Westchase District grew out of land once owned by one of Houston’s most prominent citizens: Bob Smith. Smith was well-known rancher and Houston philanthropist. He is perhaps best known for bringing the Houston Colt .45s – later the Astros – to Houston. Back then, the Smith family ranching empire stretched west of downtown. Westheimer was a two-lane road and Gessner didn’t go south of Richmond. But early developers looked beyond the cattle grazing on the property and envisioned what the area could become.
In 1969, Friendswood Development (a division of Exxon) purchased the land at Westheimer and Gessner to create what is today known as Woodlake. And in 1973, the Westchase Corporation followed suit and purchased 760 acres of land from the Smith family.
Then, as now, solid infrastructure and long-range planning were key to the area’s success. Both Woodlake and Westchase enacted protective covenants on landscaping, architecture and setbacks. They established funded community associations to enforce the covenants and maintain quality of life.
Apartment communities, retail developments and major corporations began relocating to the area. Western Geophysical and Chevron were among the first big names to move here.
In 1988, the Sam Houston Parkway opened and improved access to this fast-growing urban area.
The creation of Westchase District in 1995 assured the area’s ability to shape its destiny. The District assumed many roles of the original developers, including marketing, planning and infrastructure development.
Jacamiah Seaman Daugherty was one of the early landowners in Alief. After the 1900 hurricane destroyed much of Alief, Daugherty convinced those who stayed behind to grow rice, instead of cotton. He promoted the Cane Belt Canal which provided irrigation for the rice farmers. Daugherty was the fist chairman of the Harris County Drainage Ditch #1.
Mitchell Louis Westheimer, a German immigrant, came to be one of the most successful businessmen and entrepreneurs in early Houston. A hay merchant, he owned a flour mill and the Houston Livery Stable. He purchased a 640-acre tract at auction, which became known as the Westheimer ranch. It extended from Buffalo Speedway west to Fondren and from present day Westheimer Road south to Bellaire.
Alief Ozelda Magee was the first postmistress of the town, originally known as Dairy. When the town’s leaders applied for a post office, they changed the community’s name to honor Mrs. Magee.
Alief was, in fact, the hub of the area. After the 1900 hurricane destroyed Galveston and Alief, a group of German immigrants came to the area. They were instrumental in the resurgence of Alief. The area also thrived thanks to the construction of the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway (SAP).
Early roads in Westchase were almost non-existent. They were so muddy and so plagued by potholes that it took a whole day to travel six to eight miles.
One exception was Westheimer Road, which was created when Mitchell Westheimer donated a portion of his land to Harris County as right-of-way, providing an important thoroughfare for famers in the Alief area to transport their cotton, rice and other farm goods to Houston and beyond. Today, Westheimer Road is the longest major thoroughfare in Texas.
The Texas Western Narrow Gauge Railway (later known as Texas Western Railway) was chartered in 1877 to run from downtown Houston west to Pattison, through the Westheimer plantation and present day Westchase. It enjoyed early success — at one time spanning 52 miles to Sealy with two locomotives, 15 freight cars and one passenger car. Since it only had one passenger car, passengers would often ride on flat cars to get to their destinations.
The SAP railway ran from downtown Houston through the southern part of present day Westchase and Alief, to Fulshear and points west. The Alief depot was located across from the cotton mill at what is now Alief Amity Park.
As late as 1934, the only major roads designated on Harris County maps of the area were Westheimer, Rogers, Cooper, Dairy Ashford and Alief Houston Road (which is present day Richmond Road.)
Most Westchase land was given to early settlers as land grants from either the Spanish or Mexican governments. These grants were for one league of land (4,428.4 acres).
Clifford Mooers purchased 100 heavily wooded acres of the original Christiana Williams land grant in 1934. He named his land Pine Lake Farm and built a mansion at a cost of $164,000. He also bred horses on the property. Later he sold the mansion and land to prominent Houston furrier Ralph Rupley. The original Mooers mansion makes up the central section of the Lakeside Country Club clubhouse today.
E.W.K. “Andy” Andrau moved to Houston after joining Shell Oil Company as a geologist. Andrau bought five tracts of land from the Bellows, Wade, Lewis and Woodruff land grants. Much of his land was used for rice farming and raising Angus cattle. However, he set aside a substantial portion of land for Andrau Airpark. In 1955, Andrau’s surviving family sold most of the land, except the airport land, to Bob Smith. In 1988, they sold the last 700 acres of land (still used for an airpark) to Camden Trust. The land has since been developed by Sunrise Colony Co. as Royal Oaks Country Club.
Robert E. “Bob” Smith, an oilman, was well-known as one of the original partners in the Houston Colt .45s baseball team and as the first president of Houston’s Petroleum Club. Back then, Houston was oriented north and south around Main Street. But Smith was only interested in one area of town. “Buy land on Westheimer,” he told anyone who asked. By 1964, Smith owned 11,000 acres of land – more than any other landowner in Harris County. His ranch included the area of Westchase, and continued all the way east past present day Beltway 8 and south to Bissonnet.
At the time of his death in 1973, Smith’s fortune from oil, real estate and ranching was greater than $500 million. His widow, Vivian Leatherberry Smith, sold 760 acres of the family’s land holdings to Westchase Corporation, which began developing modern day Westchase.