Visitors who haven't been to Houston in five years are often surprised by all the development that has taken place around the George R. Brown Convention Center.
And if you haven't been to the Bayou City in 40 years, photos such as those seen here are difficult to fathom. Two entire generations – and almost anybody below the age of 50 – are strangers to the landscape shown here.
Houston native Frank Staats was a veteran property manager from his perch at Houston Center for 25 years until this year. He's seen a lot of change over a quarter-century and covets the history of downtown Houston, but these images of his home turf take him aback, too.
Texas Eastern Corp. hired Staats to help manage Houston Center in 1987, the same year the GRB was opened on land donated by Texas Eastern. In the 1970s, the corporation began acquiring property block by block in an ambitious plan to develop the Houston Center office and retail complex.
"Texas Eastern began to quietly buy up property and eventually purchased 34 blocks," Staats said. "There were some holdouts but it wasn't about money. The property was in their family for a long time and they didn't want to sell.
"But by the time Texas Eastern was done buying, downtown almost doubled in size as a footprint for business."
Recalling from his youth and some historical documents in his possession, Staats said there weren't many significant enterprises on the east side of downtown.
"There was a YMCA and there was Mike Persia Chevrolet on Austin Street, which was quite the dealership and did a lot of television advertising back in the '60s. But other than there, there wasn't too much going on there," Staats said.
The George R. Brown has certainly been a catalyst for growth on the east side of downtown.
Staats said some of the most memorable events associated with the George R. Brown in his view were the Texaco Grand Prix from 1998-2001 and the Summit of Industrialized Nations in 1990. But the International Quilt Market and Festival – the GRB's largest annual convention – proved to be the most lucrative from his vantage at Houston Center.