George H. Hermann Park
George H. Hermann was a Houston born real estate investor and industrialist in the early 1900s. In May of 1914 he announced a donation of 285 acres of his own property to the City of Houston. Hermann donated his land for the creation of a municipal park across from the Rice Institution. As a token of appreciation for such an act, the City of Houston entitled the green field George H. Hermann Park. Today, Hermann Park is 445 acres of land that includes the Houston Zoo, Japanese Garden, Houston’s notorious Museum District, Miller Theater (ballet, opera), and much more.
Backstory and Context
George Henry Hermann, was born in 1843 in Houston, Texas. Hermann was a veteran, he served in the Texas Army Company A and in the Twenty- Sixth Texas Cavalry, and also participated in combat for Texas and Louisiana during the Civil War. In 1885, Hermann discovered his talent in real estate and began his own business. While he was in Humble, Texas he discovered oil which led him to becoming a millionaire. Hermann was no other than a humble and hard working man. His inheritance had also gave him financial security, but he still worked hard for and saved every penny he got. After returning back from the Civil War, he began to drive cattle for McDonalds Beef Packery in Fort Worth, Texas. Hermann decided to take a trip for himself in 1885 to visit Europe, but he would make a stop in New York that would soon be the beginning of a major vision.
Hermann made sure to included every detail of the trip in a diary he had brought along. He would begin his journey to New York, then go to Washington DC. While he was making a stop in New York he included that he had to see the iconic Central Park. Hermann noted in his diary, “Central Park is wonderful. I wish my town of Houston had one like it. Perhaps they will some day.” This was the “light bulb” moment of what is now Hermann Park.
George H. Hermann was one of three appointed as a Board of Park Commissioner member by Mayor H. Baldwin Rice in 1910. Hermann and the other commissioners got a landscape architect from Massachusetts named Arthur Comey to make a visit to Houston to give feedback on how he believed the park should be developed. The report urged Houston to have the park be within an inner park system, the parks attractions are in the center of the park making it the center of the cities “fabric”.This would help Houston also expand in size. Comey referred to the park in his report as Pines Park, because it was along the Brays Bayou and across the Rice Institution. Most of the land that was drawn into the diagram was owned by Hermann.
In May 1914, Hermann announced his donation of 285 acres of his own real estate to the City of Houston. The next month, the land was owned by Houston. George H. Hermann deceased in October 1914 and a few more acres were donated to Houston. John W. Maxcey, who had helped in developing Sam Houston Park, began to take over the development of George H. Hermann Park. Marcy had an initial plan to extended the park from what is now Hermann Drive north to Holcombe Boulevard south. The plan never took place because the City of Houston purchased the Hermann real estate and increased the park size to 409.5 acres.
In 1940, J. Robert Neal, was the chairman for the Houston Board of Park Commissioners and led the mission to make Hermann Park what it is today. Before the park had many issues of vandalism, and overall in a bad condition. Neal confronted the City Council about these issues that also existed from 1938 till 1940 and although they could not afford to give them more revenue, the Board of Park Commissioners suggested that the Zoological Garden be closed and to sell the animals to build up revenue. The city also concluded that golf fees would be paid by the Parks Department. William Ward Watkin designed the last project for the park, the Houston Garden Center. The Garden Center would consist of a meeting and exhibition hall. These would be the final touches to George H. Hermann Park.
Today, George H. Hermann Park is one of the most visited parks in Houston. The 445 acre park is neighbored to downtown Houston and is surrounded by the Museum District, Rice University, and Houston's historic downtown neighborhoods. The entrance of the park is at the intersection of Main Street and Montrose Boulevard, and at the center is a statue of honor to General Sam Houston. The park has a very diverse destination list, the Houston Zoo, Miller Outdoor Theater, Museums, Gardens and a Golf Course. The park is visited by an estimated 6 million people a year and ranked number one on Top 10 Parks in Houston. Hermann Park is the heart of Houston and it is safe to say that George H. Hermann would be proud and enlightened of what it is today.
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