Kitschy Wedding Chapel on Gulf Fwy. Unveiled as Gay History Landmark in Drag


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. 



The wedding was covered in papers as far away as Singapore. The duped county clerk declined to record the wedding certificate, rendering the marriage void. Ert was threatened with prison time for listing himself as female on the wedding certificate. The couple split the next year, and Ert attempted suicide. (Ert passed away from unrelated causes three years after that, in 1976;  Molina died in 1991.)

Intervening years have been kinder to the idea of gay marriage than they have to Harmony Wedding Chapel’s surroundings. Houstonia’s Kerry H. visited the chapel earlier this year, where chaplain and building owner Simon Cruz told the reporter that while business is brisk within the kitschy and quaint chapel, its immediate environs have been in decline for 20 years, with rowdies staking their claim to the underside of a nearby bridge and the chapel’s backyard prowled by feral cats.

Photos: Flickr user Chris Adams (building and sign); (couple)

Highwayside History

12 Comment

  • How ironic that Mr. Cruz complains about the stray cats and the homeless under the bridge. He feeds them both and encourages their presence! The surrounding neighborhood has had a big problem with the drug addicts and prostitutes that shelter under that bridge and generate and throw enormous amounts of trash into Sims Bayou. It would be nice if the people who enable them such as Mr. Cruz and the nearby church would find better ways to get them off the street, or at least clean up the filth their friends leave under the bridge and dump into the bayou!

  • I just blacked out trying to come up with something angry and offensive to say!

  • Well I’ll be…I have never heard of this place or this story, despite spending my entire life in Houston. Of course, back then most families like mine were experts at hushing any discussion of these topics and quietly sweeping them under the rug (or in the closet in this case).

    Years later – in the Clinton era – I remember my mother waking up early on the day the Starr report was printed in the Houston Post. She quickly unpacked the paper, put the special report in the very bottom of the trash can, covered it with lots of fresh trash, then reassembled the paper and stuck it back in it’s plastic bag and laid it neatly on the table….just in time for the family to come down to the kitchen for coffee and breakfast.

    I can just imagine all the similar stories that must have occurred the day this gay wedding story ran in the early 70’s.

  • Uh, hate to be ‘that guy’, but no marriage took place there. An attempt maybe.
    A legally unrecognized marriage isn’t a marriage. We can make all the arguments in the world about how it should be recognized and that if any two people or groups of people want to get married, it should be recognized. And if that becomes law of the land, so be it. But until then, it’s a bit disingenuous to have called this a marriage. (and if this person lied and claimed to be a woman for the purpose of being married, that’s a whole other issue)

  • uh…i hate to be that guy…..
    you mean the bigoted homophobic guy…..

  • Hey that’s my uncles chapel!!!

  • This is exactly the history that should be preserved by way of (architectural) Preservation! What an awesome story.

  • What’s bigoted and homophobic? Or are those names just the auto knee jerk reaction to anything not overwhelmingly and slobberingly in favor of all progressive positions?
    Note I made no arguement for or against gay marriage in this post… nor do you have any idea on my own feelings on the subject… or hell, you have no idea about my own sexuality.

  • I agree with Cody. It was definitely a marriage ceremony, but definitely not a marriage. That’s pretty much why I don’t believe in marriage–I don’t need religion or the state to validate how I feel for somebody else.

  • Who knew? What an interesting bit of history that adds to the charm of the Glenbrook Valley area.

  • Always thought that wedding chapel was cool and wished I cod get married there.

  • Brother and wife’s teenage “shotgun” marriage performed there approx 1969.