can be sold to advertisers and its whole reason for existence and ability to exist depends upon its ability to continue, parasitically, to use the circulation provided by the government. So its whole existence depends upon its ability to—to garner a public asset for its private use. It is a multibillion dollar industry. If
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tomorrow it were deprived of its resource that it doesn’t own, our public roadways and the circulation on those public roadways, it would be a zero dollar industry. Now if you have a multibillion dollar industry and your product is something that you’re getting for free and you’re getting it from the government, how much money would you spend to ensure the existence and continuation of the availability of that product? If you’re a two billion dollar industry, it’s certainly not a hundred thousand dollars, it’s not a million dollars, it’s not a billion dollars. It’s whatever it takes. I mean, obviously, if the cost of the product became past a certain point, it would affect the end product and the profitability of the business. But fundamentally, the billboard industry lives by its appropriation of a public asset and, therefore, I—and I don’t fault them for this, this is how I would run the business. It’s how anybody
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would run the business. But their biggest cost of doing business is government. That’s why yesterday, the Texas Department of Transportation said that you could have LED billboards in Texas. Forget the fact that nobody who ever talked to them about it wasn’t being paid to talk to them about it. Forget the fact that the political processes of which they’re a part have benefited from untold money, according to Lyndon Johnson, the mother’s milk of politics, pouring in to support them in every way. Anybody who’s there not being paid to be there is there to be against it. We can poll the public using the pollster who would be the least suspect for our intended audience of any pollster we could pick and show that eighty or eighty-five percent of people think something. But how can that ever fight or counter a multibillion dollar
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industry that depends and lives off of a public asset that it simply siphons off for free? In—in—in ’85, Lieutenant Governor Hobby, who by the way, he and his wife were very good friends of Ralph Anderson’s, but nonetheless, he said I want to compromise. So the City of Houston went to Austin and they compromised with the billboard industry. The point of no new billboards, never an issue. And I want to stop right now and say that twenty-eight years later, we don’t have ten thousand billboards, we have five thousand and not one billboard has been taken down by authority of law. The five thousand that have been taken down have been taken down by storms, hurricanes, changing land use patterns, new pr—traffic moving to other roadways and, in a few cases, public spirited citizens, landowners just saying take the billboard down.
[End of Reel 2426]
DT: When we left off, we were talking about the development of the Houston sign code. Maybe you can take it from there.
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CS: Well, I think I was at talking about ’85, when Governor Hobby said he wanted a compromise in Austin. So Mayor Whitmire, with the City Attorney, went up to negotiate with the industry. It’s always very frightening to us. There’s a fellow named Bill Britton in Jacksonville who’s a lawyer, who’s a very fine lawyer and very active in Scenic America and very knowledgeable about these things and sometimes we’d laugh and we say we think we’re the only two people who—who have had the necessity or opportunity, really, to become familiar with the law, which is very complicated having to do with science, who aren’t employed by the billboard industry. And so it was so frightening to see public officials go to Austin to negotiate with an industry about very technical things involving technical terms and not always
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being apparent what a certain thing means or what the effect of a certain thing is. But any rate, we worked through all of that and something called House Bill 1335 resulted and that formed the basis upon which the code as it had been passed in 1980 in Houston was modified. At first, we knew that there was one thing that we needed or wanted to get out of that negotiation and—which was not on the table but we were able to get it into the negotiation and that is Texas cities have something called their extraterritorial jurisdiction areas. That goes back to the fact that all over the country, cities as they grew, reached the boundaries of little surrounding cities or then areas not wishing to be a part of center cities, incorporated themselves into separate cities. So you had the situation in Detroit where it’s completely ringed by
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white flight communities. All the money, all the resources are in these communities and what’s left is a minority city in the middle, like the middle of a doughnut, that has all the problems and none of the resources and that has crippled areas. I think ultimately when you read in the newspaper that around, it’d be about the tenth of April, you’ll read about school districts in Michigan closing for the year because they’re out of money. Well, you know, there—you can always see what it is. It’s that kind of a situation, which also results in polarization of people. Nobody in the city wants to have anything to do with the suburbs, nobody in the suburbs wants to have anything to do with the city and conservative people like me say that’s—means local problems don’t get addressed which results in federal government action
