A Stay on Pirate's Island

"The Colonel", gliding in the waters of Offats Bayou.  Galveston Island, Texas.
Galveston Island has a rich and diverse history that begins with its native inhabitants, the Karankawa; and continues with it's many incarnations as a Spanish province, a pirate settlement, and capital of the Republic of Texas.  Galveston's strategic position in the natural harbor of Galveston Bay in the Gulf of Mexico made it, by the end of the 19th century, the center of trade in Texas; and it would have probably continued so if not for the Great Storm of 1900 and the building of the Houston Ship Channel.

I have a certain fascination with Port cities because they make me think of the routes in which people move and the paths that they travel throughout their lives.  Having lived in so many different cities and countries myself, migration is to me a personal subject.  Galveston is of particularly interest because of its link to Nicaragua during the California Gold Rush: Forty-Niners (and so on) would travel from the Eastern cities of the United States, make a stop in Galveston to refresh, and then head south to San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua.  Once in San Juan del Sur they would sail in the San Juan river and fight their way through the jungle until they reached the other side of the Central American Isthmus; at which point they would sail north from the port of Corinto, Nicaragua towards San Francisco, California.  But the influx of people worked in the reverse as well, and many Nicaraguans (including some of my relations) sailed northbound in the ships, either as crew or passengers, and entered the United States for the first time through the port of Galveston.

This constant flow of humanity made Galveston Island a very diverse city, most evident in its Architecture.  While the prevalent architectural style is Victorian, many others mingle in the tropical air of the island, and all are executed with such enthusiasm and exuberance as if to scandalize the proper English and European folks from which said styles were first learned.

Sacred Heart Catholic Church.  Galveston, Texas.  Texas Historical Landmark.
Sacred Heart Catholic Church.  Galveston, Texas.
Sacred Heart Catholic Church.  Interior.  Galveston, Texas. Image by Gruenemann.
The present-day Sacred Heart was built 1904 by architect Nicholas Clayton, after the original Victorian Romanesque building was destroyed in the Great Storm of 1900.  The new design combined elements of Byzantine and Moorish architecture within its Gothic structure.  It is interesting to see that the (then) fashionable taste for Exoticism and Orientalism makes an appearance in Galveston, so far away from the sophisticated Paris Salons.

Custom House.  Galveston, Texas.  National Register of Historic Places.
The Galveston Custom House was the first federally owned building in Galveston.  Its design is based on an earlier three storey Palladian one produced by architect Ammi Burnham Young in 1857, which was modified in 1859 by architect Charles B. Cluskey to accommodate a Post Office and reduce the building to two stories.  The Custom House was finally completed in 1861 and it was soon occupied by the Confederate Army, which set up camp there.  The building survived a fire in 1885, and it is a hero of the Great Storm of 1900; for many years it served as a courthouse, and in 1999 after six months of restoration it became the headquarters of the Galveston Historic Foundation. 

Galveston Custom House.  Galveston, Texas.

Galveston Custom House.  Courtyard Detail.  Galveston, Texas.
Though the orders used in the building are Roman Ionic and Roman Corinthian and the actual inspiration for this building is the work of Italian architect Andrea Palladio, this building has been categorized in the style known in America as the "Greek Revival" (first half of the 19th century).  As America relished in her new found independence, it looked to Athens and Republican Rome as examples of democracy, emulating not only philosophy, but also fashion, art, and architecture.

Even as the taste for all things Greek faded into the later part of the 19th century, the taste for Palladianism and Classical Architecture remained, and it is evident in some of the more sumptuous houses on Broadway Avenue:

Isaac Kempner House. 1906. Galveston, Texas.
The Kempner House was designer by Charles W. Bulger and altered later by noted Houston architect John F. Staub.
Isaac Kempner House. Texas Historic Landmark.
 Two more beautiful classical houses on Broadway avenue:

Carl C. Biehl House on Broadway Avenue.  Built in 1916 by architect Anton F. Korn.  Galveston, Texas.
Notice the curtains blowing in the coastal breeze, in the brick house (below) and the second floor loggia (above).  Whether it is the enfilade of the modest "shotgun" houses, or the clever clerestory windows set in the dome of the Bishop's Palace, all historic houses of Galveston Island are built to take advantage of the winds coming from the gulf.
Italianate House on Broadway Avenue.  Galveston, Texas.

