No, in the fifties and sixties it was a real newspaper somewhat like the Houston Chronicle and the now long defunct Houston Post. And Sigman Byrd was a columnist, nay, more a philosopher, who wrote often about the seamy and less-priviledged sides of Houston. Sig Byrd wrote a column at one time in the fifties and his moniker was "The Stroller".
My high school journalism teacher had briefly worked for the Press upon moving to Houston in the fifties, and had a bad case of hero worship for Sig. One of his books about Houston was required reading for her Journalism II students. Only you couldn't buy it at a store, you had to borrow her well-worn copy, and you best return it quickly and and in good condition.
My teacher had been an overseas wire service reporter for one of the news agencies back in the 30's and 40's before marrying some kind of Houston oilman she met in her travels. Not content to sit at home and live the society existence of a Houston oilman's wife in the seventies, she taught journalism.
I was on both the newspaper and yearbook staffs for most of my high school days, more as photographer than reporter. This was, of course, way before the instant gratification of digital cameras, back when you shot your photos on film and developed them yourself with nasty, stinking chemicals in the darkroom.
So my introduction to Sig Byrd began in high school, and continued on through college at University of Houston, where several of my lit professors were big Sig Byrd fans as well.
Sig Byrd comes up because every now and then the Houston Chronicle will reprint one of his columns. Here's the one they ran today, talking about the lack of lightening bugs back in the fifties. I like the part where Sig laments the long-gone easy days of the twenties. http://www.scribd.com/doc/16539316/byrdcolumn and http://blogs.chron.com/bayoucityhistory/2009/06/sig_byrd_what_became_of_the_lightning_bugs.html;
If this peaks your interest about Houston of old, when Market Square was a place you avoided after dark and Congress Avenue and Main street were more known, particularly but not always after dark, for it's whores and homeless (we called them winos and drug addicts then, in those non-politically correct days), then I've got some cool links below that talk about Sig and the Houston of days gone by. You'll see that Houston has always been a rough and tumble city.
I laughed when I saw the reference in the above Sig article to what readers of that day wanted to see in the paper, and it's not much different than the Houston news of our day and age, more than fifty years later: Murder, Sex and Animals.
I remember that as late as the early 80's, there existed some sort of XXX bookstore on the Congress Avenue corner of Market Square, this I know because as a young officer I extricated an infant from the back of a van parked in it's parking lot, whose child's father was selling Mexican Black Tar heroin out of the van whilst the child's mother turned tricks in said van next to the infant. CPS, with our assistance, secured the infant and ultimately the child was taken from the drug addled parents and placed with a hopefully better family through the courts. You do this long enough, you begin to wonder at times what happened to that infant and where that person is today, some 27 years later. But you don't think about things like that too much...
I found this cool article on Sig Byrd and some Houston Blues music icons written by Lorenzo Thomas in Liveable Houston magazine in 2000. http://www.livablehouston.com/good/articles/thomas.html. Thomas writes a brief if not good history of some of the music icons and places of the blues, and offers these observations about Sig Byrd:
"Bonner´s realistic vision of the city was shared by newspaperman Sigman Byrd. Seen through Sig Byrd´s eyes in the early 1950s, downtown Houston was harsh and gritty—grimmer than any bluesman´s vision. Much dimmer then were the streets that now ring with chatter from credit card-carrying citizens strolling blocks seemingly composed of nothing but trendy restaurants. A true flaneur in the tradition of Baudelaire, a strolling philosopher like Walter Benjamin, Byrd reveled in his dyspeptic appreciation of urban life. He was naturally, indeed magnetically, attracted to the “gray asphalt and grimy concrete,” enamored of that “old, crowded, tired avenue once so proud, so bright with gaslight and hearty laughter. Sam Houston walked this avenue. So did Mirabeau Lamar, Gail Borden, Audubon, Dick Dowling, and other great ones.” It was not Main Street that Byrd celebrated, but Congress Avenue, which like other downtown streets near Old Market Square in those days was skid row—populated by hustlers and a few absent-minded shopkeepers, dope addicts, and other losers.
Byrd also loved the streets of Houston´s black neighborhoods, particularly the Fifth Ward area around Lyons Avenue and Jensen Drive known as “Pearl Harbor, the Times Square of the Bloody Fifth.” Today there´s nothing there but vacant lots and a few boarded-up buildings, but for decades the area bustled with restaurants, bars, and small stores, a fabled locus of lowdown glamour and hair-trigger confrontation. It was also, Byrd once wrote, the proving ground for rhythm and blues singer James Wayne “and all the other Fifth Ward boys who had functioned right and gone high in the world of boogie, jive, and bop: Illinois Jacquet, Gatemouth Brown, Arnett Cobb, Goree Carter, and Ivory Joe Hunter.”
You can read more about Sig in this excellent article by David Theis in the modern Houston Press, from back in 1994. http://www.houstonpress.com/1994-11-10/news/the-lost-houston-of-sig-byrd/. Here's an excerpt from the beginning of that excellent article that sums up some of what I've said about Byrd:
"Back in the late '40s and early '50, Vinegar Hill was one of Sig Byrd's best-loved beats. Once celebrated, yet now all but forgotten, Byrd wrote the Stroller column for the original, daily Houston Press. Byrd ranged for copy far and wide in the Houston of his day. He listened to the alcohol-treated stories of the merchant sailors in the bars on 75th Street, near the Ship Channel. He ate chicharrones and drank Jax beer with Don Antonio and the Laredo Bar regulars (who knew him as Don Segismundo) just off Navigation. He hung with the Fifth Ward's assorted cats. But it was downtown and its environs that Byrd had a particularly strong feeling for. It was possible to make a human connection with downtown then. The way Sig Byrd wrote it, at least, it was impossible not to, not if you had any feeling for raw, unadulterated humanity.
Vinegar Hill was particularly fertile ground for stories. Byrd said it was "a kind of arrogant slum ... scowling down on a good portion of the proud new city itself." Little did Byrd know that even this "new city," already considered thick with skyscrapers, would itself be leveled in a matter of years. In his eyes, and in his voice, Vinegar Hill appeared eternal.
Preston Avenue dies a natural death each sundown, and then, when the traffic dust has settled and the fetid smell of the bayou creeps up the dead-end streets, the avenue comes alive again. But in a curious way. The old pensioners from the walk-up hotels, the laborers from the Market, a few railroad men, the winos who live under the bridges and in the flophouses, the scufflers and hustlers, the dingoes, bums, punks and slobs, all the characters and squares of skid row, gather in the electric twilight before the bars and in the doorways of closed stores and watch the drab mystery of the downtown night unfold.
This is the kind of writing one used to find in a Houston daily. And this is the kind of writing that -- under the Sig Byrd byline, at any rate -- used to seem appropriate for a city that some claim has no heart, has no center. Byrd found that heart. But then again, maybe Byrd himself was that center."
I hope someone finds this rambling interesting. Now I'm off to work and to play on the internet and find at least one of Sig's books, hopefully on Amazon or at another online used book dealer.
One last downtown Houston memory. It is almost exactly 24 years ago today that one of my good friends was gunned down in Market Square. Late at night, Maria had absolutely no business being in a place like Market Square was then. She was there with her boyfriend Mike and another couple, having just heralded last call at one of the few bars then present in 1985 that didn't cater to winos, hustlers and thieves. But once out in Market Square, they decided to take a rest before making their way to what was then a dorm for University of Houston Downtown students located in the old Harley Hotel at 1o1 Main Street.
A man came up and grabbed Maria's purse from behind, and when she held onto the strap and resisted, he pulled a gun and shot her to death. He was never caught.
Rest in Peace, Maria.