A Scenic History
Scenic Houston’s roots are deep, born in a local advocacy effort to battle the unregulated proliferation of billboards in our city. In 1966, concerned Houstonians led by architect Ralph Anderson and attorney Carroll Shaddock formed the non-profit group Billboards Limited to fight against mushrooming billboard blight. Billboards Limited fought to establish, for the first time ever, a City of Houston sign ordinance as a means to create standards and regulations for billboards. Despite overtures from Billboards Limited to work together in this process, the billboard industry fought any kind of regulation and would not compromise. Another challenge was that City elected leadership of the era was ineffective in leading stakeholders toward establishing effective standards.
By 1980, Houston was home to over 10,000 billboards, and was known in the press as the “Billboard Capital of the World.” Not only Billboards Limited, but a new generation of community leaders could see that this notorious nickname gave Houston an economic development black eye. Thanks to the efforts of Billboards Limited, that same year, Houston City Council unanimously passed an ordinance banning new billboard construction in the city. Once new billboard construction was stopped, then redevelopment, attrition, and continuing anti-billboard advocacy began to gain traction. As a direct result of this ordinance, billboard inventory was reduced from 10,000+ billboards in 1980 to 1,309 in 2019. This landmark ordinance has had a significant impact on the visual character of Houston’s local streets and neighborhoods. Today, the remainder of Houston’s billboard inventory is situated mostly along freeway corridors where these signs are protected from amortization and removal under a 1980s federal law known, ironically, as the Highway Beautification Act
This significant turning point in the local campaign for signage standards sparked a desire for statewide advocacy to protect the appearance and quality of life of roads and streets statewide. As a result, in 1984, Billboards Limited was reorganized as The Lone Star Roadside Council, a state-wide non-profit organization. A final name change occurred in 1991 with the establishment of Scenic Texas, Inc. as the statewide 501(c)(3) entity, with Scenic Houston as its largest and most active local chapter. Scenic Texas and Scenic Houston are affiliates of Scenic America.
Scenic Houston has maintained its sign regulation expertise and expanded its agenda to focus on streetscape improvements, scenic byway development and enhanced design standards for public projects. Publication of a Streetscape Resource Guide, direction of the Broadway Corridor Redevelopment Project, coordination of an Airport Corridor Improvement Initiative and administration of the Scenic City Certification Program are examples of Scenic Houston’s work to shape communities with striking visual character.