Between 1950 and 1955 over 600 single-family homes were built in Pleasantville, advertised as “Houston’s finest, fastest growing colored housing addition” with desirable features such as knotty pine kitchens and attic fans to ensure comfort against the city’s stifling heat. Developers soon had a waiting list of Black families eager to join the growing community.
In 1952, developer Melvin Silverman, in consultation with resident managers and community leaders Josie Robinson and her husband Judson Robinson Sr., began the construction of high quality single-family homes in Pleasantville. The homes featured mahogany doors, hardwood floors, Hollywood Fleetwood garage doors, and other elements of desirable homes of the era. It was the possibility of these homes that had brought many of the residents there in the first place, the Pleasantville apartments being just a stopgap on the way to home ownership in a well appointed Black neighborhood with all the modern conveniences so sorely lacking in other segregated Black neighborhoods. These included paved roads, closed sewers, city sanitation services, and street lights, many of which were not universally available in Houston at the time, and which were provided in Pleasantville only because of the organized advocacy of residents, largely under the leadership of Judson Robinson, Sr.
Black home ownership in Pleasantville was made possible largely through loans placed by the WM Wright Company with the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company, as well as the GI Bill. The homes ranged from $6,700 to $8,000 and required down payments of $350 to $850. Because the loans in Pleasantville were secured through an FHA program, they were guaranteed by the federal government, minimizing the risk to developers and banks and thus helping to mitigate the racist effects of redlining. A 1953 report prepared for the FHA commissioner on Housing for minority groups in Houston highlighted Pleasantville as an example of the potential of FHA programs to help build thriving Black communities. The report noted that there had never been any delinquency or default on any loan in the neighborhood. It also (perhaps unwittingly) singled out the work of women in the neighborhood in creating such a successful community, commenting: “In its price class it is in fact far above par. One element which has contributed to its success has been the formation of a Garden Club which has established a high standard for its members to meet.” The Garden Club was organized by women of Pleasantville, as an effort at community improvement as well as collective engagement.