Fifth Ward, Houston

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Sign indicating the Fifth Ward

The Fifth Ward is a historical political district (ward) and a community of Houston, Texas, United States, northeast of Downtown. It is bounded by the Buffalo Bayou, Jensen Drive, Liberty Road, and Lockwood Drive.[1]

The Fifth Ward, one of the six wards of Houston, was created partly from two other wards, the First Ward, which ceded the area to the north and east of White Oak Bayou and Little White Oak Bayou, and the Second Ward, which ceded all land within the Houston city limits to the north of Buffalo Bayou.


Sign pointing to the Evergreen Negro Cemetery

After the American Civil War, newly freed slaves (freemen) began settling in the sparsely settled area. In 1866, it became the Fifth Ward and an alderman from the ward was elected to Houston's City Council. By the mid-1880s, it was virtually all black, home to working-class people who made their livings in Houston's eastside ship channel and industrial areas or as domestics for wealthy Houstonians. Mount Vernon United Methodist Church, founded in 1865 by a former slave, is the oldest church in the ward. Five other churches are over a hundred years old. Also home to the famous "Island of Hope (Anderson Memorial Temple) COGIC" the oldest Pentecostal church in Fifth Ward. Over the years it had been home to the city's minority and immigrant population. Although it had always been a mostly black area, Latinos, Filipino Americans, Pakistani Americans, and Italian Catholics also moved there.[citation needed]

The aftermath of the Great Fifth Ward Fire in 1912.

On February 21, 1912, with stiff Northern winds blowing in, the largest fire in Houston's history began. This fire became known as the "Great Fifth Ward Fire". The strong winds spread the fire as embers set wood-shingled roofs on fire. It consumed a church, school, 13 industrial plants, eight stores, and 119 homes, mostly located in the Fifth Ward. There were no deaths, but there was over $3 million in property damage.[2]

Before desegregation the community housed African-Americans of all occupations and income levels. The community was known as the "bloody Fifth" because of some highly publicized violent incidents in the neighborhood; Michael Berryhill of the Houston Press stated that the Fifth Ward was not as blighted in the 1940s as it was during the 1990s.[3] Robb Walsh of the Houston Press described the 1930s era Fifth Ward as "one of the proudest black neighborhoods" in the US; more than 40 black-owned businesses were along Lyons Avenue in the Fifth Ward at that time.[4]

House in the Fifth Ward, 1973, as pictured in a photo by Danny Lyon.

Desegregation lead to middle class African-Americans to move to the suburbs.[3] By the 1970s the Fifth Ward lost a significant part of its population, and many houses were boarded-up. Many area businesses were vacant and the area had many vacant lots with overgrown plants.[4] In the 1970s and 1980s the Fifth Ward became notorious throughout Houston for the violence perpetrated in the community.[5] Ernest McMillan, a community activist and contributor to the Fifth Ward Enrichment Program, said in a 1987 Houston Chronicle article that "One of the differences between this neighborhood and one like River Oaks is that they have lots of support and all kinds of resources available. Here in the Fifth Ward it's the exact opposite: These people have no resources at all. There's one clinic, one library, no YMCA, very few activities, and the community is very fragmented. It's not the kind of environment that helps a child excel."[6]

Between 1990 and 2000 the Hispanic population of the Fifth Ward increased from around 19% of the population to around 31%.[7] In 2000 the median annual income was $8,900. 62% of its residents lived below the poverty line. 9 of 10 school-aged children qualified for free or reduced lunches. The commercial streets had several empty buildings and vacant lots. Lisa Gray, a journalist in the Houston Press, stated in a 2000 article that the existing businesses "run mostly to dingy mom-and-pop operations, grim little grocery stores and cheerless liquor stores. There's no McDonald's, no Fiesta, no Target, no Wal-Mart. It's turf where national chains fear to tread." Gray added that the words "new" and "nice" were not often associated with the Fifth Ward, while "at-risk," "crime," and "poverty," were.[8] Walsh said that the Fifth Ward in 2002 was "in much better shape" than it was in the 1970s; he added that while the Fifth Ward is "hardly a garden spot," the Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation took many steps to improve the community including assisting low income borrowers in finding loans, encouraging architects to develop "innovative designs" for low income housing, and bringing commercial building projects into the Fifth Ward.[9]

