Page 38 - Galveston Monthly - September 2017

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Henceforth began a new trend in architecture called mimetic
architecture, also known as novelty or programmatic architecture,
a concept that is not defined by subtle lines or specific
ornamentation or certain materials only recognizable to the
trained eye. Rather, mimetic architecture is easily identifiable
because the buildings simply look like giant versions of everyday
In the early years of the mimetic style, restaurants on the side of
the highway might be shaped like hot dogs, or coffee shops shaped
like a coffee pot, and through the height of its popularity in the
1950s, the creativity expanded to everything from ducks, flower
pots, ice cream cones, and teapots, to baskets, donuts, fruit, and
animals. Although it is less widely used today, mimetic architecture
still abounds in places like Las Vegas and other resort destinations
where businesses and hotels often require showmanship to stand
out in a crowd of options.
Seawall Boulevard was granted its own, appropriately themed
mimicry when the ship-shaped S.S. Galveston Court Hotel
opened in 1941. The proprietors were the Hill Brothers—James,
Claude, and L.A.—who just months prior had opened the Hills
Restaurant at 15
and Seawall (on the lot now occupied by
Saltgrass Steakhouse). The eye-catching building, pristine interior,
and quality food reasonably priced, immediately established
the brothers as savvy entrepreneurs, and Hills Restaurant would
remain a local favorite for decades.
Soon after opening the restaurant, plans commenced for a hotel.
The Hills hired local architect Ben Milam, who designed the 1940
Cotton Exchange Building (2102 Mechanic) for Isaac Kempner.
Whether the design was a request from the Hills or Milam’s
invention is not known, but the sheer absurdity of it
was absolutely endearing—smile-producing novelty
at its finest.
Located between 8
and 9
Streets with an address
of 802 Seawall Boulevard, the S.S. Galveston Court
featured twenty-six furnished units in the most
modern of style; one, two, and three room options
included efficiency kitchens and a living area. The
apartments were arranged in the shape of an ocean-
going vessel, complete with a smokestack, anchor,
and even a bridge. “S.S. Galveston” was painted on
the hull to complete the illusion. Construction costs
totaled $100,000, which would put it at $1.7 million
to construct today.
The novelty of the project was indeed magnetic, and the
S.S. Galveston drew a lot of attention, quickly becoming a
first choice for many vacation-goers. However, the hotel
business apparently did not suit the Hills, or perhaps the
originality of the design was also its demise—it significantly
limited the amount of units on the property, subsequently
affecting revenue potential.
After only two years, the Hill Brothers sold the property to
Magdalena Reynolds on December 21, 1943. Less than three
months later, Reynolds sold again to a man named Angelo
Caravegeli on March 11, 1944. The announcements of both
of these transactions in their respective newspaper marveled
that the purchase exceeded $100,000, but in actuality, that
was no more than it had cost to build.
The last publicly acknowledged owner of the building was
Bruce Farmer in the late 1960s, and the business remained
steadily in operation through several other owners even
as the building began to age. One particular deed transfer
in the 1990s changed the name of the ship hotel to the
Mayflower Inn, although the new owners did allow the “S.S.
Galveston” to remain proudly emblazoned on the ship hull.
But as the building crept towards dilapidation, it proved
itself no longer news-worthy, at least until someone decided
they wanted to tear it down. The building was considered
historic by many locals as a rare surviving example of
mimetic architecture, but it did not have an official
designation and therefore was not legally protected.
In 2005, the building came under contract to a group
Mayflower Inn early 2000s
Mayflower demolition
Mayflower Inn summer 2006
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