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Inside the Effort To Restore Montrose’s Historic African-American Cemetery

By  | Montrose Management District

For decades, Houstonians driving down West Dallas Street between Dunlavy and South Shepherd might have noticed an overgrown, apparently vacant lot on the south side of the street. Neglected by an absentee owner, the 5.5-acre site had become a weed-choked dumping ground, and probably seemed like a prime candidate for development. Few passing motorists would have guessed that beneath the trash and the dense underbrush was one of Houston’s most historically significant burial places.

Founded in 1896, the College Park Cemetery is one of Houston’s three remaining Jim Crow-era African-American cemeteries. (The other two are Olivewood, founded in the 1870s, and Evergreen, established in 1900.) It’s the final resting place of around 4,400 black Houstonians, including Reverend John Henry (Jack) Yates, arguably the single most important black leader in post-Civil War Houston, and the namesake of Jack Yates High School.

As fate would have it, Robert O. Robertson, the man who has spent the past 20 years leading the campaign to restore and beautify College Park, has a personal connection to Yates. Robertson is the pastor of Houston’s Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, which was founded by Yates in 1891 in historic Freedman’s Town (now the Fourth Ward). In the late 1990s Robertson was running a community service program for teenagers on probation. His office was on West Dallas, right across from an overgrown lot, so he decided to put his young charges to work cleaning up the property.

MMD_CMPCementery-21-300x199 Inside the Effort To Restore Montrose’s Historic African-American CemeteryWhen the teenagers began hacking through the weeds, they noticed a tombstone. Then another one. And another one. “When I came across the marker that said Reverend Jack Yates, I got a chill up my spine,” Robertson remembered. “I knew God had led me to that site.” Robertson began taking his probationers to the cemetery every weekend to clear brush and trash, and he started researching the cemetery’s history.

He learned that the cemetery was named for its location across from the Houston Central College for Negroes, Houston’s first black school of higher education. He also learned that interred within its grounds was the president of that college, I. M. Terrell, who went on to serve as president of Prairie View State Normal and Industrial College (now Prairie View A&M) and administrator of the Houston Negro Hospital. Also buried on the grounds is a black Texas state legislator from the Reconstruction era—one of the last black legislators, it would turn out, until Barbara Jordan in the 1960s.

Not long after he began his cleanup efforts, Robertson had to fend off an attempt by developers to deconsecrate and sell a portion of the cemetery. With help from the city of Houston, Bethel purchased the land from its owner in 1998 and later established the College Park Cemetery Association, a non-profit organization that raises money to restore and maintain the property. Thanks to the church’s efforts, in 2002 the cemetery was designated a Texas State Historical Cemetery, which guarantees it can’t be torn down.

MMD_CMPCementery-4-300x199 Inside the Effort To Restore Montrose’s Historic African-American CemeteryToday, the cemetery looks nothing like the trash-strewn lot it used to be. There’s a handsome iron fence dividing it from the street and a shell-paved road winding through the grounds; most of the overturned tombstones have been set upright, and several historical markers provide information about the cemetery. More remains to be done—the cemetery needs a new drainage system, the grounds need to be mowed twice a month, and there are plans for a small prayer garden. The association is also trying to build an endowment to ensure the cemetery is cared for in perpetuity.

More than anything else, Rev. Robertson said he wants Houston to begin giving the cemetery its proper respect. “February is Black History Month, and everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon, but we don’t pay attention to the place where these people are buried,” he said. “We say we honor Jack Yates, but we don’t honor his burial place. Martin Luther King has a beautiful place in Atlanta where he’s buried. But there were civil rights leaders before him—why not Jack Yates?”

College Park Cemetery, 3525 West Dallas Street

Tax-deductible donations to the College Park Cemetery Association can be made at collegeparkcemetery.net or mailed to College Park Cemetery Association, P.O. Box 130037, Houston, Texas 77219

Popular Gay Bar ‘Meteor’ Property Sold And Will Be Demolished For New Development In 2016

A new proposed development in Montrose recently announced includes an impressive lower Fairview revitalization set to break ground in the late summer of 2016.

The news also brings to light the property where the popular LGBT bar Meteor is located. The proposal released; places a six story parking garage at 2302-2308 Genesee, the current home of Meteor. But the developer admits ‘things could change closer’ to ground breaking.

“We finalized the sale of the property in late October” Charles Armstrong; owner of Meteor explains to About News.

“Meteor was not sold, just the property.”

Meteor will lease the property until construction is set to start. It is not uncommon for a bar owner to lease property. It’s more common for a bar to lease than to purchase the property.

“Matter of fact, it’s business as usual.” Armstrong says “We have events planned all the way through the Spring of 2016.”

meteor-about-magazine-1024x768 Popular Gay Bar 'Meteor' Property Sold And Will Be Demolished For New Development In 2016
New Redevelopment Project Planned for East Montrose (Red Area Is Currently Meteor)

Armstong informed employees of the changes coming, in a staff meeting late Wednesday afternoon and clarified any rumors.

The massive project includes redeveloping a number of nearby commercial properties with new retail, office parking space.

The new structures in the new concept will run east and west through the  of Fairview, with the center running north/south streets of Morgan, Taft, Mason and Genesee.

If you know Gratifi, Cuchara and Max’s Wine Dive and the property Where Common Bond is located; then you know Fred Sharifi, the developer of the new project.

Montrose Developer Unhappy About Parking Requirements

Developer Fred Sharifi of SFT Investments is planning a $20 million, 60,000-square-foot mixed-use development for the corner of Genesee Street and Fairview—the current site of nightclub Meteor and a small apartment complex—that will include retail, office, and restaurant space, as well as six to eight loft-style apartments.

But because of the city’s onerous parking requirements, the project’s tallest structure will be a six-story parking garage.

Architect Peter Merwin told the Houston Business Journal that he will be forced to provide eight to ten parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of development. Merwin said he hopes Houston will change its approach to parking: “I think the city is starting to see that if you let engineers optimize everything for the automobile, you’re going to have a city optimized for the automobile and not the pedestrian.”

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