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palm trees, and Live Oaks and singlehandedly created the
lush foliage that still today defines Galveston’s cityscape.
But perhaps the city’s most notable achievement in the
aftermath of the 1900 Storm was the restructuring of the
city government which subsequently took Galveston from
the verge of bankruptcy (a status it held even before the
storm) to completely solvent and able to finance the multi-
million dollar grade-raising project.
Led by Isaac “Ike” Kempner, a group of elite businessmen
successfully petitioned the state to approve the installation
of a New City Charter that reorganized the city’s governing
body to resemble a board of directors. The Board of
Commissioners consisted of one mayor-president and four
city commissioners that each oversaw a specific facet of
the city such as public works, streets and drainage, and the
police and fire departments.
It was an unprecedented move, nevertheless the city
thrived under its leadership and the system was hailed
across the nation for its inventiveness and efficiency.
The commission form of government would go on to be
adopted by over 500 cities across the nation including 75 in
Texas, and it was recognized at the federal level as one of
only three accepted forms of municipal management.
Galveston’s Board of Commissioners was officially formed
on September 2, 1901, on the third floor of what is now
referred to as Old City Hall, a gothic masterpiece that sat
in the middle of 20
th
Street in between The Strand and
Market Street. It was designed by local architect Alfred
Muller who was also responsible for the clubhouse at
Garten Verein (Kempner Park, 27
th
& Avenue O), Trube
Castle (17
th
& Sealy), and the Letitia Rosenberg Home for
Women (25
th
Street between Avenues O½ & P).
Muller’s building was significantly damaged in the 1900
Storm; the merciless winds demolished most of the third
floor. After the grade-raising was completed in 1911, talks
began of a new city hall that would appropriately celebrate
the accomplishments of the Board of Commissioners.
The idea coalesced with the need for an auditorium-style
municipal building that could play host to community
events and conventions, and it was decided to construct
them both under one roof.
On September 30, 1913, Galveston residents voted to
approve a $300,000 bond for the construction of a building and
the purchase of a lot owned by the Holy Rosary Church and
School, bordered to the east and west by 25
th
and 26
th
Streets
and to the north and south by Sealy and Ball.
The C.D. Hill & Co. architectural firm out of Dallas was hired
to plan the building, with a specific stipulation that it be bird-
and nest-proof, and their design was approved by the Board
of Commissioners on April 30, 1914. Bids were taken for the
construction, and on December 21 the contract was awarded
to F.A. Gross of Waco for the price of $205,690 (over $5 million
today).
Two weeks later on January 4, 1915, work finally began on
Galveston’s new City Hall. The structure was completed in just
over 300 working days and handed over to the city exactly one
year from the day constructed commenced.
Following the building’s completion, several more months
were needed to install the heating system and outfit the interior
with furnishings as well as seating and stage equipment for the
auditorium. This part of the project brought the sum total of City
Hall to $320,000.
The building was at last formally presented to the public on
July 20, 1916, and the opening celebration was two-fold—both
an Open House and a farewell reception to Colonel C.S. Riche,
a renowned civil engineer who served the Galveston District
of the federal government’s engineering program. He was also
responsible for completing the enormous task of surveying the
entire city proper to calculate how many cubic yards of fill would
be needed for the grade-raising.
The magnificent structure rose four stories and spanned the
entire lot, one whole city block. Its design was reminiscent of
Italian Renaissance, representative of a revival of neo-classic
architecture happening in Texas at the time which followed the
decline of Richardsonian Romanesque. The buff-colored bricks
used for the building’s exterior were embellished with Classic
details such as a Tuscan Doric order and arched openings along
the 25
th
Street entrance.
City Hall and Auditorium 25th Street entrance
Inside of the 5,000-Seat Auditorium c. 1930
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GALVESTON MONTHLY |
MAY 2017