TABLE OF CONTENTS
MetroRail Expansion Collection RG.C.0009
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.
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.
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.
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.
MetroRail Expansion Collection. RG C 0009. Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library.
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.
Processed by Tamara Jordan, June 11, 2007.