Mr. Speaker, what’s in a name? Shakespeare would have us believe that we should not assign so much meaning to a name. A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet, would it not? Well, for us southerners, a name is something we hold near and dear to our hearts—and our heritage. We name our children after mother’s maiden names, double ‘‘first names’’ often include their daddy’s or granddaddy’s names. Heck, even our dogs’ names have personal and historical significance.
I say this, because I want to talk about a particular place that is near and dear to me and many Houstonians, but its namesake has lost its rightful place in our history. Each day, over 10,000 people use Memorial Park. The park is Houston’s largest public space; almost double the size of New York’s Central Park and larger than Chicago’s Lincoln Park, and London’s Hyde Park. It is Texas, so naturally it’s bigger. The park’s 600-acre urban wilderness is one of the largest centrally located urban forests in the country.
But long before it was packed with Lululemon clad joggers, it was Camp Logan, one of sixteen military training camps during World War I. The 7,600 acres of forested land on Buffalo Bayou housed and trained nearly 30,000 soldiers.
Its massive size equaled over half the size of Manhattan with over 1,300 buildings. Nearly 1,000 Camp Logan soldiers lost their lives during the war and over 6,200 were wounded.
The Camp’s place in history is also marked by the Houston Riots of 1917, which broke out after a series of troubling events between Houston police and African-American soldiers, leaving 20 dead. It was the site of one of only two African-American training camps. Of those soldiers trained at Camp Logan, over 75 were awarded France’s Croix de Guerre.
As early as the 1820’s, the ‘‘pinery’’ of Memorial Park appeared in our history books, when Jane Long, the ‘‘Mother of Texas’’ recounts camping there after fleeing Fort Las Casas on her way to San Antonio after her husband, Capt. James Long’s death in his quest to conquer Spanish Texas. In 1912, Mayor Horace Rice Baldwin, another significant ‘‘name’’ in Houston’s history, pursued the idea of acquiring a large park along Buffalo Bayou ‘‘that will for all time be of sufficient magnitude for our people.’’
When the United States entered the War to End All Wars, the War Department leased 7,600 acres of land on Buffalo Bayou to establish a training base named Camp Logan. In 1923, when the camp is deserted, local resident, Catherine Mary Emmott wrote to the Houston Chronicle suggesting that ‘‘the city buy some of the land and turn it into a park in memory of the boys.’’ Enter another notable ‘‘name’’ in Houston history, the Hogg Family.
In 1924, Will and Mike Hogg, with minority owner Henry Stude, bought two tracts of former Camp Logan land and sold the acreage to the city at cost. In May of that year, the City of Houston officially established Memorial Park in memory of the soldiers who trained there.
The Hogg’s sister, Miss Ima Hogg, assumed the role of guardian of the Park, safeguarding it from numerous encroachments over the years. Under her guidance, landscape architects were hired to develop a long-term vision plan for the park which included an 18–hole golf course, scenic drives, trails for hikers and ‘‘nature students,’’ bridle paths, and an amphitheater.
Over the next 30 years, the park became home to architect John Bredemus’ ‘‘greatest golf course ever,’’ added a popular archery range and set the stage for the arrival in the 1950’s of the trail riders on the Salt Grass Trail as they make their way into the Houston Livestock and Rodeo—still a favorite tradition to this day.
In the 1970’s, Houstonian Seymour Leiberman, dubbed the ‘‘Father of Jogging,’’ started coaching runners for area high-school cross country meets, spearheading the popularity of jogging in the park. When I was judge in Houston, I took to these same trails every day, as later did my kids. I can’t tell you how many miles I’ve run in Memorial Park. Running was so much a part of my life, Runner’s World magazine even featured me in the 1980’s.
The park has seen its fair share of challenges, including the devastating drought in 2011 that claimed nearly 80 percent of its trees. But just like Miss Ima Hogg’s good stewardship of the past, another benefactor stepped forward to ensure future generations of Houstonians can enjoy Memorial Park and preserve the namesake of those that served in the Great World War.
Houston’s Kinder Foundation granted $70 million to underscore the need to fast-track Memorial Park’s Master Plan to create the best urban park in America. As a result, this energized the park’s public and private partners to invest up to $205 million more.
These efforts will take the Master Plan from proposal to reality in just 10 years and enhance and protect Memorial Park for countless years to come. These efforts have set new standards in green space planning and publicprivate funding partnerships. Kinder Foundation’s inspiring public-private partnerships have changed Houston’s color palette from gray to green.
I hope that as you run the three-mile loop or drive down Memorial Drive from downtown to the Galleria, that you take a minute to appreciate not just the beauty and the short escape from the city, but really appreciate the history of Memorial Park, those that gave their lives for our freedom, and those who have made it a priority to preserve it.
And that’s just the way it is.