HOUSTON has relentless Texan pride, and above all its refusal to take itself totally seriously, give it a perverse appeal, while its well-endowed museums and rich nightlife mean there is always something to do. That Howard Hughes came from Houston makes absolute sense; eccentric, domineering and sordid, the millionaire typified all that makes the city intriguing.
There is good reason why Houston exists at all; it was founded on a muddy mire in 1837 by two brothers from New York who hoped it would become the capital of the new Republic of Texas. For all their wild claims about its potential as a port, and its (imaginary) urban attractions, the more promising site of Austin was made capital in 1839. However, by then Houston had somehow established itself as a commercial center. Oil discovered in 1901, and, like the city itself, unpredictable and heading for obsolescence became the foundation, along with cotton and real estate, of vast private fortunes. Among the most famous of the philanthropists responsible for the development of downtown Houston was the cruelly named Ima Hogg. Her city improvement projects were largely cosmetic, however, and the contradictions of urban life are still writ large here, where abject poverty coexists with ostentatious wealth.
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