Memorial Park

Park History

In early 1917, the United States entered the First World War, the War Department leased 7,600 acres of forest land on Buffalo Bayou about five miles west of downtown Houston. This training camp was called Camp Logan and 25,000 soldiers trained at the facility.

In 1923, when the camp hospital closed and the camp was deserted, Catherine Mary Emmott wrote to the Houston Chronicle suggesting that “the city buy some of the lands and turn it into a park in memory of the boys.” In late 1923 and early 1924, Will and Mike Hogg, with minority owner Henry Stude, bought two tracts of former Camp Logan land, and then rather than develop it into a subdivision similar to River Oaks, sold the 1,503 acres to the city at cost. In May 1924, the city of Houston officially took title to the land and established Houston’s Memorial Park in memory of the soldiers who had trained there.

Soon after the city took possession of the land, nationally acclaimed landscape architects Hare & Hare of Kansas City, Missouri were hired to sketch out a plan for the park. Initial plans called for an 18-hole golf course, scenic drives, trails for hikers and “nature students,” bridle paths, and an amphitheater. Beautification was simply to involve existing vegetation. One newspaper reporter wrote, “Memorial Park… is to be kept in the wild state, almost entirely, and made a sanctuary for birds, small game, wild flowers, holly, and whatever else needs protection against man….These are the present plans for Memorial Park. It is up to the vigilance of the nature lovers of Houston in years to come to keep them so and prevent the civilizing of that park.”

In 1942, it was announced that Mr. and Mrs. H.C. Wiess had given the city 8.84 acres of land on the west side of Memorial Park. The mayor at the time, Neal Pickett, felt that it should be added to the park, and the park boundaries were extended to include the Wiess tract.

Pedestrian/Cyclist Bridge

Memorial Park Conservancy and the Houston Parks and Recreation Department are creating a “living bridge” across Memorial Drive near the west entrance. Designed by Clark Condon Associates, this bridge will provide pedestrian/bicycle access within Memorial Park. An existing parking lot located adjacent to the Southern Pacific railroad tracks south of Memorial Drive combined with a depressed major thoroughfare poses an ideal location for an at-grade bridge crossing. This bridge project resolves two major issues, pedestrian safety and improved utilization of existing park facilities.

Tennis “Center” Plaza

Renovations to the tennis center plaza will provide a paved plaza, commemorating donor pavers (to purchase a paver, please go to “Tennis Plaza Renovation” button on the right of the home page), along with native trees and landscaping to welcome visitors.

Memorial Memorial Park Conservancy continued to improve another area in Memorial Park quietly throughout the winter chill. Gulf Coast Landscaping worked through December, January and February on plans completed by Lauren Griffith Associates to beautify and renew the plaza in front of the Tennis Center. Beneath the freshly planted Mexican Sycamore trees lie pavers purchased by donors in support of Memorial Park improvement. We thank all those who stepped in immediately to help our park to help raise over $140,000 to complete these cosmetic changes. Those who may feel they missed the first round still have a chance to purchase 12″ x12″ pavers for $1,000 each – available through our website on the home page under the Tennis Plaza Renovation button on the right. Please be aware that pavers donated now will be placed after the end of the year. Our sincere thanks to the many donors who helped this happen in Memorial Park. Jog, walk or ride by to see the new beautiful installation! While you’re there, play a round of tennis or relax in the new setting before it becomes the most popular spot to people-watch in spring.

Running/Trails Center

The Running Trails Center will be designed to meet LEED standards and will feature locker rooms and a food concession.

Outer Trail

An all-weather outer loop trail is planned to mirror the Seymour Lieberman Exer-Trail on the opposite side of Memorial Loop East. This trail will provide additional miles of usable trails within the park itself, giving users an alternative to the trail along the busy Memorial Drive and heavy traffic emissions. The trails will be widened and given a hard edge that will blend with the surrounding landscape. Handicapped accessibility will be included in all design plans.

Budgets

Pedestrian/Cyclist Bridge $4,000,000
Outer Trail $2,200,000
Retaining Wall $600,000
Running/Trails Center $3,000,000
Tennis Center Plaza $50,000
Trail Lighting $150,000
Maintenance Endowment $1,000,000
Pedestrian/Cyclist Bridge $2,000,000
Running Center $2,000,000
Outer Loop $1,500,000
Running Trails Center Plaza $250,000
Tennis Center Plaza $250,000
Changing/Locker Rooms $100,000
Quarter-mile Markers $50,000
Pavers $500-$2,500
Campaign TotalĀ  $11,000,000

Notice to Prospective Donors

Please note that specific projects may have recognized naming opportunities that exceed project costs. Any additional funds will be directed toward the other capital projects as the campaign progresses.

