Page 39 - July2017

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JULY 2017 |
This is the second in a three-part Galveston
Lost summer reading series about the block of
downtown where the former Bank of America
building resides, with a current address of
2200 Market Street. It is located between
and 23
Streets, bordered to the north by
Mechanic Street and to the south by Market.
Before the block of 2200 Market became the
platform for one solitary mammoth structure,
it had an alleyway that ran east to west in the
middle, and individual buildings flanked all
sides. Most of them were narrow, commercial
structures, built of wood at first, but rebuilt as
brick buildings after a fire in 1902. A few of the
corner lots were large, but the largest by far
was 2202 Market on the northwest corner of
Street. However by 1934, the only thing
there was an ornate building that had been
vacant for over a decade.
The building’s former occupants, the Kempner
family bank known by then as the United States
National Bank, had moved just across the street
to the south to an even larger building in 1923.
Eleven years later, the abandoned space was
reclaimed by another prominent Galveston
financial institution, the First Hutchings and
Sealy National Bank.
These new owners were of course not
satisfied with the discarded haunt of an island
rival, thus John Henry Hutchings and John
Sealy opted to rebuild a modern structure
in its place. The design was a sophisticated,
minimalist interpretation of the Art Deco
style fashionable at the time, an appropriate
continuation of the bank’s spectacular
architectural legacy. Their previous building was
a sleek and simple yet commanding Victorian
design at 2217 Strand (currently Galveston Arts
Center), and their first brick structure building
at 2428 Strand (currently home to Riondo’s
Ristorante) was a Nicholas Clayton masterpiece
built in 1895.
Eventually, First Hutchings and Sealy would
continue their architectural aspirations and
subsequently define the 2200 block of Market
for the remainder of the twentieth century all
the way through to present day. But until then,
the real king of the block was the place that
sustained an empire and lifted the city out of
reach of the Great Depression, the place that
embodied the grit and grind of Galveston—
Turf Athletic Club.
While history has deemed the Hollywood
Dinner Club and the Balinese Room as the
official nostalgic symbols of the city’s Open Era
(1918-1957) and synonymous with the name
Maceo, neither enterprise would have been
possible without Turf Athletic Club. The high-profile clubs pandered to upscale
clientele and Houston oil money, but the Turf was a “hard-core gambling hall for
working men.” Thus it was rendered immune to the whims and whimsies often
displayed by tourists, and the TAC “represented the core of Maceo wealth during
the Great Depression.”
The Maceos were loyal Galvestonians, and the willingness of residents to turn
a blind eye to the rampant illegal activity centered predominantly on booze
and gambling, was in no small part due to the fact that Sam and Rose were
effortlessly philanthropic and generous with their success. Not only did every
other business on the island benefit from the economic stability provided by
their efforts to attract visitors with both legitimate and underground enterprises,
but they also kept a significant portion of the population gainfully employed
during the Depression.
Some residents would even entrust their young sons to the operation, sending
them to wait outside on the sidewalk in front of the Turf Athletic Club where
they would be used as runners and errand boys. The lads would carry operating
cash in a paper sack from Market Street to the Balinese Room on the Seawall,
Hutchings-Sealy Bank corner view at 22nd and Market
The new Hutchings-Sealy Bank building was designed in the Art Deco style
Images courtesy of Rosenbery Library