Galveston has been through many
economic and social phases, some rather sordid and some quite refined.
Fortunately, it's mostly refined and elegant again now.
I mentioned in a
previous entry some of the
history of pirating and plunder of ships off shore, the smuggling
of slaves and liquor into Texas, and various skirmishes to gain
control of the island (Spanish, French, Mexicans, Texas
Revolutionaries, etc.). I failed to mention gambling and prostitution in that
entry because I was writing about the
end of the island with the state park, not the city. It was
mostly booze, gambling, and prostitution that earned
Galveston proper its reputation in the early 1900s as the "Sin City of
It wasn't always like that.
Two Victorian-era homes in the 1700 block
of Postoffice Street
(they aren't leaning; my camera angle was
After the Civil War, Galveston was
the principal seaport in Texas. It grew to become the state's
largest and wealthiest city by the end of the 19th century. This
time period (1870s to 1900) was the "Gilded Age" in America, a
time of gross materialism and the Industrial Revolution. It
coincided with the prosperous Victorian era in England (1837 to
During the Gilded
Age, Galveston was known for its hospitality and charm. Many
stately Greek Revival, Gothic, Italianate, Richardsonian
Romanesque, Queen Anne, and even Moorish buildings
were constructed from 1850 to 1900.
Unfortunately, quite a few of them were
destroyed in the
devastating hurricane of 1900, when about 6,000 people were
this entry for more
details). Even as it rebuilt itself, Galveston seemed to return to its
baser beginnings and soon lost its former status to nearby
The island city somewhat languished as a desirable place to live or
visit until the 1970s, when the
Galveston Historical Foundation began
restoring the old buildings and houses. That was a very
wise move, because the effort produced major rewards within a
few years. As more
and more buildings were returned to their original elegance,
Galveston turned its image around.
Grace Manor B&B, 1702
Postoffice Street. Architect George Stowe. Completed in 1905.
The resurgence of those
neighborhoods and a lively downtown area, combined with the
island's enticing natural assets, have helped
Galveston become a very desirable place to live and
play. It is a leading Gulf Coast resort area, boasting top hotels, restaurants, shopping, art galleries,
antique shops, events, and entertainment. Tourism is probably as
big an industry here now as shipping and oil.
And one of the biggest tourism draws continues to be its elegant historical
architecture, AKA "heritage tourism." The
tourism bureau claims Galveston
has the largest concentration of Victorian architecture in the
country and I can believe it. Too bad folks didn't restore and
rebuild all those buildings
seventy years earlier!
RETURN TO ELEGANCE
In San Antonio we were able to walk much of the historic
residential district. Not so in Galveston. It is too big,
especially for Jim after running Rocky Raccoon so recently.
You'll understand this in a minute, when I describe the size of
the three main historical areas. We did walk a couple miles but
most of it we drove. I sometimes had Jim stop so I could get out of
the truck to take better pictures.. And we didn't even take the
time to drive every street in all three historic
because of the time it would have taken.
That's a lot of vintage architecture!
The three historical districts are known as
The Strand (about 15
East End (over 50 blocks), and
Silk Stocking (about 8
blocks). The large
East End Historic District has been placed on
National Register of Historic Places and is a designated
National Historic Landmark. The Strand and Silk
Stocking districts share the same designations, although not all
the buildings in those areas are National Historic Landmarks.
Trolley line through The Strand
The three districts border on each other and contain a variety
of architectural styles and periods beginning with Greek Revival
homes and public buildings constructed during the 1850s. Homes
range from small, simple cottages to large, elegant mansions.
Their size and design mirror the wide cross-section of folks
who settled here in the nineteenth century. That cultural,
ethnic, and economic mix is still prevalent in Galveston today,
contributing to its charm.
In this entry I'll focus on some of the interesting houses that caught my
attention as we walked and drove through the historical
districts, primarily the East End (which is mostly residential).
In Part 2, I'll highlight three elegant mansions that
can be toured, two outstanding church buildings, and several
distinctive commercial and public buildings.
I took photos of only a few of the thousands of beautiful houses
and other buildings in this charming city. I didn't write down
every address and in some cases I can't remember which building is in which
district because they are adjacent to one another. We obtained brochures and maps from the
which is housed in the
Custom House. You can also get information from the
Visitors Bureau and the visitor center at
Ashton Villa. These
are good places to plan any self-guided walking or driving tours
in Galveston. You can also tour the districts by trolley.
