The Historic Model Dairy Building Reborn

The Circa 1915 Building Is Now Home To A Collection Of New Unique Island Businesses

By Kathleen Maca
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The building at the corner of Winnie and 24th Street has been getting a lot of attention lately mainly due to the appearance of - of all things - cows. But the installation of these bovine statues and paintings isn’t as random as one might think. The new herd is moo-ving into downtown Galveston, surrounding the former Model Dairy building.

Built in 1915, the structure was home to Model Dairy which used milk from 31 dairies in Galveston and surrounding counties. They supplied pasteurized milk to the entire Galveston school district as well as local hotels and private customers, at one time putting out 5,000 gallons each day. They also produced cream, buttermilk, and cottage cheese.

In 1940, they added ice cream to their products and were soon serving 24 flavors. The dairy sold their products until about 1980, and officially dissolved in 2002.

Before purchasing the building, new owner George Graham had rented several properties to use for storage and potential gallery space. When he found this property, he realized it would be large enough to consolidate his collections and bring his vision of a distinctive gallery space to Galveston.

The project isn’t the first renovation for owner Graham, who also owns and operates the George Manor (the former Edward T. Austin house) on Market Street.

The cow décor is a light-hearted way of paying homage to the structure’s history, and it certainly creates a topic of conversation.

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“I want to remind people that this used to be a dairy,” Graham said. “All the old folks say, ‘we used to get our milk from there.’ In addition to the cow statues and paintings, we’re going to have a plaque on the outside to remind people what it used to be.”

Dairy BuildingReminders of the building’s past are evident in other ways. As Graham was giving a tour of the building, one of the workmen showed us two small glass bottles with the Model Dairy logo painted on the sides, and he pointed to a space in the wall where they were found.

The bottles that the workmen found probably pre-date World War II. In the fall of 1941, in the interest of national defense and in cooperation with the National Defense Movement in conserving aluminum, the dairy decided to discontinue the use of aluminum caps, meaning their old-style bottles could no longer be used.

Advertisements from the time encouraged locals to “gather up all your old milk bottles and receive 3 cents in cash for each of them” since they would no longer be used.


As work is being finalized upstairs, Graham details his plans to create a space with a unique combination of offerings to the island, and especially the art community.

One of the first sights visitors will encounter upon entering the building from 24th Street is a mural by artist Peter “Pete” Morales. It’s a humorous scene of celebrities from the past, along with their bovine friends of course, enjoying a glass of milk at a bar.

“That area will lead into a coffee shop that we’re going to call The Milk Bar, where we’ll sell coffee and pastries in an inviting and casual setting to encourage gatherings,” Graham said.

Once the business obtains a liquor license, offerings will include spiked milk shakes - definitely a fun departure from dairy products historically served in the building.

“We’ll also be serving gelato ice cream, which I’m not sure anyone else on the island is doing especially in the downtown area. Downstairs is going to be all retail.”

The former Model Dairy building will also be home to Graham’s vintage car collection, which will be on display in the former garage on the first floor. He also plans to carry antiques, and original and print art.

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“We’ll be adding a tattoo booth as well. Pete is an accomplished tattoo artist,” he added, referring to the muralist currently putting the finishing touches on a bovine bar scene inside the new entryway. “We also have a CBD license so we can offer those products further down the line.”

Dairy BuildingNot content with all those offerings, the owner plans to offer a selection of jewelry. “My cousin is a jeweler in St. John’s, and he created some beautiful stuff for the royal family. I’m discussing the possibility with him of bringing a number of special pieces here to the island.”

Though many of the pieces of art are exquisite and priced accordingly, the entrepreneur is planning to include items accessible to a variety of budgets.

“Not everybody can afford huge prices for artwork, but they can afford to spend $20 on a t-shirt, tile or small piece of art. We want to offer something for everybody,” Graham said.

The gallery will have an in-house print shop upstairs, as well as offices, a resident artist gallery, and an art classroom with wonderful natural lighting.

“The artist we’re bringing in from Sweden, Johannes Wessmark, is extremely talented,” he said. “The Swedish Art Guild will be paying for his trip here, and he’ll be painting live in the studio in February 2023 to coincide with Mardi Gras. He’s currently exhibited worldwide and has created custom work for Rolex, Hermes, and Louis Vuitton.”

From his studio in Sweden, Wessmark shared his new enchantment with Galveston Island. “When I was visiting Galveston for the first time this September, I immediately fell in love with this place” the artist said.

“The long beach with its fantastic view over the Gulf was so nice. The first evening I was driving over the San Luis Pass Bridge for a meeting, the most fantastic sunset appeared in front of me. I stopped several times along the road taking photos that definitely will be paintings I will show at the gallery. And the Pleasure Pier is so iconic and beautiful in both the sunrise and the sunset. I just have to paint it!”

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Dairy Building“During my years as a hyper realist painter, I have met so many people asking me about my technique and working methods. To be painting live at exhibitions and art fairs gives an excellent opportunity to show my technique and of course it is a pleasant way of interacting with my audience,” Wessmark said.

“The painting I am going to work on live at my exhibition opening in Galveston is a view of the waves crashing into the pillars under the Pleasure Pier.” The work, already in progress, can be seen at the top of the painter’s Facebook page (

Graham has arranged for Wessmark’s work to be shown year-round, with occasional visits by the artist. “We will be switching out most of the exhibits about every three months, but in the resident gallery we will always have some of his work.”

Mindful of the challenges of being an artist, Graham intends to provide opportunities for exposure to local talent at the gallery.

“We’re going to have an area where local artists can hang some of their work. We’ll be selective of the work displayed or course, but the intention is to help up-and-coming artists by displaying their work for free.”

“The Experience Space for Artists will be a place for artists and people who love art. It will be a great place for local artists to hang out.”