And now let us visit the exuberant Victorian ladies:
Julius H.Ruhl Residence.  1875.  Galveston, Texas.  Texas Historic Landmark.
The house above was completed in 1875 for Julius H. Ruhl, a native of Prussia, in the "Ginger Bread" style so characteristic of Victorian domestic architecture.  Its decoration also incorporates "Italianate" details like the slender colonnettes and the modillions and brackets that support the second storey cornice.  The photograph above shows the house, and its luxurious landscape, decorated for the 4th of July Independence Day festivities.
Gresham Castle "The Bishop's Palace".  Galveston, Texas.  Texas Historic Landmark.  National Register of Historic Places.
Gresham Castle on Broadway Avenue, was designed by architect Nicholas Clayton and built from 1887-1892.  It remained in the Gresham family until 1923 when the Catholic Diocese of Galveston bought it from Mrs. Gresham.  The house today is open to the public, and I was fortunate to participate in a tour of its interiors.  I will dedicate a detailed post to this building, so make sure to check for updates!
Powhata S. Wren Residence. 1873.  Galveston, Texas.  Texas Historic Landmark.
Ashton Villa. 1859.  Galveston, Texas.  Texas Historic Landmark.  National Register of Historic Places.
 The "Italianate Victorian" Ashton Villa was completed in 1859.  It was the first brick house to be built in Texas, and the first of the "palaces" built on Galveston's Broadway Avenue.  The Villa was built by owner James Moreau Brown - who had apprenticed as a brick mason after running away from his New York home - and his slave Alek, who was a brick mason.  The design of the house was based on one found in a Pattern Book - as it was common at the time - published by Philadelphia architect Samuel Sloan.
The Willis-Moody Mansion.  1895.  Galveston, Texas.  National Register of Historic Places. 
The Willis-Moody Mansion was built between 1893-1895 by the English born architect William H. Tyndall in the "Richardsonian Romanesque" style; adapted with porches, galleries, and strategically placed windows, all designed to catch the coastal breeze.  The house original owner was Narcissa Willis, the widow of merchant Richard Short Willis, and in 1900 it was purchased from her heirs by William Lewis Moody Jr., whose business enterprises would influence the development of Galveston over the next five decades.  
Fashionable place that it was, Galveston was not immune to the Arts & Crafts Movement.  As the Island recovered from the Great Storm of 1900, her architecture continued to evolve with the times and we see several examples of the Arts & Crafts, notably in the Adriance-Springer House, designed in 1914 by L. S. Green:
Adriance-Springer House.  Galveston, Texas.  Texas Historic Landmark.
 Most people today think of Galveston Island as a holiday destination, and the urban focus has shifted towards the beach and its hotels; but the historic charm of the city center remains, a reminder of the flourishing commercial and port center that it was once:
The Strand.  Galveston, Texas.
The elegant Tremont House Hotel. 1879.  Galveston, Texas.
Shops in the Historic Center.  Galveston, Texas.

The Strand.  July 4th, 2011.  Galveston, Texas.
The "Italianate" details on the Hutchings-Sealy Building.  The Strand.  Galveston, Texas.
Many of the buildings in the Historic Center have colonnades on the facades, which mercifully shade the pedestrians from the inclement tropical sun:
Eibands Building ca 1870.  Galveston, Texas.

The Eibands Building National Landmark plaque.  Note the 1900 Storm 'Survivor" designation.
The Strand.  Galveston, Texas.
And then there is the major reason most people visit Galveston:
Independence Day revelers on The Strand.  Galveston, Texas.  July 4th, 2011.

Wild Life at Moody Gardens.  Galveston, Texas.

Cruise Ship at the Marina.  Galveston, Texas.

I thoroughly enjoyed my stay on "Pirate's Island".  I was also one of those revelers who paid homage to the beach gods, but there is no need to blog about that...my biggest enjoyment, as you can imagine, came from the charm, history, and resilience of this place.
Seagull.  Galveston, Texas.
All images by NPL unless otherwise noted.



1 comment:

pimalai said...

What a nice combination of color and history. Looking at the place now, it's hard to believe that it used to be a Pirate's island.

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