For a year, I searched long and hard for an out-of-print book titled “The Last American City: An Intrepid Walker’s Guide to Houston” by Douglas Milburn, which published in 1979. I finally found one.
It has been said that “few had written about Houston in such a way before.” Perhaps so — at the time, but since I moved to Houston in August 2016, I have heard — and continue to hear — a range of impressive and diverse voices in this city expressed in writing, in speech, in photography, in song, and in the visual and performing arts.
Architectural historian Stephen Fox asserts the importance of this book through its creation of a critical dialogue on the city: “Milburn was very much a product of the liberated pop culture tide of the late 1960s and 70s, and he expressed many thoughts on the city that had previously never been expressed by the establishment in the city. This, combined with his cultured background (a German professor at Rice as well as a member of the local counterculture) led to [this] unique book.” He shares further that the overall effect “lends comparison to the Orange Show – a unique work of pop art in the city of that time.”
Before seeing the book or even images of it, after reading reviews and accolades about it, I imagined a beautifully designed coffee-table-sized hardbound edition. I was surprised when I received my copy — a paperback sized 8.5 x 5.5 inches with mostly text and a few black-and-white photos by Tom Richmond sprinkled throughout its dense 150 pages. The contents are simple, too: 13 walking tours of Houston describing urban amenities and institutions; many of which are still around even decades later and others that describe more of the history behind areas like Montrose that are now completely transformed.
Some questions that can be answered with this book: Here is Milburn’s advice for a Sunday afternoon out: ‘Enter The Galleria on the south side (Entrance No. 8) off Alabama. Drive down to the first level. Bear right around the ramp and park somewhere on this level – Level B, in either Zone 8 or 9.”