Pearland preps for 125th birthday
John Mark remembers when the intersection of Texas 35 and FM 518 was the heartbeat of Pearland.
“Us old-timers still consider that the center of town — 35 and 518,” he said. “We see it like it used to be.”
The Pearland historian, who moved here in 1940 with his family when he was 10 years old, says it’s a good time to reflect on the old days as the city of Pearland gears up to celebrate its 125th birthday this year.
Mark has fond memories of the unincorporated community of about 350 people his family found when it arrived. The small-town charm of Pearland in the 1940s and 1950s drew country-western stars like Bob Wills and Floyd Tilman to the community’s many beer joints and dance halls.
“We had two grocery stores, one drug store and then all those little beer joints and dance halls,” he said. “It was a pretty popular little place. It still is — that’s obvious with the population boom. And it’s important to keep that small-town feel that we’ve always had. We need to honor that.”
Part of that effort includes restoration of the city’s oldest building — the 1900 Sante Fe Railroad Depot. The tracks were put down in the city around 1882 and connected Houston to Galveston and the depot built 20 years later was a thriving hub.
“We need to restore the depot,” Mark asserted.
Work on that project will occur throughout the year, with perhaps a chance for the facility to open in the third quarter.
The city will plan events throughout the year to recognize the sesquisquicentennial.
“We have a couple things working,” city spokesman Joshua Lee said. “The anniversary is in September; so last October we sort of kicked it off by having an artist come in and hand paint a mural on canvas.”
For now, the work is at the Pearland Convention and Visitors Bureau. Elements from the mural were included in marketing material for the recent Christmas parade.
Groups that wish to incorporate the anniversary into their annual events may register with the city at www.visitpearland.com, said Kim Sinistore, the bureau’s executive director.
The city is also planning a Founder’s Day event, but details are not complete.
Lee said that the festivities will focus on how Pearland’s history has influenced its growth.
“We’re adapting to the growing community of Pearland,” he said. “So, it’s a good opportunity to look back at where we’ve come from and plan ahead for where we’re going. It’s amazing to think back 125 years ago of the people who founded this town and to then think 125 years into the future about the people who will be thinking about us.”
The depot has been repurposed, moved and repurposed again over the years, at one point serving as the local chamber of commerce headquarters. The wooden structure was severely damaged during Hurricane Ike in 2008.
In addition to repairs, the restoration project would bring the building to Americans With Disabilities Act standards and add a second building behind the depot that could be used for events such as weddings, meetings, parties, community gatherings and lectures.
Preliminary estimates indicate that the cost of the work would be about $900 million, Sinistore said.
The bureau’s board has been authorized to spend $500,000 toward the project, but the other $400,000, she said, will come from fundraising.
“Being that this is our 125th year,” said Sinistore, “the Citizens Depot Committee thought it would be a good time to raise awareness about Pearland’s oldest building and work toward those fundraising efforts.”
The first fundraising project slated is a brick-and-bench sale. Details have not been finalized.
For Mark, recognizing the anniversary is a way for the community to show proper respect to the past.
“The thing that everybody liked about Pearland is that it was small,” he said. “It had a friendly pace, everybody knew everybody else, and everybody helped everybody else. Those are the memories all of us old-timers have of Pearland, and those are the memories and practices we need to preserve.”