Many times in the modern world of
development, beauty is sacrificed for convenience, as if it were an adequate
substitute. Stark, grey freeways are noble in their pursuit of speed, thus
often preferred to the winding back roads despite their scenic splendor. But
sometimes, a community gets it right. Every now and then, a group of people
refuse to allow the impeccable standards of historic architecture to submit to
the sterility of modern city planning, choosing instead another perspective
that seeks to reinvent instead of raze.
In 1970 Galveston,
this was assuredly a widespread mindset that had been cultivated over the
previous decade by city officials, the Galveston Historical Foundation, and the
Galveston Junior League, but the trio had yet to entirely suppress a penchant
for bulldozing historic buildings for quick cash flow purposes such as parking
lots. Revitalizing the Strand was a project
that would require cohesion, vision, and diligence.
An attorney from Washington, D.C. named Peter Brink was chosen to lead the collective
efforts along the Strand. He was already
somewhat familiar with Galveston;
the city’s remarkable potential for restoration had been recognized in the
nation’s capital for quite some time.
was made interim director of the Galveston Historical Foundation, and went
quickly about reorganizing the group to better suit the scope of the Strand concept. Lacking wholly in restoration experience,
Brink compensated with both the legal background required to create a revolving
fund that would be necessary to prompt investment in the historic architecture,
as well as a forward-thinking and ultimately prophetic vision for the future of
Heretofore, preservation in the city had mainly focused on house
museums, but Brink was adamant that this venture be recognized as one that
would actually use the buildings.
“[The goal is] to save historic buildings and to adapt them to current needs,”
he said on behalf of the GHF to the Houston
Post in 1973.
will] recycle our historic buildings to bring them fully into the mainstream of
Galveston-Houston life… I can see townhouses and apartments as well as shops
and restaurants and bookstores on the street.”
But even before one building was sold, a burgeoning local art scene was
working to perpetuate the Strand as a center
of cultural celebration. Festival on the Strand
was started in 1972 and continued throughout the decade. The idea was conceived
by the Galveston County Cultural Arts Council, who aimed “to bring great
visibility to hundreds of the region’s most accomplished but often unknown
artists, and to suggest new uses for the 19th century buildings in
the Historic Strand District.” Over the course of a weekend in May, Strand and Mechanic Streets were lined with exotic food
vendors and arts and crafts; a film festival and live dance and theatre
performances provided additional entertainment.
Aided by a $200,000 donation from the Moody Foundation and another
$15,000 from the Kempner Foundation, Brink and the GHF successfully established
a revolving fund in April of 1973, which would serve to protect the fate of the
buildings on the Strand and reserve them for
would be purchased with the fund and re-sold as quickly as possible to
investors; the money from the sale would return to the account and be recycled
to purchase another structure. In addition to the buildings’ ability to
generate income, their purchase was incentivized with significant tax shelters,
as long as the purchase met a set of certain set of criteria set forth by the
Secretary of the Interior.
criteria designated the types and uses of the buildings that were eligible for
the tax breaks, and they also required substantial rehabilitation. While the
investors were motivated by the financial benefit of complying, their adherence
subsequently assured a prompt renovation and occupation of the buildings.
In 1974, the very first retail store was opened on the Strand.
Housed in the Mallory Produce Building
between 21st and 22nd Streets, the Old Strand Emporium
led the charge, its solitary yet fearless existence paving the first step of
the Strand’s modern reimagining. It would
prove to be a gamble that would find the homespun store on the right side of
history—it remains to this day and now holds the title of the oldest store on
1970s would see the birth of another Strand
legend when LaKing’s Confectionery was opened in 1977. Replete with a vintage
soda fountain feel and enough sugar under one roof to sweeten all the tea in
the south, forty years later it remains one of the street’s most popular
The next line of action for the Galveston Historical Foundation was to
commission a survey of the Strand that would
thoroughly outline strategic blueprints for increasing the visibility of the
street’s ongoing renaissance and attracting foot traffic to the area. The
planning firm of Venturi and Ranch generated the “Action Plan for the Strand” in 1975, a comprehensive assessment that outlined
every intricacy of the project from signage to parking and traffic control, as
well as color schemes and ideas for interior renovations.
The action plan also addressed the Strand’s
most significant disadvantage—a reputation which the 20th century
had noticeably tarnished. In concordance with the study, University
of Houston students conducted a survey
that revealed that the Strand’s location, and
even its mere existence, were practically unknown to both visitors and
residents. And the ones who did know about it equated the street with crime and
perceived it as a dangerous place to be. “As the Strand is no longer in the
mainstream of Galveston
activity, it must reach out to attract potential visitors and aggressively
change its image,” the firm stated.
As implementation of the Venturi and Ranch plan continued, the efforts
to legitimize Galveston’s
downtown were substantially bolstered in 1976 by the renovation of the Blum
building one block away on Mechanic
Street. Island enthusiast and philanthropist
George P. Mitchell spent $12 million dollars to transform the former warehouse
into a reincarnation of Galveston’s
first hotel, the Tremont House.
same year, the Strand District was awarded an upgrade from a place on the
National Register of Historic Places to that of Landmark status, and by the
close of 1977, over $3 million in private investments had been made along Strand Street.
The happenings on the Strand in the
late 1970s garnered nationwide attention, so much so that they captured the
attention of the famed Kresge Foundation. Established in 1924, the foundation’s
endowment today surpasses $3 billion, and at the time its coveted grants were
exclusively awarded to local communities for the particular purposes of
construction and renovation of historic buildings. In 1979, they gifted $25,000
to the Strand project, which in turn inspired
grants from other well-known entities such as the Brown Foundation, the
Rockwell Funds, Atlantic Richfield, and Houston Oil & Mineral.
By the close of the decade, the minutiae of scattered, subtle changes
along the Strand finally began to coalesce
into tangible, obvious progress. Peter Brink stated in a 1979 interview that
“at some point, I’d no longer walk down the street thinking, ‘Is it going to
plan was indeed working, but most importantly it had pushed past the boundaries
of preservation and transformed the Strand
into living history. No longer was it forgotten and abandoned, precariously
exposed to the sands of time and the whimsies of man, but neither was it
enshrined to be glimpsed at only from afar. Because of the GHF and its
historical relevance was now, and would forever remain, both an integral facet
of the city’s economy and a crucial part of the island’s identity.
is the 10th monthly segment on the history of The Strand.
Read the first nine chapters of the Strand
Chronicles online at GalvestonMonthly.com and on our Facebook page.
Chapter 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7- 8 - 9 - 10 -11 - 12