Rose Pettyjohn, a social studies teacher at South Houston High School, leads her students on a tour of the Hall of History during the first week of school.
Already, hundreds of South Houston High School students have visited the school’s new Hall of History, most in class-sized clusters, all indifferent to the fact that not everything was “grand-opening ready.”
They come with their teachers or on their own, during lunch or after school. They point – and laugh -- at photos of students from by-gone eras, including girls in poodle skirts and guys in loafers with soaring white socks.
And the hair! From the beehive look of the 1960s to the feathered fad of not-so-long-ago. Unless you happened to be 15 and have no recollection of the 20th Century.
“What’s this AstroWorld thing?” asked one student, pointing to one of the wall prints depicting the most popular yesteryear haunts of South Houston students.
All those wonder years have been captured in the Hall of History, a campus museum created to preserve the academic, extracurricular and cultural history of South Houston High, one of Houston’s first truly suburban high schools.
The grand opening of the 800 square-foot museum is set for Friday morning – as part of the Trojans’ 57th homecoming celebration. The Hall of History will open officially to alumni and to the public at 10:30 a.m. Other homecoming events are scheduled for later in the day, including a noon reception for new alumni and teacher Hall of Honor inductees, and that night the school’s homecoming game against Pasadena High.
“The Hall of History is the final phase of our heritage preservation project here at South Houston,” said Al Carter, the Pasadena ISD’s alumni coordinator and a 1970 South Houston grad.
“Our first goal was to honor our most esteemed graduates in the Hall of Honor and then do the same for our most esteemed teachers. The task then was to present the story of South Houston in a very visual form. This is our Smithsonian.”
“The Hall of History is already a great source of pride for our students and faculty,” said Dr. Steve Fullen, South Houston’s principal. “This is the place where our school’s past meets its future. This is where our heritage is preserved, where our legacy for preparing students for success can be fully demonstrated.”
The museum highlights student life centered on rock-and-roll, surfboards, proms, fast cars and football – all the things associated with the rise of teen culture in post-war America.
“South Houston exemplifies that era as well as any high school in Texas,” Carter said.
Before the post-war population boom exploded in Kingwood, Katy or Cypress, the construction of the Gulf Freeway – the first freeway in Texaas -- led to massive growth along the Houston-Galveston corridor, prompting the Pasadena ISD, in 1957, to open a second high school at the southern extreme of Shaver Street on the eastern fringe of the freeway.
The new high school opened on Oct. 18 of that year, in the midst of Elvis-mania, at the height of Cold War activity at nearby Ellington Air Force Base and just a few months ahead of the creation of NASA, a national space agency that would eventually headquarter just a few miles to the south and add to the area’s growth spasm.
All of that is presented in time-line fashion on the walls and in the display cases of the Hall of History, a converted work room that took two years to plan and assemble.
The $35,000 needed to remodel the room and furnish display cases was provided by alumni donations, the largest coming from Bob Allen, a 1965 South Houston graduate and the school’s first all-state football player.
A recent funding drive by South Houston’s alumni association raised more than $22,000 in less than six months. More than 240 alumni contributed to the drive.
The Hall of History includes three computer research stations, where students, teachers and alumni can access digital files that present the history of the school in a Wikipedia-like format.
The museum will maintain a complete set of Palladium yearbooks and hundreds of copies of student newspapers dating back to 1958.
The red-and-gray museum walls are a sea of vintage photos --more than 250 of them -- most gleaned from old yearbooks and then reprocessed to give them the appearance of glossy enlargements.
The display cases include more than 500 items, most them donated over the past year by South Houston alumni. Items include a flute played in the school’s first marching band, a pair of Trojan swimming team trunks from 50 years ago and the baseball representing the winning hit in a 1971 district championship game.
“With everyone else celebrating, the player who scored the winning run just happened to notice the baseball lying in the grass,” Carter said. “He picked it up, put it in his closet and left it there for 44 years. Now it’s in the museum.”
Most of the photos and display items correspond to the time-line that runs across the top of the walls. Decades intersect at each corner. Time-line markers include events such as the Kennedy assassination, the Beatles’ arrival in America, the Challenger explosion, the 9-11 terror attacks and the election of Barack Obama.
Display items also include historic newspapers and magazines, record albums and other items now considered antiques, such as a Kodak Instamatic camera from the early 1960s. One South Houston alum donated dozens of concert ticket stubs from his prized collection.
Among the gems: Elvis Presley’s concert in the Astrodome a year before his death, and a Willie Nelson appearance at Gilley’s, the world-famous honky-tonk, once a Pasadena landmark.
Other “landmarks” depicted in the museum are sure to be fondly remembered by South Houston alumni, if by no one else.
The Ritzee, Three Gables, Burger Mart and Pizza Yoint were popular places to eat and hang out years ago.
“A lot of the current students are shocked to find out that we had a drive-in movie theater – the Gulf-Way – only a mile from the school,” Carter said. “Of course, we find out that a lot of the students don’t know what a drive-in movie theater is.”
Last spring the graphics artist working on the project installed an oversized picture of Almeda Skate, a popular rink on the Gulf Freeway.
“At least one of these places is still open,” Carter remembers thinking to himself.
Almeda Skate closed its doors over the summer.
“Now they’re all gone,” Carter said. “They’re all history.
Bobby Allen, an 1965 SHHS graduate and a major donor to the project, looks over the Hall History for the first time. Behind Allen is a wall dedicated to him.
A view of the Hall of History looking toward the corner where the 1960s become the 1970s.
Another view of the Hall of History. In the middle is a case containing memorabilia donations from Donnie Brogna, Class of 1968, a standout quarterback who led the Trojans to their first playoff berth in the fall of 1967.
A few of the many items on display in the Hall of History: a Class of 1977 pendant; a baseball representing the winning hit in a 1971 victory that earned the Trojans the district championship; and a "going steady" ID bracelet from the late 1960s.
A pair of video tech students from South Houston High prepare a presentation on the Hall of History.