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because somebody’s going to do something about problems sooner or later. So we got to have the resources where the problems are. Hence in Texas after the war, the passage of ETJ’s—areas around cities in which citizens may not incorporate so that as the city grows, it can incorporate the entire community and that when people flee from the cities, they’re still in the tax base of the city. They still vote in the city and we’re all one community. By the way, that is something which within the past year has now been permanently abandoned by the City of Houston under the leadership of our mayor, in that the Woodlands has now been given the right to incorporate and we won’t see this ETJ as playing the rule—role in the future. That’s perhaps, in my opinion, the most significant political event of my life in municipal government or in what the future of Houston will be. That’s another topic. But what
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the City of Houston did get in ’85 in this compromise was the authority to regulate signs in the ETJ. It’s still the case in Texas that outside cities and the ETJ, no unit of government has the authority to regulate signs. There are weak state laws administered through TXDOT that govern what happens in rural areas. But we’ve created a situation in Texas—and I’ll come back to this—where our whole regulatory authority is applicable in places where development is not taking place. And where development does take place, there’s no regulatory authority. Really makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? It’s—it’s true whether you’re planning subdivisions or having water wells. We have these barrios in the valley where a lot of new—new people to this country are living in squalid conditions and they’re not in incorporated cities or ETJ’s and therefore, nobody has any authority to—to—to—to—to enforce the most
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fundamental civic rules. What happened in Houston when we stopped billboard construction in the city was the billboard construction in the areas just around the city, outside the city limits, mushroomed. So we saw—billboards were built in the Houston—in Houston in the seventies like there was no tomorrow and then in ’80, it stopped and they built billboards like there was no—no tomorrow in the—in the areas just outside the city. We got the authority for Houston to extend its ban on billboard construction into the ETJ. And it is within that whole ETJ now since 1985 that no billboards have been constructed, although there has been a tremendous political fight that if you—if—if—if you read the Houston newspaper, which has been really wonderful in the sense that, as I’ll come to in a moment, Houston’s built—many
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billboards in Houston are supposed to be taken down by force of law in 2009 and 2013. This is from an ordinance passed in 1992, which I’ll describe in a moment. There’s always going to be the end game. Do we have the political will to enforce that? And I think Scenic Houston, our local organization, might—could be seen as having the not the strongest ties to the government in the last few years because there have been no issues or—or things to make that happen, but there’s been a huge billboard fight, unlike anything I’ve even seen before, in Houston over the last two months, which has—one result of which has been to create tremendous positive resources, opinion and determination on the part of a growing number of Houstons
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to s—Houstonians to see these sign laws through to the end. So if they hadn’t done it to us, we should’ve figured out another way to do it and it ultimately is a good thing. But it also ruined our Christmas and that is, our mayor proposed that billboards be allowed to be constructed again in Houston and it has been a battle royal and it’s still being negotiated. But nonetheless, no billboards have been built in Houston since 1980 with this wonderful result. We have over hundreds of miles now of freeways in Houston that have no billboards and only have the monument signs that sit low to the ground. So we’ve really become kind of a tale of two cities in Houston. We have everything that was developed before 1980, which is the worst in the world, and we have everything that’s been developed since 1980, which in many ways is as good as anything in the world. And that’s the big story of the Houston
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sign code and, if I can stay on this topic of not building new billboards, that idea spread from Houston all over the country. We’re—we’re—we’re the model for this new way of looking at how to deal with signs and it—that is, to deal with the dynamic of change rather than trying to change the past. Or stated differently, stopping billboard construction in the future instead of worrying about taking billboards down while we’re not noticing all the billboards that are being built behind our shoulder. Over three hundred fifty cities in Texas now, Dallas being the last one, interestingly, have prohibited billboard construction and major cities all over the United States have done so, all in emulation of the Houston model. Perhaps it’s a bit overstated, but not really. It really started with Lance Lalor and his action in 1980, was remarkable. What happened then in 1985, there—recall I said the 1980
