Houston Garden CenterA picture of the entrance to the original Houston Garden Center
The Houston Federation of Garden Clubs (HFGC) was founded by several Houstonian women in 1936 with the goal of building a garden center to hold their meetings and educational forums. That dream bore fruition five years later when Mayor Oscar Holcombe applied and was approved for fifteen thousand dollars in labor by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Originally, the HFGC ladies raised $1,100 through flower shows, fashion shows, and train trips east. The involvement of the whole city illustrated the extent of manpower for funding the garden center. In 1939, four-hundred volunteer garden club ladies along with sixty-five businessmen from the Chamber of Commerce raised an additional $9,100 in a city-wide fundraiser. When the city claimed its money had short due to higher prices from the Great Depression, the HFGC Board “reminded the Houston City Council that the HFGC had provided all the city’s share of the original funds” (HFGC 1). As a result, additional funds were approved by the City Council to finish the sidewalks and plumbing, and fundraising by volunteers and businessmen contributed to the development of the garden center.
The three acres plus of land in Hermann Park allotted for the garden center was originally set aside as a rose garden for Hare & Hare– a civil landscaping firm. But in 1938, the park’s board had decided to donate the land for the garden center instead. The vintage-styled building was designed by local architect William Ward Watkin and was later surrounded by botanical and sculpture gardens dedicated to popular figures such as Confucious and Martin Luther King Jr. With the help of sixty-eight enlisted workers, the garden center was completed in 1941 and proudly represented ninety-seven distinct garden clubs. The building’s architecture flaunted Greek-style columns and plenty of windows for natural light. The first educational forum held in the newly constructed garden center building was “Training leaders in the Houston Defense Program on growing Victory Gardens” (HFGC 1).
The Houston Garden Center remained a haven for gardeners to gather, organize meetings and continue planting hundreds of trees in Houston; members and volunteers cultivated a community with Houstonians as they distributed trees to citizens. The garden center stood until 2013 when the city of Houston decided to close it in order to begin its replacement with the McGovern Centennial Gardens. The original garden center’s legacy continues as the new Centennial Gardens hosts educational programs and draws visitors from Houston and other cities.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram, “Work Ordered on WPA Jobs.” Fort Worth: Dec 5, 1940. Pp7. https://www.newspapers.com/image/635906963 (accessed Apr 27, 2022).
“History of the Houston Federation of Garden Clubs.” Houston Federation of Garden Clubs. Accessed Apr 27, 2022. https://www.houstonfederationgardenclubs.org/history.
Lescalleet, Cynthia. “Houston Garden Center to Undergo Upgrades.” Houston Chronicle. Accessed Apr 27, 2022. https://www.chron.com/neighborhood/bellaire/news/article/Houston-Garden-Center-to-undergo-upgrades-9393191.php.
Project originally submitted by Arya Rezaei on May 16, 2022.
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