Japhet, a section of the Fifth Ward at Emile Street at Clinton Drive (two blocks east of Hirsch Road/Waco Street), was the Houston Press 2004 "Best Hidden Neighborhood." The article stated "Say the words "Fifth Ward" to most Houstonians, and they'll think crime, poverty and desperation." The article added that Japhet is "more like a village than anything else -- fragrant organic gardens are everywhere, bursting with vegetables, fruits and flowers, and the whole neighborhood comes together for a big party every full moon."[10]

In 2007 the Fifth Ward was one of several Houston neighborhoods with a high concentration of felons.[11] During that year a debate regarding the ownership of the historic Evergreen Negro Cemetery in the Fifth Ward continued.[12] Some Hurricane Katrina evacuees also moved from Southwest Houston and lived in other parts of Houston such as the Fifth Ward.[13]

Government and infrastructure[edit]

Fifth Ward Multi-Service Center
Fire Station No. 19 and Training Center
John Wesley Peavy, Sr. Senior Citizens Center

Fifth Ward is currently located in City Council District B.[14] As of 2008 Jarvis Johnson represents the district.[15]

The community is served by the Houston Police Department Northeast Patrol Division,[16] headquartered at 8301 Ley Road. The Fifth Ward Storefront is located in Suite 200 at 4300 Lyons Avenue.[17]

The Houston Fire Department operates Station 19 Fifth Ward, a part of Fire District 19,[18] on 1811 Gregg Street.[19] The station first opened in 1925 at the corner of Gregg and New Orleans. The current location opened in 1979 at the opposite side of the intersection.[20]

The city operates the Fifth Ward Multi-Service Center at 4014 Market Street.[21] The city multi-service centers provide several services such as child care, programs for elderly residents, and rental space.[22] The center, operated by the Houston Department of Health and Human Services, houses ten agencies, including the Fifth Ward Branch Library, American Red Cross, Harris County Juvenile Probation Program, Mayor's Citizens' Assistance Office, Neighborhood Centers Inc., and Fifth Ward Head Start. The center opened in 1977 so that various social services supporting the Fifth Ward would be located in one place. In 2005 the multi-service center served 65,000 people.[23] The department also operates the John Wesley Peavy, Sr. Senior Citizens Center, adjacent to the Multi-Service Center.[21] It was named after John Wesley Peavy, Sr., an East Texas native who served as a precinct judge in the area.[24]

In a 2001 bond election voters approved an expansion and renovation of the multi-service center. On October 12, 2006 the city of Houston began the first phase of a renovation and expansion project for the center. The first phase, $3.4 million, included an addition of 16,000 square feet (1,500 m2) of space to the center; the expansion would include a classroom with computers for information technology purposes, a community food pantry, a demonstration kitchen used for holding cooking classes, community meeting conference space, a community event multi-purpose room, and community program administration offices. The city scheduled completion for September 2007. The city scheduled the start of the second phase, a $2 million renovation project of the original 25,000-square-foot (2,300 m2) structure, after the end of the first phase.[23]

The Houston Housing Authority (HHA) operates several public housing properties in the Fifth Ward. The include Kelly Village and Kennedy Place.[25][26] Kennedy Place first opened as a 60 unit development in 1982. The HHA used $7.8 million, including some federal stimulus funds, to redevelop the housing.[26] The demolition of the old Kennedy Place began on December 28, 2009.[26][27] In January 2011 the new Kennedy Place opened, with 108 units (20 one bedroom, 58 two bedroom, 23 three bedroom, and four four bedroom).[26][27]

In 2002, open ditches were the predominant form of drainage of water in the Fifth Ward.[28]

The Fifth Ward is in Texas's 18th congressional district.[29] Its representative as of 2008 is Sheila Jackson Lee.


