Corpus Christi's "The Cut" Hillcrest & Washington-Coles

The Cut. Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will. Suzy Kassem. Corpus Christi's The Cut. This mostly black area we were not allowed  to go in. Period. Interstate 37 WAS our fence, 1960s/70s, the whites & browns south side, the blacks north side although a few browns did live in this Hillcrest area. And beside it, Washtington-Coles. Besides being called The Cut, it was also known as Niggertown, not only by people on south side of I-37 but many blacks themselves. Still is I guess to some. I can tell you that it was poor as our family and many people struggled to just get by. Hell, this was in 1960s. In the late 1970s, I had ventured over there a few times, mostly for bar-b-que, the 'brothers' really knew their Q. But that as a teen. All the stories we had heard from neighbors and people on 'the good side' about The Cut, many times realized on news. Lots of murders, rapes, crime, and big irony here is Corpus Christi Police building & jail was corner of Brownlee & I-37, so in "The Cut". Go figure, like police stations some cities put in high crime areas, I can't tell if it made difference 50 or so years ago. So on a recent trip to Corpus Christi, July 2018, I took family thru some of the "Forbidden Zone" of my youth. Gone are the brightly colored ghetto buildings where a sniper shot Corpus Christi policeman John Sartain in 1971
the whole police station is now gone. Yes, it was a assassination, big big sad piece of Corpus Christi history. 2 football fields away, sniper took life of Sartain. A street downtown later named after him next to J C Penneys running upwards towards Cathedral and back to Shoreline. Most of the residences are also now gone, sans for a few holdouts. There is also a little church back there still, and a really old cemetery. I am sure this was NOT on my wife's or kids internary to visit Corpus Christi's most neglected and rundown area. But before I was born, before I-37 built, my grandmother Maria D Alcala and my mom, lived at cornet of Doss & Antelope and it was "open to the other side" lots of businesses where I-37 now is. Didn't make it racially equal by far, was what it was you know.

History will show that: "Initially, Washington-Coles was the main neighborhood in the city where African Americans could rent or own property. The first black church and first public school for African Americans in the city were both established there in the late 1800s, and by the 1950s the neighborhood was home to several African-American-owned shops, restaurants and nightclubs. Hillcrest, on the western border of Washington-Coles, was platted in 1911 as an exclusive white community for the city's country club, and segregation was maintained using racial restrictions and minimum dwelling values attached to deeds. However, as African-American and Hispanic areas of the city became overcrowded and blighted in the 1940s, the Corpus Christi Housing Authority recommended that Hillcrest be opened to African-Americans in 1944. That same year, the minimum home value restrictions were removed from deeds in the Hillcrest subdivision, while minimum dwelling or sale values increased and racial restrictions were added in other portions of the city. Within two decades the population of Hillcrest went from predominantly white to almost entirely black."

And with that...there were black owned businesses back there. But we stayed on "our" side of Interstate 37, didn't even go down north side of feeder road Buffalo Street, nope, Antelope it was or Leopard, whether poppa driving or on bikes. Hell I never even knew that, and most if few, even care. Its all about progress. And votes I guess. A sort of Corpus dirty little decades old secret many look away. and don't want to sadly, talk about it. No unicorns, beachballs, sunflowers, smiley emojis here. These folks got sh*t on no matter who was in office, promises and promises. Just when you learn the game the rules would change. It was like that for our poor family and not sure how many people in Washington-Coles & Hillcrest were as poor as us AFTER Celia, you know the (the Stakes family) routine, no electricity, no hot water, no AC, no indoor plumbing, but chances were.. there were people like that over there. This was a area that when working for Central Power & Light in late 70s/early 80s, (was 19-20 years old then) anytime I read meters in this area I took some weapon. Not supposed to carry anything, but did. However, was still greeted with smiles and hellos when ran into black folks. And I would stop & buy things from small black owned convenience stores and businesses like the bar-b-que stands. There was one on Winnebago, another on Port 100 yards away. SmokeHouse! Small stores dotted Hillcrest & a cold Coke or Sprite on hot day with nice conversation made my job easier!

Fast forward July 2018. My quick road trip I PURPOSELY drove into here with wife & kids in tow. All gone now. There were no mockingbirds singing, no school children playing, no guys sitting outside slapping dominoes, no one walking around, no cars, no nothing, not even a few brothers having a tall Colt 45 in the heat. There were boarded up houses with nothing to hide or steal, copper all done stripped, not even meth heads would go there, a few brick buildings with bars over boarded up windows that even bad guys don't bother and if they did, there are no police in this area anyways. Cement steps that lead to distant memories but you know a happy God fearing family once dwelled there. In the distance, a few clanks from shipyard, and a 'whoooo!' of ship horn broke silence. Two guys in a black Chevy Suburban sat smoking a joint next to fence at little cemetery, no one will bother them, dead or alive, the wafting smell of some good weed penetrated our open windows as we drove past, one guy flashed us peace sign, I waved back, no threat here.

A guess here as have read Refinery Row took out most of these people with the cancer causing fumes thru years. Even when I lived across other side of I-37, the stench from them when norther blew in was sickening. What can you do? Damned if you do, damned if you don't ain't got no money to move and many times, the folks don't want to move. It was HOME. So you deal with it, and sadly, many times costs you your and family's life. Look up Houston Manchester neighborhood, same thing, folks lived next to refineries for years, most ended up with high death rate due to carcinogens from 'neighbor' factories.

