Page 67 - June2017

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about Galveston; the sheer triumph of it is magnificent. I devoted
an entire chapter to the grade-raising. It was entirely funded by
the citizens of Galveston and County bonds. There was not one
dime of federal assistance. That would never happen today. It
was a community triumph,” she says.
Fountain was also intent on clearing up a common
misconception among Galveston historians. “In the 19
th
 century,
Galveston was the second wealthiest city in the nation per capita.
Look at all the mansions on Broadway—those mansions are now
museums, and Galveston isn’t this huge port of commerce that it
was, and almost every historian will tell you the reason for that is
the Great Storm of 1900.” 
After the hurricane, the prevailing thought was that Galveston
could never recover, and even today so many people assume
that this is the case. “But that is simply not true,” Fountain says. 
“From a commerce standpoint, the island could not compete
with the Houston Ship Channel. That’s true, but that did not open
until 1914—the belief that Galveston was ‘over’ after the storm
is fallacy,” she says.
“One of the things I wanted to do in this book was to show
people that the story behind the Galveston Seawall is one of
the greatest stories of the strength of the human spirit that has
ever been told. People don’t realize that the years between 1900
and 1914 were actually boom years on the island, and that’s
because of the people of Galveston.” 
The people rose to the challenge, just as they have after every
hurricane since. 
Between the storms
Fountain’s book offers a decade-by-decade account of the
seawall’s strength not only in the face of storms, but also in its
ability to evolve with the cultural trends of the 20
th
Century. What
was conceived through the imagination of the crème de la crème
of civil engineers as a monumental concrete fortress against
the elements would come to mean much more to the city and
its resident. The seawall acts as a lens through which can be
viewed the societal and cultural metamorphosis of a nation. 
“Every decade has what defines it: In the 20s, it was Prohibition.
In the 30s, it was the Great Depression. In the 40s, it was World
War II. In the 50s, it was the drive-ins and sock hops. In the 60s,
surfing and skate boarding were gaining popularity,” Fountain
explains. “The seawall defined each era effortlessly.” 
The author then combines the three decades that followed
the 1960s into one chapter. 
“Although nothing necessarily monumental happened during
this period, it was not without its share of drama. It was in the
1980s that one of the mayors had an idea to make the seawall
The former Crystal Palace at 23rd Street
Concrete being poured into seawall forms
Far east end seawall construction
Images courtesy of Rosenberg Library
JUNE 2017 |
GALVESTON MONTHLY |
67