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ordinance not only stopped billboard construction but also required the removal of about ten percent of the billboards in Houston, required all the billboards of whatever height to be reduced in height to forty-two feet. That was to have been effective in 1986. The city and the outdoor industry made a compromise in ’85 under the auspices of the legislature which were incorporated in this House Bill 1330 that I described. I might’ve called it 1335 before, it’s 1330, which, slicing through all the detail, comes down to this point. The removals that were supposed to occur in 1986 were extended to be re—to taken down in ’93, ’96 and ’99. So there was an extension of time for the removal of these billboards that were to be removed in ’86. With respect to the signs all being lowered in height, only half of them would have to be lowered in height. One third of those to be lowered in height in each of the years
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1986, 1987 and 1988. And as I mentioned earlier, which was so important to us, the extension of the authority of the City of Houston sign code into the ETJ, which resulted in the cessation of billboard construction in the ETJ. I might—I think I mentioned this before but let me say again, the first one was 288 to the South, then the h—the county jumped in in the same year of 1985 under the leadership of County Judge John Lindsay and got authority for the County Commissioner’s Court of Harris County to prohibit billboard construction and set standards for on premise signs along any toll road in the city and, therefore, all of the—the West Park, the Beltway, all of these roads have been developed with no billboards and no signs over eight feet high. And I want to make a little detour, if I may, back to trees and say
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that starting about five years ago, prominent members of the Houston community who are active in the Greater Houston Partnership, the Chamber of Commerce, became galvanized to do something about the ugliness of Houston freeways, which are the—a defining thing for Houston. At—at—and dealing not just with billboards, but also with tree planting and—and vegetation and I want to mention some names. They’re politically powerful people; I mean this is very important. One in particular I would mention is a man named Dick Weekley. His brother, David Weekley, and he are the owners of the large homebuilding company with which you may be familiar. And he’s a man who has very passionately fought the trial lawyers in connection with medical malpractice and torts so that Texas has—has changed from being a state where a—a forum to which people tried to come if you wanted to bring large lawsuits
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for—for negligence or medical malpractice or anything to now a state that has model laws that make it very difficult to recover these princely sums in—in these examples. And Dick Weekley has been the leader of that. And the other person, Hugh Rice Kelly, I mentioned has—is—is his chief lieutenant. Dick Weekley is a very, very strong, nationally prominent Republican and very powerful person politically in the s—in the State of Texas and his passion against billboards and for planting trees is unsurpassed by anybody. And then there are other people, Max Watson, who is retired as a CEO of BMC Software, a big software company here that then merged into Hewlett-Packard, and others. I—I can’t bring all the names up just in the interest of time. But these people have become very politically active and through the Greater Houston Partnership, we’re now planning a hundred thirty five million
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dollars worth of trees on Houston freeways. Ted Poe, who is this somewhat rambunctious former criminal judge here in Houston who would sentence people in unusual ways, got sent—went to Washington as congressman from North Harris County and got put on the Appropriations Committee. He got a twenty—I think a twenty—fifteen or twenty million dollar earmark and so these nasty earmarks we hear so much about, whatever we think about them, I’ll tell you, they’re planting trees in Houston, Texas. And the result is if you go on the right freeways—David, ya’ll might go over to 288 and look at the median from here into downtown. There are no billboards there and they—the forestation that’s been done there is just magnificent. And the forestation on 610 going through Bellaire, for example,
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everywhere, these massive plantings of trees are taking place. And by the way, we get to go to Austin and fight the billboard industry that—that—that seeks legislation as existing—talk about political effectiveness. In twenty-six states now, if there is a tree on public property that interferes with the visibility of a billboard, the government must cut the tree down. So for example, that’s the law in Atlanta and such a law is vigorously sought every session of the legislature in Texas. And Margaret Lloyd and I get to go to Austin and fight it and successfully so far. That doesn’t keep billboard companies in Houston, one in particular, from cutting trees off and down all around town. And again, you can get on the freeways and just look and see where the trees have been cut off o—on public property to create visibility of
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billboards. Completely illegally. But I wanted to talk about the—the forestation that’s taking place. This is highly significant. I mean, I just want—even to ask you if you might’ve noticed that, but if not, now that I’ve mentioned it, look around town at the—all this forestation that’s taking place.
