Sig Byrd: The belle of the ball at the Old Light Guard Armory

Westheimer, looking west from Chimney Rock, Nov. 20, 1992. A far cry from Hettie Westheimer's days.

Westheimer, looking west from Chimney Rock, Nov. 20, 1992. A far cry from Hettie Westheimer's days.

Howard Castleberry/Houston Chronicle

This column was originally published on March 15, 1955, shortly after the publication of the book "Sig Byrd's Houston."


On the eve of an autographing party at Eiband's in Galveston, took a call from another of the grand old ladies of Little Old Houston who demanded, and received, a personally delivered, signed copy of the book. "Aunt Hetsie" Ray, 86 years old, born Hettie Westheimer, daughter of Mitch Westheimer, for whom Westheimer Road was named.

Aunt Hetsie lives in the beautiful Jewish Home for the Aged, on Chimney Rock Road, in the comfort and dignity that she deserves. In her room she wears a bright red ribbon on her snow-white hair and works with needle and scissors, making aprons that stay on without tying, beanbags and all kinds of intricate sewed items.

Not long ago Aunt Hetsie went to a shower. For a bride-to-be. For a gift, she took what looked like a frock for a 3-year-old girl, and everybody was duly shocked.


It was a clothespin bag, made to look inconspicuous on a line.

The last time I saw Hettie Westheimer Ray, born on Westheimer Road, was in her apartment on Truxillo. Years ago. Now she hadn't changed.

"I wish Dad could drive down Westheimer Road this afternoon," she told me. "He'd hardly believe his eyes."

I reckon not.

One day, back in the century of Little Old Houston, Mitchell Louis Westheimer was walking past the courthouse while an auction was going on.

A farm located about where Lamar High is now was about to go for 25 cents an acre. A fair price, Mitch knew, but he felt sorry for the farmer.

So he started bidding. Half an hour later he found himself the top bidder at $2.50 an acre.

Westy didn't even have the price of one acre in his pocket, but he went straight to the Houston National Bank and floated a loan.

Road to Sealy

Eventually, Westheimer's farm became an important landmark. The Western Narrow Gauge Railroad had a stop called Westheimer Station.

When the county needed a short-cut road from Houston to Columbus and Sealy, Mitch Westheimer gave the right-of-way. Westheimer's road, they named it.

Just north of the road was a wooded prairie that everybody said would never be worth much. River Oaks, we call it today.

Mitch had a famous racetrack on his farm.

One winter, after Hettie was born, the Sells circus wintered on the farm. A young camel born that winter was named Mitch for farmer Westheimer.

Miss Hettie was No. 5 of eight children. By the time she was 19, the family had moved back to town. Into a house on the corner of San Jacinto and Prairie.

When Abe and Leo Levy opened a store called Levy Brothers at Main near Congress, one of the first salesgirls they hired was Hetsie.


"You know," Aunt Hetsie told me thoughtfully, "it's odd that Dad never got rich. Because two men who worked for him did get rick. Mayor John T. Brown and Theodore Keller. But Dad did lay the first streetcar rails in Houston. And he raised the Harriet Lane, the Yankee gunboat that we sank in the Battle of Galveston."

"What do you remember best about old Houston?" I asked.

"The mud," said Aunt Hetsie. "In the old days if your wagon stalled in the mud in front of the Rice Hotel, it took six oxen to pull it out. Tell me, is there anything in your book about old Houston?"

"Very little," I admitted. "That's because so few people care. So few remember."

"Well," said Aunt Hetsie, "I'd like to read a book about the wonderful balls that the ZZ used to give at the Light Guard Armory. Where I used to dance all night. Back in the days when the Allen home stood at Main and Rusk, the coffee weeds grew on Capitol Avenue, there were wild cattle on the Breaker farm just east of Main and Dallas, and McKinney Avenue was the city limits."

Somebody ought to write such a book. Maybe I will. One day.