Scope and Contents
The Steven Fenberg Papers include correspondence, documents, newsprint, books, photographs, annual reports, magazines and scrapbooks related to Steven Fenberg and his life in Houston, Texas and the Netherlands; Jesse H. Jones and Houston Endowment; the Fenberg family’s impact on the commercial, religious and recreational development of greater Houston; and the Fenberg and Berkowitz family homes in Detroit, Michigan, Brooklyn, New York and Miami Beach, Florida.
All of the materials are in good condition and range in date from 1898 to 2022, with most of the material from 1926 to 2019. The materials in this collection are useful for research about Jesse H. Jones and the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) during the Great Depression and World War II; greater Houston’s commercial, religious, social, environmental and recreational development; nonprofit and religious organizations such as Houston Endowment, AIDS Foundation Houston and Congregation Emanu El; and notable local and national figures.
Forms part of the South Texas Jewish Archives.
Conditions Governing Use
Permission to publish material from the Steven Fenberg Papers must be obtained from the Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library.
The Woodson Research Center use policy is that researchers assume sole responsibility for any infringement of privacy, literary rights, copyrights, or other rights arising from their use of the archival materials. In addition to any restrictions placed by donors, certain kinds of archival materials are restricted for the life of the creator plus 50 years. These materials include, but are not limited to, student grades, transcripts, and any job applications or recommendations.
Biographical / Historical
Steven Fenberg’s grandparents Eleanor and Bennett Fenberg moved to Houston, Texas from Detroit, Michigan in 1944, and bought a home and acreage on Post Oak Road near what is now Evergreen Street and Loop 610. They purchased Nolen Jewelry Company from Felix Nolen, who started the company decades earlier by selling watches door-to-door. Eleanor and Bennett returned to Detroit in 1950 after Steven Fenberg’s father Morton returned from military service during World War II and assumed the business. Morton’s brother L. Bennett (Elby) Fenberg and brother-in-law Marvin Barish also moved to Houston and participated in the new family business. The family’s first store was located in Jesse Jones’s 1914 two-floor Wells Fargo building at Capitol and Travis, where the 70-floor Chase Tower now stands.
Steven Fenberg attended Edgar Odell Lovett Elementary School, Albert Sidney Johnston Junior High School and Bellaire High School in Houston. During high school he volunteered at the Jewish Community Center where he established the Hikers and the Night Owls—social groups for special- needs children and young adults. After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor’s degree in business, Fenberg joined the family business, which his father had expanded statewide. Fenberg later volunteered as the speaker’s bureau coordinator at AIDS Foundation Houston in the late 1980s when AIDS was emerging, and he began writing editorials for newspapers and magazines. In the early 1990s he left the family business and pursued a career as a writer.
Fenberg began working in 1993 at Houston Endowment—the philanthropic foundation established by Jesse H. and Mary Gibbs Jones in 1937—to write a biographical sketch about the Joneses for the foundation’s annual report. He then created a permanent exhibit about the Joneses for the foundation’s new offices in the Chase Tower—the 70-floor skyscraper that replaced the small building where his family’s first store had been located. Fenberg conducted an oral history program to record memories of people who knew the Joneses and was the executive producer and co-writer of “Brother, Can You Spare a Billion? The Story of Jesse H. Jones,” an Emmy Award-winning PBS documentary film narrated by Walter Cronkite. Following the film, Fenberg wrote “Unprecedented Power: Jesse Jones, Capitalism and the Common Good,” which was published by Texas A&M University Press in 2011. In addition to managing projects to restore and maintain knowledge about Jesse Jones, Fenberg produced the foundation’s 200-plus page annual report for many years. He retired from Houston Endowment in 2013, and in 2022 returned to the foundation to help oversee the distribution of art and artifacts from its Chase Tower location in anticipation of Houston Endowment’s move to new headquarters where Fenberg will curate and produce a new permanent exhibit about Jesse H. and Mary Gibbs Jones.
In 2016 Fenberg was executive producer and wrote “Remarkable Experiences,” a documentary film celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Jesse H. Jones Hall for the Performing Arts and its influence on the performing arts in Houston. In 2019 he was executive producer and wrote “Ever Open,” a documentary film celebrating the 75th anniversary of Congregation Emanu El, of which his grandparents Bennett and Eleanor Fenberg were founding members.
Fenberg is an active volunteer, public speaker and writer who most recently helped the Coalition for a National Infrastructure Bank promote a government-based lending institution to duplicate the strategies and successes of the RFC, the federal government bank chaired by Jesse Jones that saved capitalism during the Great Depression and militarized industry in time to fight and win World War II. He previously served on the advisory boards of AIDS Foundation Houston; the American Red Cross Museum in Washington, D.C.; Houston History Magazine; and No More Victims, a support agency for the children of incarcerated parents. He served as a trustee and is now an honorary trustee of the Aubrey and Sylvia Farb Community Service Fund.