DT: Well, this might be a good jumping off point to talk about scenic issues in general because you’ve been active with reforestation and with trying to control signs, but it seems like there are other aspects of the visual environment that have been controversial over recent years and that would include having scenic roadways, maintaining corridors that provide access to look at the state capitol, for instance or trying to regulate where cell towers can be put. Have you had any experience with those kind of concerns?
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CS: Well, cell towers are interesting in that the federal government passed a law about four or five years ago. The only federal land use law that existed for many, many years was the prohibition against cities or states taking down billboards without paying cash compensation. That was joined with the second one a few years ago which limit the ability of cities under their zoning laws to restrict the location of cell towers. And cell towers has been an issue—I—we haven’t talked much about Scenic America, which is sort of the national expression of the—of the movement, Scenic Houston is the organization which came into existence and Billboards Limited kind of faded out of the picture and then we have an organization, Scenic Texas, which carries out the—the—the mission at the state level. And then we have Scenic Austin, Scenic Dallas and other organizations—and I have to mention in connection
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with Scenic Dallas that a highly significant amount of firepower for all of our efforts has resulted from a gentleman named Harlan Crow in Dallas. Harlan is a—the leader of the family which you would know as the Trammell Crow Company, although that’s not their precise business interest now. A man who is very, very active nationally and locally and at the state level, one of the largest Republican Party contributors in the country and a man who has become very passionately concerned about all of these issues and that has made a huge difference in our—in our effectiveness in Texas, his—his energetic interest in all of our topics. Cell towers have been talked about but not anything that I’ve been that much involved in and we hear things
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about it, but we don’t—it hasn’t been a big issue. Undergrounding power lines—this is a very, very thin line of people. It—it, for a small number of us, is an almost all consuming thing. I mean, the story of today is the story of my life. I’ve got something I’ve got to do at the office and I’m trying to do this and, meanwhile, in the back of my mind, I’m concerned about undergrounding power lines, but it just can never quite make it up to the agenda. But when Ralph started Billboards Limited, right off the bat, undergrounding power lines was a thing of interest. In fact, the leading law—one of the leading law firms of our city, which represented HL&P, immediately put a memorandum out to all the lawyers in the firm for—saying that they should not participate in the activities of this new organization, Billboards Limited, because the next thing that they would do would be that they would try and
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put the lines—power lines underground, which was opposed by HL&P. Well, that—that—that—that—that memorandum, if it existed—I was—I heard about it, I never actually saw it—got one thing wrong and that was we weren’t on our way to doing a next thing anytime soon because the th—the billboard thing has consumed us for all this time. But efforts have been made to do something about undergrounding utilities. And incidentally, both the City of Austin and the City of San Antonio that have municipally owned power companies are in programs of putting one percent of their lines underground every year and putting all their new lines underground. So that’s being accomplished in those cities but not in Houston. It remains a task for a person to do but the person has never stepped forward. What other things did you mention?
DT: Well, I had also mentioned Scenic Highways. I know there’s been an effort to get (inaudible) from the state.