Anyways, looks like a lot of these Cut folks got bought out, but my bet is City just waited them out thru lawsuits and what not until they croaked. I am not there living. Just visiting. And observing time passed. And time, even before I was born, has not been kind to The Cut sadly. I will say I think City and elected officials might have missed The B (Bus) by letting Missouri Pacific right of way go to pot. Maybe they own it. Think about "in the future" if Corpus Christi had light rail,   that carried people from suburbs like past Saratoga, Weber and all, into city, or how packed trains would be to ferry people to Whataburger Field or if that area develops (I think it will) later, how many would catch train to go to work Wilson Tower, 600 Building, Driscoll and other big buildings if train stop was near I-37 after travelling from burbs? And thru The Cut? Just a thought!

Yes, I know. Progress with new bridge & all. But this was once a really thriving black area Corpus Christi had. I am not black, but lived NEXT TO IT (caps on purpose) & grew up next to it for 16 or so years before moving to another area, but my folks stayed near here until 1980s. Will development come to this blighted area? I honestly don't know as there are what is called 'Brownfields' 17 of the 28 Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) sites regulated by the EPA in Corpus Christi, including the five with the biggest releases or disposal of chemicals, are located in or near Refinery Row, which borders Hillcrest. Washington-Coles is located within a half-mile of two brownfields, while Hillcrest is within a half-mile of a brownfield, a hazardous waste facility, and two of the largest emitters on EPA's Toxic Release Inventory. Sort of like putting carnival in Chernobyl, might be too expensive to clean up to develop. So The Cut....might lose again. Anyways, not indicting nor endorsing anyone here, nor righting any decades of wrongs. Was just 'passing thru' a long neglected and forgotten area that pretty much has died off. Again, my hope is that this area one day thrives again with businesses, schools, kids, churches, maybe even mockingbirds will sing here again? Or will the poison smoke stacks, and ground (Superfund Site?) continue to plague this area? Looks like lot of refineries bought out people, then put more tanks & pipes in.

Photo #1. TJ's Que on Winnebago near Port Avenue, next to what once was Missouri Pacific railroad tracks. I believe old black man was also a preacher. Lady who usually on me short missing a few teeth and would say 'hello mister eddie, you want the regular?' How in the hell did she know that I liked the chopped beef sandwich? Damn. She good! I took home same to momma in late 1970s and momma asked where I got it. Told her bluntly, 'old black lady in ntown' and she just stared, I was too old for her to get belt on my ass, living at own apartment at The Landing cross town, supporting two kids. She dug in and said 'that was one of the best sandwiches she ever had!' So maybe, just maybe a race fence fell that day. On front of this little place is spray painted HOME OF BEEF SAUSAGE. Next to it says Featuring Elgin, Lulin, Lockhart Sausage. I wonder when they shut down, if they were open July 2018. Of course would have spent $20 with them!

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Photo #2. I do not know what this big brick building is near The Cut where it curves. Gone is the old Cotton Club though. This old brick building does not appear to need much to renovate, but into what? I believe it is at corner of Staples & Brownlee.

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Photo #3. Desolate & lonely one house stands still with a majestic view of Harbor Bridge. I believe there is/was a house on left in trees but trees & shrubbery...nature might have just simply reclaimed hers. Hmmm without paying taxes, maybe I can get the old 2009 Antelope lot back? Look closely as there are rows of railroad tracks where street ends in photo just past stop sign.

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Photo #4 & #5. This once was Missouri Pacific train line going to Port. It is at Winnebago next to TJ-s Que place. Boxcars, tankers, flatbeds, you name it, me & dog Bootsy followed it. Well, not into The Cut, but the whistle was our calling card, so when train got to Antelope at Coca Cola, it was seconds for us to get to on bike. The old railroad tracks gone but this is facing opposite direction towards "my" side of tracks, Winnebago street towards Coca Cola & Antelope street. You can see some construction at I-37 there.

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Photo #6. Hillcrest & Washington Coles old neighborhoods. Note western side of Hillcrest hemmed in by refineries, north part too. This is where "new" billion dollar bridge is going thru, am not sure what part of Port it cutting thru in this aerial photo but a interesting photo showing all the areas I just mentioned. And also shows my old house, sharp eyed viewers with dollar store reading glasses can pick out top of Lew Williams Chevrolet too.

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Photo #7 Census USA shows median income of $9686.00 in Washington-Coles area. For the record, I have spent that on paint jobs restoring American Motors cars.

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Photo #8. Property crime & violent crime thru roof in these two neglected areas of Corpus Christi sadly. This is from 2015. Guess crime down now no one back there anymore.

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Photo #9 While I moved from Corpus Christi in 1983, I still like to keep tabs on stuff. And write about stuff...good or bad. This map shows 'Residential Buyouts" of homes starting in 1980 3 years before I moved to Houston, up to 2000. This is staggering stat (to me) besides Hillcrest, also includes Washington-Coles & little further west Dona Park. The little black cross is where I grew up, you can even see Lew Williams Chevrolet from this image..

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Photo #10. US Census shows pretty much from when I was born, to year 2000 how "owner occupied units" declined. Again, not a pretty site.

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Photo #11 finally, this shows the new billion dollar bridge to be build slicing thru what is left of Washington-Coles. This image is from 1960, & shows both neighborhoods clearly. I am not sure what tank farms in upper portion of photo will have to be moved or shut down, looks like the little cemetery will survive...for now.

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