Fenberg’s collection covers his personal and professional life and includes material about Jesse Holman Jones. Jesse Jones, born in 1874 on his father’s tobacco farm in rural Tennessee, moved to Houston in 1898 to manage his Uncle M.T. Jones’s vast estate of timberland, sawmills and lumberyards. In partnership with the City of Houston, in 1906 he developed the streets in today’s Midtown and began building small houses to sell on unique long-term installment plans so people with modest means could afford to buy homes. With the income from the mortgages and loans from Rice Institute (now Rice University) Jones built Houston’s first three skyscrapers, each 10-floors tall. The Houston Chronicle building brought him a half-interest in the newspaper, which he later bought outright. The Texas Company building brought Texaco and the petroleum industry to Houston. The Bristol Hotel gave Houston one of its first luxury hotels. Jones would later fill up Houston’s Main Street with its most ornate movie theaters, its most luxurious hotels and its tallest office towers. He also built significant skyscrapers in Fort Worth, Texas and New York City.
Jones raised Houston’s half of the funds to develop the Houston Ship Channel and served as first chairman of the Houston Harbor Board. He served as Director General of Military Relief for the American Red Cross during World War I and afterwards became active in the Democratic National Party. He was the Party’s finance chair from 1924 to 1928, and in 1928 brought the Democratic National Convention to Houston, the first major political convention to be held in the South since before the Civil War and one of the first to be widely received over radio.
President Herbert Hoover appointed Jones to the bi-partisan board of the RFC when he established it in 1932 to combat the calamity of the Great Depression. Shortly after his inauguration President Franklin Roosevelt made Jones RFC chair. Through judicious lending Jones and the RFC salvaged the United States economy during the Great Depression and militarized industry in time to fight and win World War II. As RFC chair, Jones was considered to be, after President Roosevelt, the most powerful person in the nation. He also served as secretary of commerce from 1940 to 1945.
Materials associated with Audrey Jones Beck—the Joneses’ granddaughter—are included in the collection. Audrey and her husband John amassed the Audrey and John A. Beck Collection of impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces, which Audrey donated to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston after her husband’s death.
Materials about Fenberg’s family are also part of the archive. Fenberg’s aunt Shirley Fenberg Barish, who moved to Houston with Eleanor and Bennett in 1944, became an acclaimed Jewish educator. Her husband Marvin Barish, who developed the Chair King into a national outdoor furniture store chain, is a prominent philanthropist in the Houston Jewish community. Fenberg’s uncle Elby Fenberg served in World War II as a member of the 163rd Signal Corps and filmed the iconic explosion of the swastika on top of the Nuremberg Stadium and the capture of Berchtesgaren and Hitler's Eagle's Nest. Elby and his wife Marilyn managed Nolen’s in West University on University Boulevard for many years and in the 1960s and 70s the store was known for its large selection of charms and bracelets.
Fenberg's father Morton grew up with his brother Elby and sister Shirley in Detroit, Michigan, with their parents Lillian and Jacob Albert Fenberg. His parents passed away when he and his siblings were young. Their aunt and uncle, Eleanor and Bennett Fenberg—Jacob’s brother—adopted the three children. Morton and the family worked at the Colonial, his father’s large department store in downtown Detroit on State Street, which Bennett took over after Jacob’s death. Morton enlisted in the Army in 1941 and was honorably discharged as a Captain in 1946. After the war he served as the president of Nolen Jewelry Company and Phototex Sales Corp. He was a principal partner and developer of Bridge Harbor Marina, the first full-service marina developed in the early 1960s on the Texas Gulf Coast.
Fenberg’s mother Lenore grew up in Brooklyn, New York and Rocky Mount, North Carolina, with her parents Lottie and Harry Berkowitz and brother Kenneth. She met her future husband Morton on a blind date while she was attending William and Mary College in Richmond, Virginia. They married in 1943 and had two children: Steven and his older brother Jay, who married Carole Mannheimer. Lenore was a community volunteer, the first woman of her generation to serve on the executive board of Congregation Emanu El and was a master salesperson who worked on sales floors until she was 86.
The three couples—Morton and Lenore, Shirley and Marvin and Elby and Marilyn—settled after World War II in Bellaire, Texas near Bennett and Eleanor’s house on Post Oak Road and had eight children, who all attended Houston public schools and Congregation Emanu El. The three couples were part of the Big Eight Supper Club, which was established in 1950 by eight Jewish couples in Houston. The Club had a “scrambled supper” every month for over 60 years. Fenberg’s collection contains two Big Eight scrapbooks.
Harry De Jonge, Fenberg’s partner since 1993, grew up in Aalst, Belgium, with his parents Denise and Richard De Jonge and his brother Walter. Harry moved to the Netherlands in the 1970s, first attended the Academy of Dramatic Art in Utrecht and later became a registered nurse and practiced until he retired in 2010. He is an active and accomplished artist, and since they met the couple have divided their time between their apartment in Amsterdam near the intersection of Brouwersgracht and Prinsengracht and their home by the Brazos River near the Brazos Bend State Park.