Houston Light Guard Armory
The Armory was designed by Alfred C. Finn, Houston's pre-eminent architect, best known for such landmarks as the Jefferson Davis Hospital and the San Jacinto Monument. Built in 1925, it was the official home to a municipal military force founded in 1873. The Light Guard guard became a unit of the Texas Volunteer Guard and, in the 1890s, evolved into part of the United States Volunteers, forerunner of the National Guard.
After the May 1999 demolition of the second Jefferson Davis Hospital on Allen Parkway, preservationists rallied behind a proposal to convert the original, 75-year-old Jefferson Davis Hospital , built atop a Confederate cemetery northwest of downtown, into low-rent apartments for artists.
DURING dedication ceremonies for the old Jefferson Davis Hospital in 1924, the United Daughters of the Confederacy unveiled a portrait of the Southern president that was presented to the hospital board and, presumably, hung inside the building. What happened to the painting after that is unknown.
"I know we don't have the painting anymore," said Lindagail Leen, U.D.C. Jefferson Davis Chapter registrar. Some of the people who would have known, Leen added, have passed away recently.
"I just think it's one of those things that disappeared over the years," she said. With the hospital 's fate to be decided July 11 at Harris County Commissioners Court, potential buyers may find little left over from when the building first opened, thanks to thieves and past renovation efforts. Tina Foster, spokeswoman for the Harris County Hospital District, said no one there recalls ever seeing a painting of Jeff Davis .
The hospital 's name came at the urging of Houston Mayor Oscar Holcombe. When citizens found out the hospital 's construction had disturbed numerous Confederate grave sites, the mayor appeased protesters by naming the hospital after Davis . According to a Houston Chronicle article of the time, Holcombe was not present at the dedication ceremony. At the unveiling, a poem honoring Davis was read. A bronze tablet also was to have been presented and hung inside the hospital but it was not completed in time. During the ceremony, held on the second floor, hospital board President Sam Streetman said he hoped the portrait would "stand as a constant reminder of the highest conception of honor and duty as expressed in the life of Jefferson Davis ." The portrait is not believed to have been transferred to the newer Jeff Davis Hospital . If anyone knows where the portrait may be, call Leen at 713-467-8451.
Several speakers noted the site's historic value. The land was originally deeded to the city for $750 by the trust established for the Allen brothers, who are credited with founding Houston in 1836. The cemetery was the second city cemetery in Houston history, accepting burials from the 1840s to the 1870s. With construction of the hospital in 1924, the site also attained significance for being home to Houston's first hospital for the indigent.
The land upon which the hospital sits at 1101 Elder, just northwest of downtown, was deeded to the city for $750 by the A.C. and J.K. Allen Trust - the trust for the brothers credited with founding Houston in 1836. By the 1840s, it had become the second city cemetery, later becoming home to the remains of hundreds of fallen Confederate soldiers and Union Gen. Sidney Sherman (SEE CORRECTION), whose remains were later moved. The cemetery eventually filled and the site was allowed to deteriorate until the 1920s, when the city and county agreed to build a $400,000, 24-bed charity hospital atop the cemetery. Those plans met with hostility from Civil War veterans and families of those buried at the site, until officials agreed to name the hospital for Jefferson Davis , the former Confederate president. City Architect Wilkes Alfred Dowdy then designed and built the four-story hospital with four massive columns facing downtown. The hospital opened in 1924. By 1938, the hospital could no longer keep up with the city's growth and was abandoned in favor of the newer Jefferson Davis Hospital on Allen Parkway, which was recently demolished. Since then, the original site was used by the city, county and the Harris County Hospital District for off-site records storage until the 1970s or 1980s, when it was abandoned and left to the whims of vagrants and vandals.
CORRECTION: This story about the original Jefferson Davis Hospital and cemetery site identifies Union Gen. Sidney Sherman as having once been buried there. Sherman, also a regimental commander at the Battle of San Jacinto, is not known to have ever been buried at the site. Correction published 6/15/00.
Kenneth Brown, a historical archaeologist with the University of Houston, said the hospital was built on the eastern portion of the old City Cemetery, which he estimates contained about 5,000 graves. Although there are no tombstones marking individual gravesites, Brown believes there are as many as 3 ,000 graves on the hospital site. Most of those buried there died between 1840 and the early 1870s, he said.
The building still contains much of the old hospital furnishings and equipment, although most is overturned and deteriorated. In a surprising disrespect for patients' privacy, a large amount of relatively recent medical and psychiatric files - some including names and Social Security and credit card numbers - lies scattered throughout the building. The old hospital apparently has served as a home to vagrants through the years. Empty beer cans are scattered throughout the first floor, a de facto living room is in place near the back, and "KILL PIGS FOR SATAN" is emblazoned on one wall in three-foot tall red letters.
What Brown fears is a repeat of what happened in the 1960s and 1980s, when the city was building or renovating Houston Fire Department maintenance facilities next door to the hospital . Some of the Fire Department's maintenance facilities also sit atop the old City Cemetery and - according to Brown and several others - the city desecrated numerous graves during excavation work at the site. Brown said he saw the uprooted coffins and tombstones when he visited the site during Fire Department excavations in 1986. He said he has a photograph showing a pier of one of the maintenance buildings going through the legs of one of the remains buried there. At one point in January 1987, former County Attorney Mike Driscoll went to the site and blocked city bulldozers that were encroaching on the property. So far, Brown and others familiar with the site say, no graves are believed to have been disturbed on the hospital site, although large numbers were desecrated on the city's Fire Department property.