KBR offices on Clinton Drive

In 2011 Jarvis Johnson, a member of the Houston City Council, said "The Fifth Ward is void of jobs. There aren't any commercial grocery stores. There aren't any places where young people can get a job."[30]

KBR maintained offices in a 138 acres (56 ha) campus on Clinton Drive,[31][32][33] within the boundaries of the East End and the Fifth Ward.[1][34] As of December 2010 KBR no longer operates this office.[35]

The KBR office complex is the former headquarters of Brown & Root.[36] By 2001 Halliburton owned the Clinton Drive campus. In August of that year Halliburton announced that it would consolidate 8,000 local employees to office space in Westchase. Halliburton planned to relocate around 2,000 employees from Clinton Drive and the industrial facilities would have been relocated to a location that was, in that month, undetermined. Sanford Criner, a principal at real estate brokerage Trione & Gordon, suggested that gentrification would turn what would have been the former Clinton Drive facility into entertainment, residential, or retail use, and that the facility would not have been redeveloped for office space usage.[37] In December 2001 Halliburton canceled its plans to relocate employees to Westchase. Nancy Sarnoff of the Houston Business Journal said that it made more sense for the company to lease existing space instead of constructing new office space in times of economic downturns.[38]

In 2010 KBR announced that it will vacate the Clinton Drive campus and move the 1,600 employees who work at the Clinton Drive office to the KBR offices in Downtown Houston. The company will then conduct an environmental cleanup of the Clinton Drive site.[33]


Mount Vernon United Methodist Church serves as the Fifth Ward's oldest church

Lisa Gray, a journalist for the Houston Press, stated in a 2000 article that the Fifth Ward has an overall sense of history and a "small-scale, deep-rooted personal history, the way that, in the middle of the city, lives are intertwined in a small-town way." Many families from the area had lived in the Fifth Ward for several generations.[8] Mount Vernon United Methodist Church, founded in 1865, is the community's oldest church, and the Fifth Ward has six churches that, as of 2011, are over 100 years old. Kate Shellnutt of the Houston Chronicle said that the historic church facilities "have been community strongholds."[39]

In previous eras, African-Americans of all social classes lived in the Fifth Ward; African American professionals patronized businesses. After the end of segregation, African-American professionals began to patronize other neighborhoods, and members of the African American middle class moved out of the Fifth Ward.[40]

The north-south Southern Pacific Transportation Company railroad tracks separate the Fifth Ward from Denver Harbor. David Benson, an assistant to Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee, described the railroad line as "a semi-permeable membrane." In the 1990s many Fifth Ward African-Americans went into Denver Harbor to shop at the area supermarket and stores, while the Denver Harbor Hispanics rarely entered the Fifth Ward.[40]


In 1922, a group of Louisiana Creoles organized the Fifth Ward community of "Frenchtown," which contained a largely Roman Catholic and Creole culture. When new residents no longer resided in Frenchtown, the neighborhood culturally merged with the greater Fifth Ward.[41] The community was about four square blocks.[42] The Our Mother of Mercy Catholic Church, completed in 1930 by Creoles for Creoles, serves as a social center for the neighborhood.[43] The Houston Press described the Continental Zydeco Ballroom at 3101 Collingsworth as serving as the "Saturday-night focal point" for Frenchtown for several decades.[44] Throughout its history, Frenchtown had narrow streets and a lack of sidewalks, complicating the riding of bicycles.[28] Around the 1950s young women from Frenchtown rarely married outside of the community.[42]

In 2002 Mike Snyder and Matt Schwarz of the Houston Chronicle said that Frenchtown was "scarred by decades of deterioration and neglect."[28] The neighborhood had deteriorating houses that had been abandoned for years, vacant lots with high weeds, and a malfunctioning drainage system that resulted in standing rain. Snyder and Schwartz wrote that the issues "create health and safety hazards and lend the neighborhood a bleak, desolate appearance that discourages private investment and prompts many residents to leave when they can."[28] By that year many Frenchtown residents began to distrust city officials. Frank Broussard, the head of the Frenchtown Association, said that the neighborhood needed new streets and adequate drainage and that the vacant lots needed to be dealt with. Snyder and Schwartz also said that "what distinguishes neighborhoods such as Frenchtown is chronic problems with basic infrastructure and services that contribute to blight and often lead to declining property values and dwindling population."[28]


