Although I was born in Houston and lived for the first two years of my life in Pasadena, League City is my true hometown. I lived there from shortly before I turned two until the day I went off to college -- or the day I went off to my first full-time job -- or even until the day I left the house with Mom for the last time, after she'd sold the house. And I've visited many times since; I try to get there at least once a year. How it has grown since I was a youngster!
I grew up in Newport, a subdivision just west of the Gulf Freeway. It was a brand-new subdivision then; my parents bought their house from the developer, one Bill Williams. There used to be a swimming pool in the north end of the subdivision; there's a fire station there now. Also near there was a bridge across a ditch. The bridge connected to a shell-paved path to Newport Elementary School (now Ross Elementary). For a couple of years, I can remember some sort of Union Carbide facility off in the distance. For the sake of the people now living on that land, I hope it wasn't a toxic waste dump!
For a long time, Newport was one of only two subdivisions west of the freeway, the other being the slightly fancier Clear Creek Village. It was mostly empty land from there until you got to Friendswood, some 7 miles to the west. There was a lot of empty land to the east, too. There were two gas stations at the intersection of Main Street (FM 518) with the freeway, an Enco station on the northwest corner and a Texaco station near the southeast corner. I imagine those gas stations have been there since the freeway was first built in the early 1950's. They're still there today, although they're now called Exxon and Shell, respectively. For a while, there was a Phillips 66 on the southwest corner. Once you crossed the freeway, there was very little on Main Street until you got to Highway 3. The northeast corner was heavily wooded, and there was a gated driveway, at the end of which you could see a bit of a large mansion. This was the Ross Mansion, the home of James Haydn Ross, for whom the nearby elementary school was named. It's said that his mansion contained the only elevator in League City at the time. Continuing east from there, you had the Methodist Church and the Highland Terrace subdivision, then a small row of stores near McKibben Lane, then a few houses on Interurban Street (named for the old Interurban trolley line that used to run between Houston and Galveston; high-voltage power lines run there today) and then the intersection with Highway 3.
Before the freeway, Highway 3 used to be US 75, and it was the main road between Houston and Galveston. There were gas stations on all four corners of the intersection. The southwest corner had a Gulf station; the northeast corner had a Sinclair, and the southeast corner had an Enco station. I can't remember what the northwest corner had -- Texaco, maybe? It was definitely a Texaco at one time. On either side of the Sinclair station (the one with the dinosaur on the sign) was a drug store. The Highway 3 side had Willis Drugs, which is where we went until it closed. It used to have a soda fountain, and I remember having many a beverage there. The Main Street side had Smith Pharmacy, with a bigger building and a bigger sign. My folks didn't go there that much; I can only remember being inside one time. Across the street was the Dairy Dream hamburger stand, which had a big cow on top of the building. Down the street on the north side was our doctor's office and the Minimax store, the first grocery store in the area that I can remember. The League City State Bank was a bit farther down the road; it's always been there in my memory. Farther down, on the way to the railroad tracks, there used to be a small Chrysler dealership, a Phillips 66 gas station, and the post office. Past the railroad track, you had the Thrifty Lucky 7 grocery store, the Thrifty Pharmacy, and the Kilgore lumber yard. Then if you drove through the tree-lined portion of Main Street, you'd encounter the Shipley Donut shop. That has been there as long as I can remember.
If you kept going east, you'd pass one of the Herbie's Grocery stores, the Jack Rowe Funeral Home, some apartments, a few more convenience stores and gas stations, and then the high school. There was no roadway crossing over Clear Creek at that point. Past the high school, there was hardly anything until you got to Kemah, a far contrast from the development that's there now. There was a GT&E phone building and the Glen Cove subdivision, but that was about it.
Not too far from Willis's was the League City Bar. I never went there, obviously. Farther south on Highway 3, you had the Rose Theater. That used to be a movie theater, but I remember it as the home of Clear Creek Country Theater and Apprentice Theater, in which I participated for several years.
When you went north towards Houston, you didn't ride on the freeway, not initially. That's because it was under construction from 518 up to FM 1959. You had the feeder roads that ran alongside it and carried the traffic during the construction. South of 518, the freeway existed, but the feeders didn't. You took that to Dickinson, the Houston International Raceway (a drag strip) and Galveston. When they were racing, you could hear them from our house.
Hamburger stands in town? There was only the one, the Dairy Dream. It was a few years before we got our own Dairy Queen; Webster got one first. Nassau Bay got the first McDonald's in town, well before the Golden Arches came to League City. Before Nassau Bay's McDonald's, there weren't any in the area, although I think there was an old McDonald's on South Park Boulevard in Houston near Palm Center. There were some Whataburgers around, but we rarely visited them. There was the occasional Jack In The Box, and I recall Burger King and Burger Chef in Pasadena on Spencer Highway. As far as other fast food establishments, Kentucky Fried Chicken came to League City, but not until the '70s, I think. I can remember a Hart's Kentucky Fried Chicken on Edgebrook; the sign was (what else?) a big heart, with a KFC barrel on top.
If we wanted to go grocery shopping, we would generally go to the Snell's Minimax on East Main. I can remember the noise of the automatic doors as you would enter and leave the store. Sometimes, we'd go to Henke's in Seabrook; Henke's eventually turned into Kroger's. There was also the Weingarten's in Nassau Bay, which we visited often, and a Piggly Wiggly in Clear Lake City, which we didn't. League City also had two Herbie's Groceries, but we didn't go to them. Oh yes, there was also a Weingarten's in Dickinson. Actually, there would have been a lot of Weingarten's around town, including one at the Gulf Freeway and Edgebrook, but the Nassau Bay and Dickinson ones were the ones we frequented.
Car dealerships? There was the small Chrysler dealership in League City; there was also Star Toyota on the Gulf Freeway. Norman Frede Chevrolet was in Dickinson before moving up to Clear Lake City. Gay Pontiac was in Dickinson, as was McRee Ford. Then there were the ads on TV for the Houston dealerships. You were encouraged to "Buy your Chevrolet from Persia, Mike Persia Chevrolet. Buy your Chevrolet from Persia, Mike Persia Chevrolet." And you found out where Bill McDavid Oldsmobile was: "Bill McDavid, Exit 7, Gulf Freeway."
If you wanted to see a movie, your closest option was the Clear Lake Theater. In my memory, the Rose Theater in League City never showed movies, although it had at one time. Sometimes, we'd go up to the movie theaters at Gulfgate to see films. If you needed to do some heavy shopping, you had to leave the area. Before Wal-Mart and Target, there were Sage (way up the Gulf Freeway), Globe (Pasadena, Gulfgate and Galveston) and Gibson's (La Marque). Gulfgate was the closest shopping mall at first. You had to go to Pasadena for Foley's or Sears. Then Foley's built a store on the freeway at Almeda-Genoa, followed a couple of years later by the rest of Almeda Mall. We still went up to Gulfgate for Joske's, at least until Baybrook opened up.
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