3481 Elgin St.
Houston, TX 77014
April 2004–Virtually lost amidst the hustle and bustle of Metropolitan Houston, with a population of 4,669,571 people and an inner city college, the University of Houston (Est.1927), sits Cream Burger, a neighborhood hamburger stand. The roots of the Third Ward community are deeply embedded into the seams of its structure. According to Beverly Greenwood, Cream Burger originally located on Willow Glen Street in Southwest Houston, moved to the Third Ward community in September 1961. Willow and Verna Greenwood, now deceased passed on the spirit of entrepreneurship to their children. Cream Burger is now owned and operated by the Greenwood’s seven children; the tradition of this mom and pop hamburger stand is being kept alive by a new generation. Small and slightly worn like an old comfortable shoe, Cream Burger has a certain charm that’s a fragrant reminder of a less sinister time of the 1960’s and 1970’s. It reminds you of a time when children could walk to the neighborhood store without fear of being harmed by a stranger. It reminds you of a time when there was only the simple joy of sitting at the five and dime, eating a hot fudge sundae with whipped cream, nuts, and a cherry on top, out of a glass bowl (that’s when TG & Y’S drugstore was still in business). Third Ward, according to Bettie Patterson, began to flourish after the decline of the Fourth and Fifth Wards. It became the hub of black social, cultural, and economic life in Houston, and it now serves as the financial center of black Houston. Old Dowling Street looked like a downtown area, with all types of stores. The black businesses were the pride of the entire Third Ward area. In addition to being the financial and business center of black Houston, Third ward serves as a center of black higher education, with the nation’s third largest historically black university, Texas Southern University. Residing in its boundaries are three black newspapers, and the only black owned radio station in Houston. Furthermore, the black cultural, civil rights, and political awareness organizations’ main offices, such as the Urban League, NAACP, United Negro College Fund, and the SHAPE Community Center, are located in Third Ward.Even though Cream Burger does not have a dazzling, colorful marquee announcing its right to be seen in the community, it draws from the rich history of Third Ward, customers from all walks of life patronize Cream Burger. You see the occasional professor; telephone worker, construction worker, mothers and children wait in line to be served from the slightly torn and darkly stained screen of the push up serving window. As a compliment to protect its clients, the owners have built an aluminum overhang that offers protection from the sun and the rain. As another nostalgic flash to past, Cream Burger has an outdoors eating area, with several red and white paint-chipped concrete tables and benches. Although many of the people in the Third Ward community have cars, some do not, and many of its customers are people who live in that neighborhood, and they simply walk to its central location. Cream Burger is certainly a product of the community that it serves.
I vividly remember riding the bus with my momma, Robert and Debbie (they are my brother and sister) to the zoo, the park and the department stores as child. We would always go downtown. Downtown in the 1970’s was the hub of commerce and activity. Joske’s (now Dillard’s), Foley’s, Palais Royal, The Majestic Downtown Theatre and my favorite restaurant McCory’s and many more stores were all located downtown. McCory’s a five and dime that sold everything under the sun, made the best fluffiest, melt-in-your-mouth butter biscuits in town (better than my grandma’s). As a kid I recall riding the bus as an exhausting, but fun adventure that always had a midway stop on the way home. As Cream Burger came into view, I felt excitement and rejuvenation come to life in body and suddenly I wasn’t so tired any more. I knew momma would get us a treat at Cream Burger. Usually one of us Debbie, Robert or myself would poke the other and point at Cream Burger and immediately a grin would spread across our faces. We knew that momma would get us a treat at Cream Burger.
As an adult this helps me appreciate my mother because of the large and small sacrifices she made for us, because money was tight back then. We lived on a very fixed income, hence the reason we were riding the bus. She would always allow us to choose a moon cookie and on special occasions we would have an ice cream cone to go along with it. Sometimes my mom would order us a hamburger and fries. Their hamburgers were better than Jack-in-the- Box’s hamburgers (those were the days when the drive through order taker’s “voice” was inside of a real jack-in-the-box head). I remember on several occasions we would be allowed to order our own moon cookies and vanilla ice cream and then sit on those concrete benches, swinging our legs and enjoying our treats. I remember the sun filtering through the trees and the soft late afternoon breeze blowing across my face, as if it were my own personal electric fan, as I ate my ice cream. This was not a time to argue and bicker with my siblings, but it seems even now that it was a time to enjoy them and cherish that time spent with my mother. I loved visiting Cream Burger.
One day as I was passing down Scott Street on my way to class. I caught a glimpse of a building that looked like that place we used to stop by on our way home from downtown. That afternoon I decided to check out this place. I discovered that this was in fact the right place. I had forgotten the name of the restaurant, but I could not forget the special ambience of Cream Burger. Cream Burger has been located in the same spot for over 40 years. It has the look and feel of a blast from the past. Cream Burger is as unblemished as the round smoothness of a baby’s cheek. It has stood the test of time and still looks exactly the same. It seemed to me that this business owner valued it customers by the way everything on the outside was neat and clean. There were also two outdoor trashcans that added to its neat appearance. I did not see any trash on the tables or on the ground. I could not stop the flooding of wonderful childhood memories this place evoked within me, I saw my brother and sister chasing each other around those paint faded concrete tables, but there is one detail that I don’t recall. I never noticed that there were parking spaces, for those patrons who happened to have a car (there were 7 spaces).
As I stood in line I noticed that at least half of its customers were walk up customers. The closer I got to the front of the line I could hardly contain my excitement. I could not wait to taste one my favorite foods from my childhood. As I approached the order window I noticed that Cream Burger’s menu board was black and white with hand – painted lettering on a sheet of plywood. When it was my turn at the window I immediately asked if they still had moon cookies. I held my breath in suspension, as I waited for her answer. The waitress smiled gently and said yes. It was my intention to order one moon cookie and an ice-cream cone, but I could not resist ordering a small hamburger and fries also. I paid for my order and took a seat on one of the cold, stone benches in front of Cream burger and waited for my order. This gave me a chance to observe my fellow patrons as they waited for their order. One customer stood out in my mind because he was obviously a vagrant. He had already approached one of the walk- up customers because the gentleman was going to buy him a burger. I notice the vagrant eyeing everyone who could possibly help him out. He asked me if I could help him out. Unfornately I had just spent the last of my money in my wallet. He seemed to know how to get what he wanted in order to survive another day on the street. I also noticed a high school student getting out of class and rushing to Cream Burger. Cream Burger is the perfect place for a kid or an adult on a budget. The ice cream cone I ordered only cost fifty-cents, and my moon cookies were three-for-a-dollar. Two men who were waiting in line for the cashier to take their order were not thrilled that they had to wait. One of the men was probably in a hurry because he pulled up to Cream burger in a Southwestern Bell truck and more than likely only had thirty minutes for lunch.
Once I received my order I continued to observe my surroundings. My first bite of my moon cookie transported me back in time to the Cream Burger of 1972, as a black Ford Thunderbird zoomed past; I sat swinging my legs and eating my treats with Debbie and Robert and my momma. “Did you hear the joke about the cow that jumped over the moon,” asked Robert. I looked at my sister and rolled my eyes and started to giggle because once again Robert was trying to tell a funny joke, but was not quite succeeding. We had so much fun back then, that we did not know that we were poor. It was moments like visiting Cream Burger and enjoying my momma and siblings that has made my childhood special. The rediscovering of a childhood memory has left an indelible impression on me and has impacted me so much that I intend to share that part of my history with my children. The Cream Burger experience will be passed to another generation, not just the experience of eating a moon cookie and an ice cream cone, but so my children can experience the memories of snapshots from the past.