Primary and secondary schools[edit]

Public schools[edit]

Area students attend schools in the Houston Independent School District.[1] Even though most of the Fifth Ward and the adjacent Denver Harbor neighborhood are zoned to the same high school, the areas are represented by different board members.[40]

Elementary schools in the Fifth Ward and serving sections of the Fifth Ward include Charles H. Atherton,[45] Blanche Kelso Bruce,[46] and Nathaniel Q. "Nat" Henderson.[47] Dogan Elementary School, adjacent to the Fifth Ward, serves a portion of the community.[48] Sherman Elementary School, outside of the Fifth Ward, serves a portion.[49]

Some areas are zoned to John L. McReynolds Middle School in Denver Harbor,[50] and some areas are zoned to Lamar Fleming Middle School, north of the Fifth Ward.[51] Phillis Wheatley High School in the Fifth Ward serves almost all of the Fifth Ward,[52] while Jefferson Davis High School serves a small portion of the Fifth Ward.[53] Young Men's College Preparatory Academy, an all-boys middle and high school, is in the former Crawford Elementary School in the Fifth Ward.[54]

YES Prep Fifth Ward, a state charter school, is in the Fifth Ward. It was founded in 2011.[55] Northwest Preparatory Academy, a state charter school, is in the Fifth Ward.[56] Benji's Special Educational Academy, a state charter school, is located near the Fifth Ward.[57]

Private schools[edit]

A Kindergarten through 8 Roman Catholic school called Our Mother of Mercy School, the school of the Our Mother of Mercy Catholic Church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, was in the area.[58] It closed in Spring 2009.[59] The school was consolidated with the St. Francis of Assisi School.[60]

Histories of schools[edit]

Smith Education Center first opened in 1913. Crawford opened in 1917. Bruce opened at 713 Bringurst in 1920. Davis opened in 1926.[61] On January 31, 1927 Wheatley first opened in the former McGowan Elementary School building.[62] A school which was originally a county school was relocated to 2011 Solo Street in 1927; in 1929 it was renamed after Charles H. Atherton. The building later known as Carter Career Center opened in 1929. Wheatley received a new facility in 1949. A school was named after Nathaniel Q. Henderson in 1956. McReynolds opened in 1957. Fleming opened in 1968. In 2006 much of Wheatley High School had been rebuilt. Bruce moved to a new facility at 510 Jensen Drive in 2007.[61]

By Spring 2011 Atherton Elementary School and E.O. Smith Education Center (K-8) were consolidated with a new K-5 campus in the Atherton site. By Spring 2011 Crawford Elementary School, a campus in the Fifth Ward, and Sherman Elementary School, a campus outside of the Fifth Ward, were consolidated, with a new campus in the Sherman site.[63] As of Spring 2011 Atherton is located in the previous Concord Elementary School/North District office building.[64] By the same school year, Young Men's College Preparatory Academy, an all-boys middle and high school will open in the current Smith location.[65] Fifth Ward middle school students previously zoned to Smith were rezoned to Fleming and McReynolds.[50][51][66]

The Fifth Ward included the DeVry Advantage Academy,[67] a DeVry University-affiliated HISD high school housed in a building that was formerly housing Carter Career Center, an HISD vocational school and pregnant girls' school.[68] DeVry opened in 2011 and closed in 2012.[69]

Public libraries[edit]

The Fifth Ward is served by the Houston Public Library Fifth Ward Neighborhood Library.[70]

Community services[edit]

Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation is a nonprofit community-based agency located in Houston’s historic Fifth Ward community. Kathy Payton is the President and CEO of Fifth Ward CRC which was founded in direct response to a period of negative migration – when businesses were fleeing the community, public schools were closing, school dropout rates and teen pregnancies were increasing and the community as a whole was being decimated by the prevalence of multiple social and economic ills. In 1989, the community responded to the devastation in the Fifth Ward when civic leaders, business owners, ministers and educators came together to establish a point of positive systemic change and Fifth Ward CRC was formed. Since its inception, the organization has operated under the same name, without change. The Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation (FWCRC) is to serve as a catalytic organization dedicated to the collaborative fostering of holistic community development.

