Dispatch from the Field: Houston – art deco wonderland in a city with no planning, a graffiti artist paints a jet and the city pays him to do it, and what is a Kolache?

The 1940 Air Terminal Museum

Anything goes in Houston. You want a build a tractor dealership right next to a residential subdivision, go ahead. I know. I saw it. “Dear, will you pick up the kids from school today? I have to walk over and pick up the John Deere.”

Oddly, the same town that allows you to build anything anywhere has done a great job preserving its art deco buildings from the mass execution of which most communities are guilty. Preservation Houston has a website (http://www.houstondeco.org) and has published a book detailing over 100 examples that still remain.

Case in point: the original Houston Municipal Airport Terminal still exists as a museum dedicated to preserving its art deco architecture and commemorating aviation in Texas. It is named, appropriately, the “1940 Air Terminal Museum.”

When I walked in, there were three volunteers, which was exactly three times the number of visitors, including me, they had had all day. I thought I’d take a quick look around and then go grab a Kolache but volunteer John insisted on giving me a personal tour. John used to work in upper management at Continental, which had been based here, but retired when he found out they were merging with United. My retired airline pilot readers will understand.

He told me that the airport, actually just a field back then, was started in 1920. In the 1930’s Howard Hughes was based here, and had a number of hangars filled with the best and most modern airplanes. One of them was the plane he flew on a record-breaking flight around the world in 1938. The City was so proud of his accomplishment, and the fact that he built and paid for their first control tower, they named the airport after him. That lasted for less than a year. On learning that they would lose all their federal funding if they kept the name, they changed it back to Houston Municipal Airport.

The terminal building was completed in 1940, but almost died in the late 1970s when the new international airport was built about a hundred miles north of town. A small group of people worked hard to preserve the old terminal and use it to showcase things like a quilt made by Continental employees/spouses memorializing the airline before its death, err, I mean merger. Each quilter took a segment, and it was then sewed together. The flags represent each country where Continental had flown.

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The picture does not do it justice. It covers an entire wall.

My favorite artifact was a model of the Cessna 310 airplane flown by Sky King in the tv series of the same name. John said the 310 was actually Songbird 2; the original Songbird was a WW II Cessna T-50 that was used to train navigators. Made of wood and fabric it was derisively referred to as the Bamboo Bomber. John asked if I remembered the niece’s name on the show. “Sure, Penny. Do you remember the dog’s name?” I asked. He didn’t, but neither did I. I told John that I loved the show as a kid, but when I watched a DVD of it a few years ago I thought it was terminally lame.

When John agreed that I could take his photo, I told him I’d like to take it in front of his favorite artifact, and he chose the original rotating beacon from the control tower Howard Hughes built in 1929:

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I was puzzled why chose that until he told me why. He said you can tell it’s from Texas because there are two bullet holes in it.

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Ahh Texas, the land of concealed weapons and open carry. Yet, just about every building has a sign at the entrance that says you may NOT legally bring in a firearm even if you have a permit to do so. So it seems Texas is the land where you can bring a gun anywhere unless you can’t.

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As I was leaving, volunteer Larry asked if I wanted to see some things they have locked up in a hangar nearby. I jumped at the chance. On our way, he showed me one of the most interesting pieces of public art I had ever seen. This is Larry, the 1940 terminal building in the back, leaning on a painting that was created on a business jet:

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The story behind this amazing piece of art displays a hipness I had not expected from Houston. There is an artist around Houston, whose real name is Mario Figueroa Jr., but is better known as GONZO247, who “strives to educate communities through engagement, advocacy, and street art /mural tours in order to promote the positive aspects of the…art form.” Meaning, he’s a graffiti artist.

The museum acquired a decommissioned jet, and with a grant from the city, commissioned Gonzo to transform it. “When I first saw the jet, I couldn’t believe that it was going to be my canvas! I have transformed cars and even beer silos, but this is a project of a whole different scale.”

Here’s Gonzo in front of the canvas before painting began:

 

Gonzo at work:

Mario Figueroa Jr., aka GONZO247, has been busy painting a 1969 Hawker jet near the 1940 Air Terminal Museum.

Now if they commissioned Gonzo to paint the terminal building, well there you would have something.

Larry took me to an inauspicious building and opened the door to what turned out to be the oldest hangar on the field. There was a treasure trove of artifacts. He showed me air traffic control equipment that had been the state of the art when I was learning to fly but now looks like it was built by Thomas Edison. There was an old Model A fuel truck, simulators from decades ago, and other oddball items. He saved the best for last: Sky King’s original Songbird – a Cessna Bamboo Bomber. The real deal, not a model. If only the tv series wasn’t so dorky, I’d watch it all over again to see Sky King’s old airplanes.

One other thing Houston has preserved from its ethnic past – Kolaches. Never heard of them? Me neither, so off to the Kolache Factory I went.

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Kind of like a Beerock or a Calzone or a Verenika, if you took any of those and rolled it up in a ball. The dough was tasty just on its own, but you have your choice of any number of fillings. I had bacon, egg and cheese, but I was tempted by the Texas twist on a Czech specialty – the Brisket Kolache. Next time. Which might be tomorrow.

(11/14/19)

 

One thought on “Dispatch from the Field: Houston – art deco wonderland in a city with no planning, a graffiti artist paints a jet and the city pays him to do it, and what is a Kolache?

  1. Hi Ken,

    How appropriate that you celebrate your god news on the cancer front by visiting an air museum. I am thrilled for your clean bill of health.

    Keep the travelogues coming. Not only entertaining but informative.

    All the best to you and to Carol.

    df

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Like

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