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CS: Well, yes. At the federal level, a Scenic Highways programs was a—actually—it was an accomplishment of Scenic America that a Scenic Highways program—or primarily Scenic America that a Scenic Highways program was implemented at the federal level. One aspect of that is if you have a highway that’s designated scenic, you can’t build a new billboard on it and I—very quickly, forty-eight states adopted Scenic Highway programs. Texas is not. The other state was Wyoming, but I understand that Wyoming has now done so, so we’re the one of the fifty states that does not have a Scenic Highways program. Scenic Highways program would be a great thing. We’ve introduced legislation in favor of it but in terms of the broad scope of needs in this state, the principal of one—of which is that no unit of government has the authority to do anything about stopping sign construction
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outside of incorporated cities so that we’re seeing—I think I mentioned when I drove to Au—Austin yesterday—there were two new billboards in rural areas Fayette County. They’re building billboards all over the hill country. We have the cities and I can’t—we don’t—there’s not the energy or the time available for—for citizens to go to every city and have billboard construction stopped and it comes up in some cities, in others, it doesn’t. But by and large, we’ve got the cities prohibiting billboard construction. That’s been successful. Three hundred fifty cities we know of. But in the countryside, the one place where there should not be billboards being built in anybody’s view in Texas—we’ve tried to ban their construction. We’ve tried to get county authority to stop billboard construction if they wish to. The billboard industry fights every proposal, no matter what, no matter how small, how unimportant. They have a clear policy and have my whole adult life of fighting everything with all the
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energy that they have. In a negotiation, they’re not a party with whom you can negotiate. It’s a scorched earth policy and—and that’s—that’s how it is. A story I have to come back is—to is how is it that the City of Houston became the only city in America that has totally prohibited billboards and sought to take every billboard in this city down? Hadn’t done it, but the laws are on the book to do that. How did that happen? It’s an unlikely place, I think. And—and I think th—the—the—that is a story which I’ll complete and come back to in a moment, about how the billboard industry makes deals and then turns around and sues the city and doesn’t—doesn’t carry out their end of compromises and—and in the process, in addition to you having a City Council that over the years becomes more and more interested in the beauty of the city, you also have a City of—Council that over the years gets madder
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and madder and madder with the consequent things happening. So we don’t have a Scenic Roads program in Texas and we don’t really even pursue that because—that seriously because Scenic Roads program is a great thing but it’s not very—it’s not very—in a statewide level, it’s not a very—very large thing. And we end up finding that the billboard industry—I mean, they—they—they introduced it now because it gives a place to spend a lot of energy that’s without any prospect of a successful outcoming be—being that significant.
DT: And one last question about visual corridors, that some have been tried to be created or protected.
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CS: Well, the only one I know about is in Austin. I—I would say as an outsider, auslander, if you will, I think it’s a shame that Austin hasn’t done more in that connection. I think the—the new high rise buildings in Austin are out of scale and, in many cases, architecturally aggressive and Austin will never be a Washington, D.C. It’s a shame. But it’s a pretty nice town. But certainly the corridors that do exist are good. It’s nice to be able to go out on the, what’s it called, the—the—the highway, the something of Texas, the…
DT: Capitol of Texas.
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CS: Capitol of Texas Highway and be able to pull over to that little vantage point and look and see the capital. That’s nice.
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CS: Well, let me go back and complete the—the—the chronology of the Houston billboard ordinances and also mention on premise signs, which we haven’t discussed. In ’85, the compromise was struck. The—the—the ink wasn’t dry until this—till the—the industry sued the industry sued the City of Houston. And they basically, there were—they s—thirty-five things they said were wrong. There was a judge here who was notoriously hard on the City of Houston in litigation and they were able—they—to file one lawsuit in his court and then any lawsuit that they filed in any other court, he would consolidate it into his court. He found for the billboard industry on thirty-five points and was reversed and rendered on all thirty-five points, which means that the higher court just said wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, thirty-five times and
