Houston Public Library, Houston Metropolitan Research Center

MetroRail Expansion Collection RG.C.0009

Descriptive Summary

Creator Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County
Title: MetroRail Expansion Collection
Dates: February 2007-March 2007
Identification: RG.C.0009
Quantity: 0.5 Linear feet, 1 thin document box
Language: Materials are in English.
Repository: Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library

Historical Note

The tunnel, originally known as the North Main Street subway, was constructed prior to 1913 to provide a grade separation between the Southern Pacific (as of 2007 Union Pacific) Railroad (Lines) and pedestrian and vehicular traffic along Houston’s North Main Street. A Houston street guide and map published in 1913 by J.M. Kelsen shows the tunnel under a major siding of the railroad immediately north of Houston’s downtown. The tunnel was part of a complex series of roads, railroads and warehouses that included a viaduct over Buffalo Bayou at its confluence with White Oak Bayou just north of the central business district.

According to an article published in the Houston Chronicle in July 1997, Judge Hernandez, for whom the tunnel was eventually named, recalled that he remembered the tunnel in 1917. The article goes on to state that “The original one-horse tunnel was expanded to two lanes and a pedestrial walkway in 1923. The $250,000 cost was shared by the city and the Southern Pacific Railroad. The 1997 dedication marked a $1.1-million restoration of the tunnel for the benefit of pedestrial and vehicular traffic “long sought by residents of the near North Side.”

While the integrity of the 1923 expansion of the tunnel remains, no visible evidence remains of the “one-horse” tunnel. The two traffic lanes and pedestrian walkway, the retaining walls, and the concrete pilasters and railings do remain intact. At some point after 1923, the tunnel was extended on the north end to allow for Burnett Street to cross above the tunnel. The difference in the 1923 construction and the later expansion is clear and discernable. Based on the character of the concrete detailing of the expansion, it perhaps took place in the 1950s.

Historical Context

Houston’s growth as an urban and industrial center after 1900 was characterized by expansion in transportation systems and a concentration of business and industrial activity north of Houston’s central business district. Residential neighborhoods to the north and northwest of the downtown area such as the First Ward and Houston Heights sprang up north of Buffalo Bayou. Inevitably, transportation conflicts occurred where railroads and streets crossed in urban settings.

The North Main Street Subway, later named after Judge Alfred Hernandez, Houston’s first Hispanic judge, is an example of a twentieth-century engineering solution to a transportation problem. The solution, in an American urban context, goes back to Frederick Law Olmsted’s innovative design solution for New York’s Central Park, where pedestrial and carriage traffic crossed at grade separations. The Judge Alfred Hernandez Tunnel is an excellent example of a transportation grade separation solution in a dense urban and industrial environment.

Information provided by Sherry N. DeFreece Emery, Architectural Historian and Conservator, LopezGarcia Group, and Joe C. Freeman, Architect.

Scope and Contents

Documentation of the Judge Alfred Hernandez Tunnel was accomplished in February 2007 to mitigate the effects of demolition of the tunnel to allow for transportation-related improvements by the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (Metro), Harris County’s transit authority. The tunnel is an historic property eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.

At the site, large format photographs were taken and the character and condition of the tunnel were documented. The photographs and a field notebook of present-day drawings by Joe C. Freeman are included in the collection.

The original documentation has been retained from the field study.



Original (Metro) numbering remains on the fieldwork documentation and photographs. Users of the materials should attend to the Houston Metropolitan Research Center (HMRC) numbering information in this finding aid to assist them in locating materials at the HMRC.
The collection is arranged by material type in one series and four sub-series:
Series 1: Judge Alfred Hernandez Tunnel
Subseries 1.1: Documentation
Subseries 1.2: Drawings
Subseries 1.3: Photographs
Subseries 1.4: Photonegatives


Access Restrictions


Use Restrictions

Permission to publish or reproduce materials from the MetroRail Expansion Collection must be obtained from the Houston Metropolitan Research Center or the appropriate copyright holder.

Index Terms

Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County
Historic sites—Texas
Judge Alfred Hernandez Tunnel (Houston, Tex.)
Local transit—Planning
North Main Street Tunnel (Houston, Tex.)

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

MetroRail Expansion Collection. RG C 0009. Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library.

Acquisition Information

Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, June 8, 2007.

The materials in the MetroRail Expansion Collection were hand-delivered to the HMRC by the representative for the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Rhonda Boyer, on June 8, 2007.

Processing Information

Processed by Tamara Jordan, June 11, 2007.

Detailed Description of the Collection


Series 1: Original Documentation and Field Notes

Box Folder
1 1 Historic American Engineering Record. National Park Service, Department of the Interior. Written and Descriptive Data. February 2007


Series 2: Site Plan Drawings

Box Folder
1 2 Architectural drawings of Judge Alfred Hernandez Tunnel site plan February 2007


Series 3: Photographs

Box Folder
1 3 Judge Alfred Hernandez Tunnel viewed from north side facing south (downtown), Photograph RG C 009.1
3 Burnett Street facing northwest, Photograph RG C 009.2
3 Burnett Street and residential buildings to the north, Photograph RG C 009.3
3 Judge Alfred Hernandez Tunnel viewed from north facing south (downtown), Photograph RG C 009.4
3 Judge Alfred Hernandez Tunnel side wall on northeast, Photograph RG C 009.5
3 View from Judge Alfred Hernandez Tunnel interior facing residential buildings to the northeast, Photograph RG C 009.6
3 Burnett Street over tunnel facing southeast, Photograph RG C 009.7
3 View of Judge Alfred Hernandez Tunnel entrance facing northwest, Photograph RG C 009.8
3 View of Judge Alfred Hernandez Tunnel entrance facing northwest from sidewalk, Photograph RG C 009.9
3 View of Judge Alfred Hernandez Tunnel entrance facing north, Photograph RG C 009.10
3 Detail view of historic plaque, RG C 009.11


Series 4: Photograph Negatives

Box Folder
1 4 Photograph negatives of photos in Series 3