Volunteering

Our volunteer and community outreach efforts would not be possible without volunteers from the community. With 1500 acres there is always an opportunity for volunteers! Volunteering with MPC is a great way to support your community while creating a team building atmosphere within your organization. Throughout the year Memorial Park Conservancy partners with community groups, schools, churches, and corporate groups to work in the park. Volunteer days can be scheduled for half day or full day events and we will work with you to coordinate the project. Saturday, January 30, 2010, 9 a.m. MEMORIAL PARK TREE PLANTING
Wear work clothes and join us at the Rugby Field on the south side of the park.

Rodeo Arrives

The customarily festive rodeo flagging may have taken a recessionary turn this year when HPARD opted for cost-effective caution taping, but nevertheless, Houston’s Livestock Show and Rodeo celebrates its 58th year. Trail riders converge in Memorial Park throughout Friday morning. Those who need to move quickly through the park had best enter from the eastern edge.

Fun Facts or why to show your civic pride in the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo for weeks to come:

  • The total amount of money brought into the city from the rodeo is $345 million.
  • Funds contributed to Rodeo Institute for Teacher Excellence: $1.6 million
  • Money spent on Youth and Educational Programs: $16 million
  • Attendance: 1,890,332, topping the Texas State Fair
  • 22,000 volunteers make it happen for YOU!

“In Memory of the Boys” by Charles Frandolig

“The pine trees are whispering in the night wind. The barren buildings, but shortly filled with every note of the human symphony, are vacant and still.
As the sun of day burns down and the wind cools with his breeze the night and the shadows fall and the moonlight ghosts over the landscape, Camp Logan again lies in a waiting attitude as will be done by the molder and builder, man.”

There were, of course, no plans for Camp Logan’s disposal at that time, and her article ended thusly:

“Whatever may now come or now be made, of our Camp Logan, we never can escape the fact that once upon a time–a gripping, searching, cruel, glorious time when self law conquered beneath our fee–the very heart of our nation beat within this sphere.

“In moonlight nights, in silence so soft that our hearts can hear their throb, you will still hear its steady beat.

For spiritually, this is sacred ground.”

And so the fire was laid–all that was needed was the spark. It came in answer to the article: A letter to the editor of The Chronicle from a Houston widow, mother of five children. She was Mrs. Catharine Emmott, who lived at 4506 Washington Ave.

Mrs. Emmott complimented The Chronicle on the article and wrote:

In this article are two sentences: First, ‘Camp Logan lies in a waiting attitude as to what will next be done by the molder and builder, man.’ Second, ‘For Spiritually, this is sacred ground’.

“The thought suggests itself to me, why not keep a part of the ground at least for a permanent park in memory of the boys. Perhaps some of your many subscribers could suggest someplace that we could further this object.”

The spark smoldered through the dying days of summer until deep October. Then The Chronicle’s Miss Benda sent out a clarion call in another article for all interested in turning the camp into a memorial to meet at the Rice Hotel.

The turnout was good. At the meeting, Mrs. Emmott was named the chairman of the group and plans were tentatively discussed for obtaining 100 acres as a park site, costing about $50,000 to $75,000.

Mrs. Emmot, a native of England who moved here in the 1850s, took time off from teaching music at her home to lead the movement for a memorial park. A graduate of the Lond Conservatory of Music, she had another task besides her music teaching: Rearing her five children, Jack H. Emmott of Fairbanks, A.E. and A.V. Emmott, owners of a bookbinding firm, and daughters Mrs. W. H. Bruecher and Miss Catharine Emmott.

Plans for the small memorial park moved swiftly. And Mrs. Emmott and the backers failed to reckon on one thing–the bigness of Houston’s civic leaders.

The idea of the 100-acre park was not to live too long.

In November 1923, the Hogg brothers suggested the site would make a wonderful large park, and the land should be made available to the city at cost. At the Hoggs request, another company, Reinerman Land Co., agreed to sell the adjacent 630 acres to the city for $600 an acre.

And so the idea of the huge Memorial Park was given impetus.

Still, a rough and rocky road lay ahead before the proposal became reality.

The city could not afford to pay out, in a lump sum, even the bargain price of $532,000, about 40 percent of the true value of the land then. But the Hoggs solved this. They bought the property from the Reinerman Company, then sold it and their own track to the city with payments spread over a 10-year period. In addition, the Hoggs gave to the city $50,000 cash to make the first annual payment of principal and interest.

But even this installment purchase was difficult. It was mainly through the efforts of former Mayor Oscar Holcombe that the city skimped and saved to make the annual payments to assure its citizens of the future of a huge wooded wonderland.

In addition, to the financial struggle through the bleak depression days, the park at various times was made a campaign issue, its development criticized, and attempts unsuccessfully made to block its purchase.

Today, Memorial Park’s 1503 acres stand out like a gem in a crown of progress. It is a monument to the men who served, to a group of civic-spirited citizens who gave and fought to maintain it, and to a struggling widow with five children who wrote a letter to the editor of The Chronicle offering a suggestion.

–Houston Chronicle, 1934