Page 27 - Aug2017

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AUGUST 2017 |
GALVESTON MONTHLY |
27
By Kimber Fountain
The Beginnings of Galveston’s Grand Avenue
G
eographically speaking, the City of Galveston and
Galveston Island are two different things. Today, they
are practically synonymous given that the city limits
encompass the barrier island from one end to the
other, but it was not always so. The city was organized in 1838,
and one of the earliest sanctioned maps made in 1845 reveals
that the City of Galveston officially existed solely on the eastern
third of Galveston Island, with a western city limit that reached
only to 57th Street. It stayed this way until 1952.
The city’s placement was strategic—this section of the island
not only had the highest elevation at the time of the city’s
founding, the northern border of it was adjacent to a natural
harbor that provided for one of the wealthiest international
ports of the 19th century.
One block away from the harbor is the first of Galveston’s
three most famous (and infamous) streets. The Strand is the
heart of downtown and the stoic patriarch of the cityscape:
regal, timeless, and seemingly indestructible. Its glorious
architectural achievements were the result of entrepreneurial
prowess, smart business, and even smarter banking. It even
escaped much of the horror of the 1900 Storm when the debris
from homes along the seaside created a breakwater, protecting
The Strand from the merciless Gulf.
On the other side of the island, Seawall Boulevard is exactly
the opposite, the place where anything goes but hardly
anything lasts. While bulldozers and wrecking balls are the
arch nemeses of downtown and the east end, the boulevard
welcomes them with open arms. Forever changing and
amending itself to reflect popular trends, the seawall has
always boasted the most modern of architecture and amenities,
no matter the time period.
Between these two, both literally and figuratively, rests
Broadway Avenue. Part immortal, part fleeting, Broadway
Avenue possesses both architectural legacies that have
endured for more than a century, as well as developments that
have proven themselves vulnerable to time and completely
forgettable. It is both Galveston’s showpiece and the proverbial
thorn in the side of a city that prides itself in being anything but
commonplace.
Although Galveston’s original city plat stretched south across
the island from the harbor to the beach, downtown naturally
formed around the port first, residential development ensued
to the east, and Broadway was for many years the outskirts of
town. Plotted to run both the length and width of what was the
spine of the island at the time, from the beginning it was the
city’s widest thruway. It was large enough to feature an
Galveston Map 1869