The undeniable yet oft ignored rebound of
Galveston's commercial pursuits after The Great Storm were due in part to the
brilliant entrepreneurial minds in control of the port, but the other part was
merely semantics. Galveston was the gateway to
the West and Midwest, areas that were booming
both in agriculture and industry, and it was the closest port to the origin of
a multitude of exports by several hundred miles. No established port, not even New Orleans, could
decided that it was going to try.
A natural waterway running from the Bayou City
to the Gulf, the entrance to which is only miles from the eastern tip of Galveston Island, was envisioned as a shipping
channel as early as 1867, though at the time the financing of such an
undertaking seemed ludicrous to a small town inhabited by only a few thousand
people. But the notion became more believable as the century turned, when two
consequential chinks in Galveston's
armor were revealed.
Despite the city's rapid recovery, The Great
Storm did illuminate the potential peril of its position directly on the Gulf,
but the exponential growth of exports from the western half of the country
proved a Texas port necessary, largely because
closer proximity saved those regions upwards of thirty million dollars a year
in shipping costs. Houston,
however, could save them an additional one hundred miles per round trip.
This knowledge added momentum to the idea of
the channel, but at first it appeared that Houston would do little to thwart
Galveston's meteoric rise to prominence, especially considering the rapid
crescendo of its added allure as a resort town due entirely to the Seawall and
its boulevard. Even after the residents of Houston
voted in 1910 to approve the dredging of the channel to a depth of twenty-five
feet for a cost of $1.25 million, Galveston's
growth showed no signs of slowing down.
In place of the since demolished Electric Park
and Chutes Park, a resort pavilion called the
Casino opened in the Spring of 1911. Brownie Amusement Company, led by
president Leon Brownie, patterned the Casino after Young's Pier in Atlantic City. A
self-contained smorgasbord of entertainment, the two-story monstrosity included
a pool hall, skating rink, dancing pavilion, and a shooting gallery.
The elaborate and exhaustive grade-raising
was also completed in 1911, a colossal achievement that was most grandly
celebrated by the June opening of the luxurious Hotel Galvez. The
million-dollar hotel situated at the corner of 21st Street and the Seawall was dubbed
the "Queen of the Gulf." The Galvez singlehandedly elevated the
notability and status of Galveston's beachside
attractions, while also serving as a symbol of the Island
community's resilience and commitment to its future.
At the close of the 1911 summer season, Seawall Boulevard
was officially dedicated as a proper thoroughfare and opened to vehicular
traffic on September 9th, although residents with automobiles had been driving
the stretch since it was widened the year prior. When the original causeway
opened on May 25, 1912 and allowed access to automobiles from the mainland for
the first time ever, Galveston
once again stood at the brink of invincibility as its popularity reached a
A few months later on the evening of
September 28th, the Brush Electric Company debuted their iconic slogan sign on
the Seawall at the foot of 25th
Street. Three thousand tungsten lights declared Galveston "The
Treasure Island of America: Port and Playground, Growing Greater Grander."
This unabashed announcement of the city's
intention to remain a force both as a center of commerce and tourism was firmly
backed by numbers. The combined imports and exports of the Port of Galveston
for 1912 totaled nearly $300 million, second in the nation behind only New
York, and a town that just a decade earlier had a mere spattering of overnight
accommodations now boasted thirty-six hotels.
But in one day, everything changed. On November
10, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson declared the Houston Ship Channel open for
commerce. Now instead of turning left into Galveston's
natural harbor, the huge international steamers full of worldwide wares merely
waved and cruised right on by, into the channel, and further on into the newly
Suddenly, Galveston's frenzied wharf grew quiet and
lethargic. Businesses began to relocate, skilled laborers moved where their
talents were needed, and they took their families with them. The prefaces to
subsequent city directories, where once the entirety of fifteen pages had been
used to expound upon Galveston's
commercial and financial achievements, were now mere history lessons that
chronicled, year by year, a steady decline in the resident population.
Soon, however, the haze of the
Houstonian-induced stupor began to lift. The Islanders that remained simply
decided to play the cards as they were dealt, which meant going all in on the
Seawall. In 1915 another hurricane struck and despite a storm surge that
measured only a foot below the one in 1900, only eleven lives were lost, thus
faith in its concrete savior. That same year would also prove to be a record
year for construction, most of which was along Seawall Boulevard, demonstrating Galveston's willingness
to embrace its new identity.
Palace, by far the most
extravagant of any Seawall construction thus accomplished, opened in 1916 at
the intersection of 23rd Street.
Over seven thousand people attended the grand opening of the three-story
megaplex, which easily dwarfed the massive Casino not only in size but in
offerings. Its most exhilarating inclusion was a 50-foot wide, 140-foot long
swimming pool on the first floor, bordered by poolside seating for 700 people.
Suspended above fresh saltwater pumped in from the Gulf were gymnastics rings
and two diving platforms that rose fifty and seventy-five feet in the air.
Incorporated into the upper two floors were
800 dressing rooms, a photo gallery, shooting gallery, roof garden, open-air
amphitheater, bowling alley, cafe, live music, and a 9,000 square-foot dance
floor. But perhaps the biggest spectacle of the Crystal Palace
was the elevated promenade that stretched 68 feet from the second floor balcony
over to the beach, rising sixteen feet above the boulevard.
In 1918, construction began on the second
extension of the Seawall. Recommended by a board of engineers in 1913 and
authorized by the United States Congress in 1916, this extension began at sixth
street (where the original wall curved northward towards the harbor) and would
ultimately run eastward for nearly two miles to the Fort San Jacinto military
The initiation of the project was a statement
that neither the local nor the federal government were complacent regarding
Galveston's future need for viable land for expansion, and its completion would
eventually make way for the development of the East End Flats and the Lindale
Park subdivision, an area which had been used only as a trash dump since 1909.
The last part of the decade welcomed yet
another thrilling addition to Galveston's
amalgamation of amusements, Joyland
Park, via the Galveston
Playhouse Corporation in 1919. Encompassing the block just across 21st Street from
the Galvez, the first phase of the park included a theatre called The Orpheum
and a Ferris wheel. Later, the theatre was converted into the Garden of Tokyo
dance pavilion, and an airplane swing was installed along with an arena called
the Great American Racing Derby.
Most of the developments along Seawall Boulevard
throughout this particular decade were ephemeral, as fleeting as fashionable
fads and often a marionette in the hands of mother nature. But this era also
marked the dawn of four familial and institutional legacies that are still an
integral part of the Island today. Gaido's
Seafood Restaurant (1911), Hotel Galvez, and Murdoch's Bath House (1910) all
made their debut.
Intriguingly, the fourth on that list was a
barber shop housed first at Murdoch's and then the Galvez soon after it opened.
It was owned by two brothers from Italy. In 1920 the United States would pass Prohibition, but
fortunately for Galveston,
Sam and Rose Maceo would quickly learn the art of making resource from