History group, family adamant that pioneer not be forgotten
When Pearland historian John Mark learned this summer that a familiar local road might no longer be named for a community pioneer, he decided it was time to speak out.
“Pearland was founded in 1894, and we have tried to preserve the history of early founders,” said Mark, 88, who is president of the Pearland Historical Society and has lived in the city since the 1940s. “We definitely oppose the changing of historic street names.”
City Council on July 9 gave a first reading to a proposed ordinance to rename John Lizer Road as Magnolia Parkway. That disturbed the historical society and descendants of Lizer, who they say helped foster the fledgling Pearland community — establishing businesses, serving as a drainage commissioner and helping organize the fire department. The first fire truck was kept at Lizer’s garage and service station.
“John Lizer was on of the pioneer Pearlanders who contributed a lot to the city,” Mark said.
When the matter came up to the council for a final reading on July 23, Mark was there to voice support for keeping Lizer’s name on the road. This time, the council reverted to a previous idea for the Lizer name to be retained on part of the road, Assistant City Manager Trent Epperson said.
So, the part of the road between Texas 35 and Pearland Parkway is now Magnolia Parkway, but the portion from Pearland Parkway east to Liberty Drive will remain John Lizer Road.
In addition, Lizer memory is kept alive through his family.
“His legacy lives on today through his great-grandchildren’s children,” said Louana Concha, a great-granddaughter of Lizer.
“I always felt proud to know the city of Pearland honored my great-grandfather’s contribution to the growth of Pearland in the early days in some way,” Concha said. “My father, Warren Oblinger, John Lizer’s grandson, was born on that street in 1925. I have a sentimental attachment to that area of Pearland.”
Enticed by marketing effort
John Lizer’s connection to Pearland began in 1910, when he was 34, living in Ohio and in search of a fresh start. He saw an Ohio newspaper ad that said, “Large fig and orange orchards on good land in Pearland, Texas.”
The ad was part of a larger marketing campaign designed to attract people from the Midwest to the rural village south of Houston. Despite widespread local devastation from the 1900 storm, marketeers pitched Pearland as an Edenic environment with mild weather where pear trees, strawberry fields and citrus groves flourished.
Lizer and his wife, Bertha Jane, packed their belongs and only child, Kathleen (born Aug. 3, 1901) and arrived in Pearland on Sept. 10, 1910, staying at first at the Suburban Gardens Hotel. Lizer purchased land on the east side of the hotel, and the family lived in a floored tent while their home was being built.
“John worked at road building as well as any other odd job that became available,” says Concha. “He built a two-bedroom house on the lot where the tent was and later opened the Lizer Café.”
As Pearland thrived so did the Lizer family. In 1914 they purchased nine lots on San Antonio Street where John Lizer built a four-bedroom house. There he raised mules he used to harvest and bale hay crops which he sold in Houston.
“John became known as one who could build, repair, farm, or do almost any type of work,” Concha said. “The family helped by planting and canning vegetables as well as taking care of his beloved mules. Because the Lizer family were hard workers and frugal with their money, they were able to purchase their first automobile in 1918.”
Shortly after that, Lizer was appointed as drainage commissioner, overseeing design, development and maintenance of water drainage systems throughout the community. He was now a restaurateur, farmer and community planner.
John Lizer Road was named for him because it ran along a drainage ditch that Lizer widened and deepened, Mark said.
“His legacy toward Pearland is similar to many other pioneer families; they worked hard to make it a better place to live,” Mark said.
In 1920, Lizer’s daughter, Kathleen, married Clyde Elsworth Oblinger, and they had two sons. In 1928, when Lizer opened the Monarch Garage off Main Street he hired his son-in-law to pump gas and be a mechanic. Clyde and Kathleen lived in a small residence attached to the garage.
“After World War II,” Concha said, “John added a welding business that my grandfather maintained until 1984. With the help of John, my grandfather and a group of local men put together a volunteer fire department. They started out with a patched-together fire truck with a tank to which they added a pump and hose. There wasn’t a building in Pearland large enough to store the fire truck; so for a while it was kept at the Monarch Garage. Eventually, the fire department was officially chartered by the State of Texas.”
Lizer’s grandson, John, was electrocuted at age 22 at the Monarch Garage, leaving behind a young son. The elder Lizer died at age 75 in 1951, leaving behind his wife, a grandson and great-grandchildren.
Mark said he was pleased that Pearland will continue to have a John Lizer Road. He said he hopes that founding residents such as Lizer can also be honored through exhibits in a proposed Pearland museum that would be established in the community’s 125-year-old railroad station.
To learn more about The Pearland Historical Society, visit www.PearlandHistoricalSociety.com.