Updated: Nov 22, 2020
This article comes from Tumbleweed Smith's "The Sound of Texas". To purchase the individual episode please visit Tumbleweedsmith.com and reference the July 14th show.
An unsightly dead-end alley in downtown Baytown has been converted into a major tourist attraction. It’s called Umbrella Alley. Colorful umbrellas are suspended by cables and provide shade.
“Red, yellow, blue and green. Those are the colors,” says Anna Yowell, Baytown’s tourism director. “We have 2 different shades of green right now, normally there’s a royal blue, a bright yellow, a Kelly green and an apple red.“
She says weather does take a toll on the umbrellas.
“So our amazing parks and recreation department that partners with us comes in once a week and changes umbrellas that are starting to look ragged or happen to be broken. If things don’t seem to be working just right, they fix it. We replace about 400 umbrellas a year. We looked at all kinds of umbrellas and discovered there’s really only a certain style that was going to work for us so we told the umbrella salesman to give us a really good price on a bunch of umbrellas.”
It’s considered an art installation and is a project of the city’s art committee.
“We were just trying to figure out how in the world could we inspire art and create art in the community. My team and I were at the Texas State Fair that had an umbrella area. We were walking by and one of my staff members said ‘I can do that.’ And here we are. We worked with the local community college to paint a unique and interesting mural of Baytown’s history and ecology on all three sides of the alley. We thought it was great that young people got involved in the project. It took several semesters to complete. Now we have this really nice area with 150 colorful umbrellas that sway with the wind and create a bright, fun space where a lot of people take photographs. At noon when the sun is straight up the umbrellas are shadowed on the concrete in perfect umbrella shapes. It’s really neat when you’re there.”
When it was installed a few years ago it was only supposed to be up for a year. However it is so popular they’re keeping it permanently. Umbrella Alley has been the backdrop for two weddings and several baby pictures. It’s one of those places that look so inviting you just can’t pass it by. Some cities have copied Baytown’s Umbrella Alley and several restaurants have colorful umbrellas over their outside dining areas. Anna says a city in France has an entire street covered by umbrellas. Could it be Cherbourg? In the 1960’s a beautiful romantic movie was about an umbrella store in Cherbourg. The title was “Umbrellas of Cherbourg.”
Anna is a trained archeologist and worked at the Waco Mammoth Site, a National Monument for a few years before returning to Baytown where she was born. Her roots are deep. Four generations of her family have called Baytown home. A relative had the first general store in town. One reason she left the dig site in Waco was because she enjoyed visiting with tourists so much. When the position of tourism director came open in Baytown, she applied for it.
Pictured: Anna Yowell receiving a Texas Downtown Association award for the Umbrella Alley.