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sent it back. But nonetheless, that litigation went on, cost the city vast amounts of money, vast amounts of resources and back to the Pogo story, was poorly handled by the city legal de—department from the first minute till the last minute. And again, that’s a—that’s a really frustrating thing when you’re involved in this. That notwithstanding the fact that there were constantly—not on my part, but always volunteer fine lawyers in Houston offering at no fee to handle these things for the City of Houston, which city attorney after city attorney would say oh, no. Nobody’s handling our business. To our current mayor’s credit, he’s got some fine, fine private lawyers who are not in the city legal department handling the litigation that’s involved right now and that’s a very, very good development. The lawsuit, ’93 came and the billboards weren’t taken down. Remember these billboards were supposed
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to be taken down in 1986; it was compromised to extend them out to ’93, ’95, ’99. They weren’t taken—nothing taken down in ’93, nothing taken down in ’95, nothing taken down in ’99, nothing ever lowered in height. Here we are in 2008 and what can I say? I probably spent forty hours Christmas week messing with this stuff, with things that happened here in Houston and not—not just I. A whole lot of people. So it’s—it’s a—it’s an almost overwhelming thing to try to deal with. Almost but not quite. The litigation dragged on and dragged on and dragged on and then finally the—the—a favorable ruling was obtained, appealed and all rights of appeal lapsed. So the law that was passed in 1980, that was compromised in 1985. The city was sued by the industry, they dragged that out from 1985 to I think 2005 and finally, like you pull a piece of string, you get to the end of it, the city has won. But it’s a
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complicated story. The city has been unable to implement its victory so the—the track record for taking billboards down in Houston matches the track record everywhere else, almost everywhere else. It just never happens. But at least we haven’t built new billboards. In 1992, a—the—the second billboard law was passed, remembering 1980 stopped billboard construction but left—just required that a few be removed. When the City of Houston, faced with the largest billboard inventory in the world, said to the industry, we have authority to require all these billboards to be taken down that are not on federal highways. But we’re not going to do that; we’re just going to take a few of them down. You would think the industry would say that’s great. We keep this huge plan in place. Instead, as indicated, they went to the legislature. They ended up compromising and then they sued on the compromise. And it’s occurred to people with some—some suggestion on the City Council with suggestion from the outside, well, if—if they won’t take ten percent of the billboards down now or they’re going to fight us for all these years, we’re not
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going to fight over ten percent anymore. And so in 1992, City Council of Houston passed an ordinance that said every billboard in the city has to be taken down, which they had the authority to do, in 2009 if made of wood and 2013 if made of steel. The Federal Highway Beautification Act prohibits the implementation of that law for any sign visible from a federal highway, which means all the freeways. The law is written in such a way that if the federal law every ch—ever changes, there’s immediate effect and removal required by the law. Will the federal law ever be changed? There’s a huge lobby up there to fight and it’s difficult to see any realistic possibility of that occurring anytime soon. Would it never happen? You know, you’ve got to be optimistic about the long run but we have the law on the books. With respect to the signs that aren’t on the federal highways, it’s a complicated
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story. We’re in a big chapter of it right now but that’s going to be a very hot political issue in 2009 and in 2013. All I can say is I’m just delighted that these unnecessary billboard wars that we’ve been having over the last two or three months in Houston have so inspired and galvanized so many people and—and never have I seen more energy available for the anti-billboard movement in Houston than I do now. And I’m sixty-seven years old but I’m very much looking forward to the coming four or five years and I hope many beyond that as we try to play out the topic of taking down billboards in Houston. But for sure, we haven’t built any new ones. On premise signs—and of course, with our Scenic Texas organization, it has to be realized that everything we do in Houston, an attempt is made to undo it in Austin. So we can’t
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just fight this thing in Houston, we constantly have to fight it in Austin. But due to Harlan Crow, Dick Weekley, Max Watson and other people, we have blocking power in the Texas legislature. And I don’t believe that the billboard industry can pass a law in the city—in—in the state legislature and I think every session, we’re getting closer. I should mention one that people don’t know about. We used to go to the TXDOT engine—engineers and say let’s have some—some—some tree planting and some beautification on the—on the roadways. Let’s get architects to design bridges and do things in a nice way and they would say you know, we’d love to do that but that’s not our legislative mandate. If we did that, we wouldn’t be able to build as many miles of road each year as we do and that’s what our mandate is legislatively.
