Time marches on, and anything that
cannot keep up gets left in the dust. Or in the Strand’s
case, gets left in the rust. Years of neglect and disinterest had left the
historic street in near ruin, and the once-glorious monuments erected to the
queen city of the Gulf and her cotton king were all but abandoned. Paint peeled
away from the palatial iron columns as if surrendering fully to its fate;
floor-to-ceiling windows that once allowed harbor breezes to roam free within
the walls were either bricked over, boarded up, or busted out; and memories of
a time when the Strand was anything but an eyesore were rapidly dwindling.
even though the years had proven unkind to Galveston’s famed Strand Street, interestingly, it would
also be the years that would save it. At the precise moment when the age of the
buildings was becoming glaringly apparent, the age of the buildings also became
enough to render them significant. The fortuitous realization that what was
once considered old could now be considered historic happened in the nick of
time—bulldozers were already lurking all over the city, ready to dismantle
timeless history in the name of temporary progress.
By the early 1960s, a semblance of regeneration had already begun along
the Strand, but it was not of the historic
variety and it foreshadowed a rather bleak future for the collection of
1963, Farmer’s Marine Copper Works significantly expanded their footprint on
the Strand, and K.C. Market relocated to the 19th Street
intersection. The resplendent Hutchings & Sealy building on the northeast
corner of 24th Street
was also sold to a sheet metal corporation that year, and slowly but surely
industrial overtones inherent in the modifications to the buildings began to
eviscerate the whimsy from the Victorian designs. Furthermore, city officials
were ready to scrap it all and make Strand a major thoroughfare.
The idea of revitalizing the Strand as a cultural and historic
destination first began to take shape around 1966, when the Junior League of
Galveston suggested that Galveston
County needed to enrich
its cultural and educational fabric. They postulated that the area needed more
places that would contribute to community education and the exhibition of
conducting a two year survey of the entire county, the organization deemed the Strand as having the most promise for solving this
inadequacy, as it distinctly provided the necessary framework conducive to all
off the facets of the proposal. This proposition was emboldened by the
subsequent insight it provided—the old Victorian architecture was actually
something to be prized and preserved, and it could accommodate the right kinds
of businesses in its original form.
The Junior League proceeded to establish a non-profit board of directors
comprised of persons from various local educational and cultural groups. It was
formed to oversee the purchase and development of two Strand buildings into
“The Centre on the Strand,” a concept that
promised an infusion of historic and artistic interest into the forgotten
street. They first aimed to acquire the 1882 Trueheart-Adriance building on 22nd Street
just south of Strand Street,
then the adjacent 1877 First National Bank building on the southeast corner of
22nd and Strand.
Meanwhile, another, relatively new organization was also contributing
their own energies to the revitalization of downtown. Years prior, a group of
local residents had become troubled by the proposed demolition of the home of
Samuel May Williams, one of the city’s original founders. In 1954, they formed
the Galveston Historical Foundation (GHF) for the express purpose of preserving
this single property, but amid their efforts the organization realized that the
concerns related to this one home were applicable to historic structures all
over town, many of which had an historical worth that was likewise undervalued
was successful in acquiring the home in 1957 and opened it to the public two
years later, after which they formed an internal Acquisition and Preservation
Committee that was dedicated to protecting and restoring structures all around
In 1966, GHF turned their attention to the Strand.
Along with members of the Chamber of Commerce and city officials,
representatives from the foundation met with the National Park Service and the
field director of the Amon Carter Museum of Western History. The panel’s
discourse centered on the Strand, the
possibilities therein, as well as the best way to realize its future potential.
It was recommended that Galveston
first produce an historical survey to the Library of Congress and the National
Park Service that would open the way to grant funding.
Despite protestations from city council members who preferred to forgo
restoration of the Strand to widen the street,
and from residents who feared an increase in property taxes, the GHF plowed
ahead and raised nearly $13,000 for the survey. By the end of 1966 many of the Strand’s buildings were already listed in the federal
Historic American Buildings Survey because of the foundation’s work, and that
same year the National Register of Historic Places was formed, providing yet
another avenue for historic designation and its ensuing advantages.
of the register argued that the establishment of the Strand Historic District
would stabilize property values, halt the deterioration of the city, and make
financial assistance for restoration more readily available. Furthermore, they
promoted the idea as an unrivaled opportunity to bring people and businesses
back downtown, especially considering that the buildings on the Strand were of much higher quality than the historic
architecture of other cities that profited significantly from its preservation.
In January of 1967, GHF’s survey of 25 buildings was completed and
submitted, and all the while the Junior League’s efforts had been steadily
gaining momentum. By October of 1967, they raised over $100,000 towards the
purchase of the Trueheart-Adriance building with combined grants from the Moody
Foundation, Kempner Foundation, and pledges from League members.
the next few months they were able to raise the additional $60,000 needed, and
the Junior League triumphantly purchased the iconic Nicholas Clayton design in
1968. Shortly thereafter the organization was widely heralded for achieving the
very first rehabilitation of a commercial building on the Strand.
In 1969, as the decade drew to a close, the Galveston Historic
Foundation was notified by the National Park Service of their official
recognition of the Strand Historic District on the 1970 National Register of
Historic Places. But now, the most interesting and difficult work would begin.
with the task of luring investors, attracting businesses and visitors, and
placating the city by proving the project’s viability—along with the added
concern for the impending destruction of many historic buildings to create
parking lots—it was becoming clear that the individual entities would need to
galvanize their resources.
a few short years, the independent actions of the city, the Junior League, and
GHF had made significant strides toward the revival of
the Strand, but a collective effort would be required to fully rescind Galveston’s fragile
history from the brink of obliteration.
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