The Last Quonset Hut in Houston
But it’s gentrifying around us here and I’m not sure Alex would have approved—population density is increasing. He’d have anticipated that—the result of losing the interim zoning fight in the late 80ies was that the Heights would no longer keep the density down—like the small town it originally was—and bigger houses on smaller lots had been coming for years. I guess we bought property here partly because it was an area that was “coming up” in the world, but once you get used to a transitional neighborhood, with all the races and rags to riches transitions within blocks, you get to like it. Besides, the unsightly boat yard across the street is still there. We stopped a wood-working shop there once but had to make do with the unsightly storage yard where the weeds were rarely cut. Now, I don’t look forward to the expensive condos that will probably go up there next.
I guess I didn’t expect the gentrifying to extend to the little auto repair place sandwiched into the spot behind an office building just where Waugh and Heights Boulevard converge at the bridge over Memorial Drive and the Bayou. Some time ago they tore down all the junk on the right side of Waugh Drive, replacing falling down wooden houses with luxury condos and the new headquarters of The United Way.
The auto repair place must have been operating in that Quonset hut for generations. I imagine it there since the war—but on Friday when I went out to buy litter for the rabbits, only the ribs of the frame remained, and this morning on the way to Central Market to get tarragon for my chicken salad, it was gone.
Coincidently, when I looked up Quonset huts on the Internet, the first reference I found was part of the radio series on human ingenuity hosted by University of Houston engineering professor John Leinhart. The Quonset hut did, as I thought, originate in World War II; the idea was to build a “cheap, lightweight, portable structure that could be put up by untrained people”. In all 170,000 of them were built “from North Africa to the Aleutian Islands” and after the war GI’s needing houses lived in them and small businesses set up in them—like the car repair place on Waugh Drive. I once lived in a Quonset hut while in Peace Corps training at Indiana University in the 1960ies.
This piece would have a tighter theme if Alex and I had ever talked about the Quonset hut on Waugh Drive, but we didn’t, though we drove past it thousands of times and once I got so mad at him I asked to be let out of the car to walk home—just about there. It was, I suppose, an eyesore. An old metal structure—rusting and patched. Temporary for 60 years. Though of course I’ve only been in Houston since 1985 and can’t swear that this particular Quonset hut actually stood on that spot since the war. I discovered on the net too that there are still manufacturers who make them. But I’ll miss it.