Trolley near the distinctive arch at the entrance to The Strand
A MEDLEY OF FINE HOUSES
Here are some of the interesting houses
I chose to photograph during our walking tour of the East End
Historic District. I love the diversity of periods and styles!
I'll provide addresses and details if I was able to find any on
I realize now that I was drawn to several homes with "arcaded"
porches. In architectural terms, an "arcade" is a series of
arches that are supported by columns, piers, or posts, as you
can see in the first set of photos. These represent
quintessential "Victorian" to me.
Arcaded Queen Anne style c. 1887 at 1808
Postoffice Street (above).
Porch detail, below.
1802 Postoffice Street, also c. 1887
1717 Postoffice Street, c. 1891
Many of these houses have interesting gable designs that are
difficult to see if you're doing a drive-by but are fun to spot
on a walking tour:
All or most of the houses in this entry were built before the
that wiped out many buildings on the island and
damaged the rest. The "survivors"
often sport this medallion in
These "badges of honor" were produced in 2000, a century after
the Great Storm.
I don't know the age of the next house. It appears to be of
Craftsman design and may have been built soon after the
storm. It is in the same block as a couple of the houses above:
The East End Historic District feels like a tropical paradise in
the winter with its stately palm trees, live oaks, colorful
flowers, and even ripe citrus fruit:
The next two houses qualify as "mini-mansions." You'll
understand why I call them that after seeing three larger
mansions in the next entry. Both are listed in the National
Register of Historic Places and are Recorded Texas Landmarks.
The brick and terra cotta Landes-McDonough House at 1602
Postoffice Street is an eclectic Victorian design with
interesting Richardsonian Romanesque accents:
Confederate veteran and capitalist Henry Landes had this house
built in 1887-8. It was designed by two prominent architects,
George A. Dickey and D.A. Helmich. It features fine ornamental brick and terra cotta,
elaborate ironwork on the verandas, parapets (low protective walls) along the edges of
the roof, an "exuberant" tower, arched windows with fancy tile and molded
trim, and colorful shutters.
I just had to zero in on some of these details:
This house is not only a survivor of the disastrous 1900
hurricane, it also reportedly provided refuge for about two
hundred storm victims!
John P. McDonough, owner of a dry docks and ironworks business,
purchased the house in 1911. After it was acquired by the
Dominican Sisters in 1954 it housed a fine arts center for a
number of years. Several people have owned the house since 1970
and have done some restoration inside and out. There is an
article in the Islander
Magazine about the entire history of the house and the concerted
efforts to restore it to its original glory by the current
owners, Marylee and Edward Kott. Some old drawings
and photos are included in that article.
Another elegant house that survived the hurricane is the
Trube Castle at 1627 Sealy Street:
I found lots of details on this house to emphasize, too! The
front entry is particularly photogenic:
This three-story Danish castle-inspired house designed by
architect Alfred Muller was built in 1890 for John Clement Trube,
who was born in Denmark and became a successful Galveston
businessman. Built of solid brick with a stucco-Belgian cement
finish, it is sturdy -- it has withstood all the hurricanes and
storms the Gulf has thrown its way.
Distinctive battlement tower
According to the castle's
web site: "The
mansard slate roof with seven gables and the battlement tower
give the historic home a castle distinction. The
observation deck on the top of the tower offers a view of both
the gulf and the harbor." The house was situated on the diagonal at
Sealy and 17th streets for the views, Gulf breezes, and privacy
in the bedrooms.
Detail above entry
The distinctive house is a Texas Landmark and I'm guessing it's
also on the National Register of Historic Places. It has
twenty-one rooms and covers 7,000 square feet. Compared to the
mansions in the next entry, it was a real bargain to build at
"only" $9,700 in 1890. (See history
link on home page.)
Detail of 17th Street side
Trube and his wife, Veronica Durst, had nine children. The home
remained in family hands until recently. Still privately owned,
it is currently available for corporate events, parties, and
other celebrations like weddings and receptions. It is open
for tours with reservations. Apparently it's also for sale, per
this You Tube
video link on the home page. I
haven't researched the asking price.
Just think -- a Danish-inspired castle could be YOURS in
Next entry: Part 2 of Galveston's eclectic architecture
-- three even larger mansions, two impressive churches, and four
distinctive commercial and public buildings that are
nationally-recognized historic places.
Content with my "tree house" in Virginia,
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and
© 2008 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil