Carl Parker sez:
Recently, I was visiting with a friend who is about my age. He had just driven from Savannah Avenue to Memorial Boulevard and opined as to how he was struck by a wave of nostalgia, having driven through the area adjacent to the Texaco Reservoir. We began sharing stories of our boyhood years and both agreed the Texaco Reservoir was central to many of our boyhood adventures.
Our conversation reminded me of what my lawyer pal, Walter Umphrey, has commented to me on numerous occasions. He said we were very lucky to have grown up in the Golden Era of Port Arthur. The more I think about it, the more I am convinced he is right.
I must confess I felt a little like Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn when I and my pals would slip past the guards for a swim or a fishing trip in the Texaco Reservoir. To me, back in those days, it seemed to be as big as the Great Lakes were to the explorers in Early America. We had to deal with alligators and snakes, but they would not bother us if we did not bother them. Actually, we were able to catch minnows in our dip nets baited with oatmeal, and catfish on throw lines that we would throw out in the deeper part of the Reservoir. The thick vegetation around the shore made for neat little hideaways where we could imagine we were camping out in the deepest jungles of South America or Africa. We imagined ourselves to be real survivors in a far away place right in the heart of our neighborhood!
The 40's and 50's for Port Arthus were, in fact, the Golden Era for this city. Because of refineries and unions, Jefferson County, in general, and Port Arthur in particular, had the highest per capita income of any area in the state. Our school district was second to none. Teachers in the Port Arthur Independent School District were the highest paid in the state and jobs here were coveted by new education graduates.
Franklin School, built by WPA labor in the 20's, was what most of us would admire for a school to be today, with its olympic sized swimming pool, a room with sky lights especially built for the arts, an auditorium, sewing labs, and a nice library. It was truly progressive for its time, even if it maintained separate boys' and girls' sides on the playground.
Downtown Port Arthur was a bustling center of retail commerce boasting three movie theaters right downtown and two elsewhere in the city. The big movies would show at the Strand and on Saturdays there would be a double feature western and a serial and a cartoon at the Peoples--all for 9 cents admission-- and a regular bus service for those of us whose parents would not let us ride our bicycles to the busy downtown. A dollar on Saturday morning would pay for a hamburger at Bob's, admission to the movie, a box of popcorn, a coke, and a 2 cent all day sucker...and still leave a little change.
The Yellow Jackets and Bumblebees were almost always contenders for District, if not Bi-District--sometimes even State. Pleasure Island was a thriving midway, having games, a roller coaster, a huge olympic-sized swimming pool--frequently the location of the Miss Texas contest. The Pleasure Pier Ballroom hosted, on a regular basis, big name bands and was a fun destination for people living several counties away.
Our schools produced doctors, lawyers, engineers, military generals, admirals, big-time entrepreneurs in refining, communications and almost every endeavor of every phase of business, including the movie business, music and entertainment.
I am certain that Port Arthur wasn't perfect in the 40's and 50's as I grew up. But the older I get, it sure seems like it.
1. Franklin School postcard is a TXGenWeb Postcard Project
2. Other images on this page may be found at tinyurl.com/27krf5k