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So we drafted something called the Scenic Act of 2001. Went to Austin and got it passed and it mandates that TXDOT consider aesthetic, architectural, historical, et cetera matters in the construction of all roadways in the State of Texas. And David, you—you have to have noticed the way the new freeways built in the last five years in the state of Texas look. They’re planting plants; they’re using all kinds of materials. They’re paint—th—they’re really—and they’re having workshops all around the state. It’s called context sensitive design and it is mandated by the Scenic Act of 2001 which was written by and passed by the organization called Scenic Texas. And that and only that is resulting in the freeways being done in say, Austin the way they are. And really, our organization—we should do a better
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job of making people aware of that. Another thing we’ve done is through Garnet Coleman, a black Democrat legislator from Houston who’s been very devoted to this cause of—of plants and—and—and so forth, that we have got appropriations equal to one-half to one percent of the total budget of—of TXDOT mandated to be spent by TXDOT on landscaping. And so all this landscaping—see, I’ve heard people say boy, TXDOT is really—really doing better now, aren’t they? Well, let me tell you, every bit of that—every plant you see is mandated to be planted by our legislative action and every—every—every frivolous dollar being spent on good architecture. But in some areas like Gary Trietsch in Houston, we have wonderful district engineers who really are with the program. On premise signs, I remember I was on a committee of
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the Chamber of Commerce to negotiate an on premise sign ordinance for Houston and in ’78, I proposed at a meeting that there be a one hundred twenty-five foot height limit on on-premise signs in Houston. Well of course, that was a facetious suggestion reflective of the fact that there was no height limit. But the representatives of the on-premise industry all opposed it because they said it was unconstitutional and communistic to put any limit on the height of a sign. In the 1980 ordinance, Lance Lalor got passed, very modest on premise sign standards were put into place. In 1991, after two years of negotiating, which I did, this is Friday, every Friday at lunch with the on-premise industry, those standards were beefed up. And so we have a near decent on-premise sign code in Houston. For the
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last four years, Dick Weekley, members of the Greater Houston Partnership and the Houston Business Community have been talking that they want to see all of this tightened up a lot more and I think something will come of that. So that’s kind of the on premise sign picture. And then—and the thing that though that I’ve—I—I like to report the best because it was ju—somewhat, I just—I sort of—it just sort of happened, I would put it that way. In the 1991 ordinance, we put a provision in that said you could have no sign downtown over forty-two feet off the ground. And the result is that we have this downtown skyline that doesn’t have any kind of a sign on it, except of course, on the city’s Hilton Hotel. But we got the law changed on that so that that can’t happen again. I read that German filmmakers like to make their
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movies about America in Houston and the TV series over there in an article—and it didn’t talk directly about signs—but these German filmmakers were saying the Houston skyline is clean. It’s different from other American cities and I think it’s that we don’t have signs on top of any of our buildings downtown. Meanwhile, in the Medical Center now, they’re having a contest to see how many signs they can put up on top of the hospitals. But in downtown Houston, on-premise signs are protected. There are a lot of other places we could go. Maybe that’s all on signs.
DT: You’ve talked about some of the mandates and ordinances, regulations that you’ve tried to press for sign control. Maybe we can talk about you personally. You do a lot of these things without any individual mandate; nobody’s making you do this. Why is it that you care about these things and why should a future generation find these things to be important and carry it onward?
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CS: I don’t understand that myself. Perhaps I shouldn’t say this but I will. There’s a George Bernard Shaw quotation that—let—let’s put it this way. There are a lot of people like me. I mean, not like thousands or hundreds, but there are—and you know, we’re not heroes. We’re just doing something that we’re driven to do. I—I—I can’t explain it myself. I can tell you night before last, I did not sleep after having a meeting in which I basically got told forget it as far as doing anything about retarding LED in Texas. And I asked myself that question all night, am I going to keep doing this? Kind of a dumb question to ask after all of these years. Why do I do this? I don’t know why I do it but I seem to have to do it. And then it seems like every time I go through one of these periods of asking myself that question, I—I end up deciding well, yes, I—I’m not going to—I’m not going to quit now. I will say this.
