The Harmony Wedding Chapel at 8120 Gulf Freeway has been one of Houston’s most familiar freeway-side landmarks for 50 years, a little slice of backstreet Las Vegas that has now provided 5 generations with cheap, often hastily-arranged weddings. (Even today a bare-bones ceremony with no guests is a mere $50.)
But as the site of the first gay marriage in Texas, it is a landmark in American LGBT history too. There on the banks of Sims Bayou, on October 6, 1972, Brownsville-bred former high school football player Antonio Molina married William “Billie” Ert, a female impersonator who performed in local nightclubs as “Mr. Vicki Carr,” in tribute to the El Paso-bred singer. (One such spot was Ursula’s, a lesbian-friendly bar at 1512 W. Alabama, the future home of a succession of failed restaurants and now the home of the Skin Renewal Center.)
Handing over a wedding certificate Ert obtained by appearing in front of court clerks in very convincing drag, the couple exchanged vows before an activist chaplain they had brought in, and sealed them with a kiss. A firestorm awaited them outside the chapel’s Gulf Freeway feeder road-facing doors.
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Whoever owns this warehouse in the East End — he wants to remain anonymous — has donated it for the time being to Historic Houston to house its collection of materials rescued from historic Houston buildings before demolitions turned everything into splinters and twisted metal.
The warehouse is located between Eastwood and Milby at 4300 Harrisburg, right next to the monolithic Maximus Coffee Group plant. This Sunday the mural-covered doors will be rolled up for a few hours while the nonprofit rolls out an inventory including windows, light fixtures, flooring, and siding. Founder and executive director Lynn Edmundson tells Swamplot that the group has been looking for a permanent home since early December; it had leased a warehouse and yard at 1307 W. Clay until closing in June 2011.
Photo: Historic Houston
The movement to rid the Heights of dilapidated old houses and replace them with far more appropriate historic structures continues. The latest contribution: a demolition permit obtained for the Doyle Mansion at 945 Heights Blvd., which was built by William Wilson (who later founded neighboring Woodland Heights) in 1898, and which somehow managed to sneak onto the National Register of Historic Places about 100 years later.
Harry James has been buying properties all along Heights Boulevard, tearing down homes and replacing them with what he calls “Victorian Classics.”
And now it will happen to the Doyle Mansion too.
A “Preservation Alert” notice sent out by Historic Houston’s Lynn Edmundson reveals a meeting with James last week didn’t go so well:
Despite its deteriorated condition, it is architecturally and historically a very significant residence on Heights Boulevard that could and should be saved.
Unfortunately, the builder now appears unwilling to entertain any offers.
James features several Victorian Classics (the new kind) on his website, along with a childhood story that reveals something preservationists won’t want to hear: the homebuilder doesn’t mind getting his ass kicked if it means he gets to build what he wants:
Needless to say, my dad wasn’t very happy! I remember he gave me a gentle kick across my backside as I scurried back to the house with my head hung down. It seemed like he was mad at me for months. Years later, when I reflect, I realize that what my dad failed to see was the level of skill and craftsmanship that was used in the construction of this secret door into his garage.
Photo of 442 Heights Blvd.: Harry James Building & Design