Since its inception in 1989, Fifth Ward CRC has built 300+ new homes, two multifamily complexes totaling 336 units, two commercial developments, four public art installations and two community gateway monuments. It has preserved and renovated two of the most significant landmarks in the area—the historic St. Elizabeth Clinic and the historic Lonnie Smith house. To support homeownership and enhance affordability, the organization has provided more than $500,000 in second mortgages to those in need – loans averaging between $5,000 and $30,000 that benefited more than 70 individuals and families. Fifth Ward CRC's corporate offices are located at 4300 Lyons Avenue, Houston, Texas 77020.

Community Partners operated community services in the Fifth Ward.[71]

Parks and recreation[edit]

Finnigan Park

Finnigan Park and Community Center, operated by Harris County Precinct One, is located at 4900 Providence. The park has a lighted sports field, a swimming pool, lighted tennis courts, a .65 mile hike and bicycle trail, and a playground. The community center has an indoor gymnasium, a weight room a kitchen and a computer room.[72] In May 2011 the city announced that it is closing Finnigan Pool.[73]

The Swiney Community Center, operated by the City of Houston is located at 2812 Cline. The center has a playground and an outdoor basketball pavilion.[74]

The city will establish the Fifth Ward Future Park at 4700 Clinton, 77020.[75]

The Julia C. Hester House serves as a settlement house and community center. It was originally known as Houston Negro Community Center of the Fifth Ward, but it received its current name before its opening. A biracial committee established the center in 1943 to improve the education, health, and welfare of Fifth Ward residents. It originally used rented facilities on Lyons Avenue, before moving into a $150,000 building on Solo Street in 1949; the center has occupied the Solo Street building since then.[76]

The Northeast Family YMCA serves residents of the Fifth Ward.[77]


Fifth Ward/Denver Harbor Transit Center

Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas (METRO) operates bus routes. The agency operates the Fifth Ward/Denver Harbor Transit Center on Lockwood Street.[78]

Notable people[edit]

Fruits of the Fifth Ward, a mural depicting 21 notable individuals who are either from the Fifth Ward or have connections to the Fifth Ward

Fruits of the Fifth Ward, a mural depicting 21 notable individuals who are natives of the Fifth Ward or have connections to the Fifth Ward, was created by Wheatley High School students. Reginald Adams, the executive director of the Museum of Cultural Arts Houston (MOCAH), oversaw the creation of the mural. The project began after the History Channel gave MOCAH a $10,000 grant to create a mural depicting the history of the Fifth Ward.[86] The mural was constructed from February 15 to October 21, 2006.[87] The mural was dedicated on Saturday October 21, 2006.[86] The mural is adjacent to Crawford Elementary School.[88]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Fifth Ward, Houston from the Handbook of Texas Online Retrieved on June 25, 2009.
  2. ^ The largest fire in Houston's history began at half past midnight on February 21, 1912. It was the Great Fifth Ward Fire. The night was cold because of a stiff norther blowing in. The fire started in an abandoned house at the corner of Hardy and Opelousas. Gale-force winds carried embers southward igniting dozens of wood-shingle roofs. By dawn, the fire had spread all the way to Buffalo Bayou. It had jumped the bayou where the fire was finally stopped. Destroyed in the wake of the Fifth Ward conflagration was a church, a school, 13 industrial plants, eight stores, and 119 dwellings. Value of the property loss exceeded $3-million. Miraculously, no one died in the conflagration nor was severely injured. AMn Bui used to live here until he was drafted by the three ring circus. He then got abducted into an elephants butt and was never seen again. Until he showed up at KBAD forecasting weather-------------------- Houston Fire Museum - Houston, Texas. (n.d.). . Retrieved November 17, 2010, from
  3. ^ a b Berryhill, Michael. "What's Wrong With Wheatley?." Houston Press. April 17, 1997. 2. Retrieved on March 31, 2009.
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External links[edit]