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We’ve—one thing that’s interesting is how many people in this movement are soldiers who ser—people who did military service in Germany. I did not, but that is fading now that the Cold War is over and we don’t have our troops over there. But people being in Europe and seeing an environment that’s so different, you know, I mean, in—in—in—in Germany and to a certain extent in other countries in Europe, there are no billboards. There are no signs although they’re now being imported. It’s just starting now and that’s very disheartening. You can see McDonald’s signs fifty feet up in the air in the north of Sweden, for crying out loud. So our—our—the—this aspect of our culture is making more inroads there. But nonetheless, one thing that I always have done every year is to take a vacation in Europe and I can relax there because there’re not all this stuff happening. And the other thing is we
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go to Colorado, to an area where there are no signs at all and you can relax there. But—and I guess now in Houston, I can relax in Houston because at least all the signs that are here are by now old, shall we say, friends. They’ve been around a while and there’s not anything that upsets, although driving to Austin. I don’t know. I think the—the comment that I was going to repeat though, which people like me and there are a lot of us, not a huge number, but a lot of us, joke about and what people have—throw this at us is called the—and I don’t think that human progress depends on me, I—and I don’t want to be ever sounding immodest or hubristic about anything. That’s not the way I feel or think. But there is this thing that is kind of interesting. He said the reasonable man makes a—a—I wish I had the quotation—a fair accommodation with life as he finds it and is well liked by his peers and enjoys
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and has an enjoyable, pleasurable life and goes on in this vein. And then says on the other hand, there’s the unreasonable man. Said the unreasonable man can’t accept anything the way he finds it. He’s an irritant to everybody and goes on and paints a not totally, but largely unflattering picture of what he calls the unreasonable man, which all of us who are really into doing this stuff, especially on the sign issue, feel like we’re at least being described to some degree. And then it says therefore, all human progress depends on the unreasonable man. I don’t think that all human progress res—and I think that’s a—a—a—a—a grossly inflated statement. But at least in this little area of the scenic world, it does seem like there are just a very limited number of people who are consumed with some kind of a passion. I might’ve
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said earlier that it’s interesting how the most secular people—or did I say that privately? The most—the most—the most secular people that I know ultimately start talking about values that have some spiritual basis, if not explicitly religious basis, and start seeing or feeling that there’s something at work that deserves more respect than just what we individually or collectively do and that there is a sense of stewardship. I heard this expressed in the poems of Heinrich Heine, who is a nineteenth century romantic German poet who wrote poems about trees and I was on a nature hike in the—in Austria in the Alps, my wife and I, where we would sit down and meditate under trees and these poems of Heine would be read. And it all made a certain kind of sense and seemed to describe things that innervated the
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people I know and people who I’ve watched do this. How can it be that eighty or eighty-five percent of the people want a beautiful environment, don’t want billboards and—and the list of things go on, and yet in a political it—things that are controlled politically, that—that indeed all human progress doesn’t depend on those of us who are doing this. We can’t even give a proper expression to this one small voice on this one small topic. So in that way, I don’t feel successful in—in what I’ve tried to do and the best story I can tell myself is—on the billboard point especially—is we kept it alive. I mean, that—that is maybe the—the most that we’ve done. The—the—the ocean, we have property down on the Gulf of Mexico, with the erosion and global warming and the rising ocean, every year, more of the beach is taken away. People come in and they build big concrete bulwarks and they do everything in the
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world to try to preserve their property and their houses and it all fails in the end. In the end, the ocean and whatever force is behind the ocean is bigger than they are and it overwhelms them. My own view of my lifetime is that I’ve lived in a vulgarizing society where things have become increasingly crass and unpleasant, commercial. Not unlike the Gulf of Mexico rising higher and higher onto my beach property and that any intelligent person should be able to look at that and see that and know you can’t fight that. And ultimately your efforts are just swept over like the Gulf of Mexico. It’s frustrating and sometimes maybe the only thing you can say is that your kids or your grandkids—back to common theme of everybody who works on these things—I don’t know that we’re going to have done anything for our children or our grandchildren, but maybe we will have kept ali—we have—if—if we—
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we stand up and say I object and we’ve kept that I object alive and through our years. And we may not see the—the—the end fruition of that but we have to hope that there is one.
DT: Well said. Anything you’d like to add?
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CS: No.
DT: No. Well, thank you very much. Really appreciate your time.
[End of Tape 2427]
[End of Interview with Carroll Shaddock]