Chapter 4 - The Strand Chronicles

The 1870s - The Architectural Awakening

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As a new decade dawned, the rest of the war-torn South was still pushing through rebuilding efforts that would last another three years until Reconstruction officially ended in 1873. But by 1870 the wooden buildings that housed Galveston’s business district along The Strand had already been rebuilt and destroyed again by another formidable foe—fire. 

  However the economic growth of the port had outpaced even that of the city’s geographical footprint since the federal blockades were lifted after the war, and the ever-expanding wealth of the island’s entrepreneurial population now had the impetus and capital to build structures that would showcase Galveston’s commercial dominance and prove once and for all its stature as an international port. The architectural prowess discovered within this time would prove nearly immortal, as the majority of the buildings constructed during this era still stand today and together comprise one of the most comprehensive examples of Victorian architecture anywhere in the nation.

 Placeholder image Henry Rosenberg, who would later bequeath the entirety of his estate to the city and establish himself as an eternal Island icon, led the new wave of construction in 1870 with two buildings on the south side of The Strand between 23rd and 24th Streets, just east of the Merchants Mutual Insurance Company Building. Built of brick with three stories and iron façades, the pair were designed to resemble each other to give the illusion that they were one building.

  The Rosenberg Building (2309-2311 Strand) would later be occupied by the Telephone Company in the 1880s, and The J.F. Magale Building (2313-2315) was named after a wholesale liquor dealer who partnered with Rosenberg for its completion and operated out of the building until the 1890s.

  At the end of the block on the southeast corner of 24th Street rose another 1870 addition, the imposing Ullmann, Lewis, & Company Building that included a cigar shop in addition to a wholesale grocer and liquor outlet. Originally a three-story structure, it was reduced to a single story after the 1943 hurricane. Also referred to as the Phoenix Building in honor of Galveston’s famously bygone bakery, only a portion of it still remains at 2325 Strand.

 That year’s vertical improvements concluded with the construction of an impressive warehouse on the northeast corner of 22nd Street that housed one of Galveston’s most prominent hardware firms. The J.S. Brown Hardware Company Building (2226-2228) was lauded for using the best Texas brick available, with a firm cement foundation that stretched below sea level.

   Although now unrecognizable because of a renovation that combined several adjacent buildings in the Old Galveston Square, the T.W. House Building (2219) was built in 1871 as the headquarters of the largest dry goods wholesaler in the entire state of Texas. The front of the building showcased double-leaf doors set against brick columns encased in cast iron detailing. T.W. House retained a personal residence in Houston, but built that city’s first great fortune through his Galveston enterprise. His son, Edward M. House, served as President Woodrow Wilson’s chief advisor.

  In 1872 the site of Moro Castle at 23rd Street became the location of one of the largest buildings to date, the Thomas Jefferson League Building (2301-2307). Stunning cast iron columns enveloped glass storefronts on the street level and rose into two additional stories flanked entirely by windows and cast iron ornamentation.

  Also built in 1872 was The Strand’s most modest survivor of the ages, a one-story building commissioned by Michel B. Menard’s brother-in-law, Isidore LeClere, who was the very first secretary of the Galveston Wharf Company where he served for twenty-five years.

  Spurred by the momentum of the private construction, the mid 1870s were also witness to infrastructure improvements taken on by the city, most notably the much needed filling of Avenue A, which up until this time was merely a technical name for the shoreline between The Strand and the harbor. Once filled and paved, the efficiency of travel to and from the wharf became exponentially easier and more efficient, and was made even more so when a wharf railroad was installed along the water.

   Placeholder imagePreviously relegated to horse and buggy for the transport of goods between the railyard and the wharf, shippers and manufacturers were now able to more expediently deliver to and within the commercial district. 

 Placeholder imageHenry Rosenberg constructed his third building at the far eastern end of The Strand at the corner of 20th Street across from Hendley Row. Yet another investment property for the wealthy banker, the $20,000 project was completed in 1876 and featured an arcade on the ground floor with multiple storefronts and offices on the second floor. Tall, arched windows lent distinction to the upper levels as did decorative square pilings that flanked the upper portion of the façade.

  In 1877, the Wallis, Landes, & Company Building (2411) was constructed by a wholesale grocery firm. From Galveston they secured a business territory that stretched across Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, New Mexico, and even some yet unclaimed land to the west. Across 24th Street, the south side of that block was at last completed when a new Bolton Estate Building (2321-2323) was erected between Merchants Mutual and Ullmann, Lewis, & Co. after a fire destroyed the original the year prior.

  Placeholder image The building was occupied by J.F. Smith & Brother, a hardware dealership whose network traveled across the southwestern United States. They remained in business until the late 1960s, and the building has since been home to Galveston’s famous LaKing’s Confectionery.

 A couple of blocks away, yet another fire claimed several buildings between 21st and 22nd in 1877. On the north side of the street, the original Mallory Produce Building (2114) was completely destroyed, and across the street the First National Bank at the corner of 22nd was consumed along with all of the neighboring structures. C.D. Mallory completely rebuilt his produce house in almost exact replica, complete with hood-molding over the upper windows; below, floor-to-ceiling windows were set into a row of double doors that lined the entirety of the storefront.

  Placeholder image The First National Bank Building (2127) was also rebuilt but reduced to its current two-story structure designed by Thompson Harden. In her comprehensive guide The Strand of Galveston, author Virginia Eisenhour speculates that “the original Corinthian-patterned ironwork survived [the fire] and [was] used in the new building.”

  The adjacent lot to the east would remain vacant for many years after the fire, but the remainder of the 21st block of The Strand remained under construction for the duration of 1878. A woman named Mrs. Clara Lang hired architect John Moser to construct one of two four-story buildings (2119) from pressed brick with an artificial stone trim that has since been covered with stucco, the same fate endured by the Marx and Kempner Building (2117) next door that was built at the same time.

   Continuing east, door to door, the Opperman Building (2115) was designed by H. Pritchard was an investment property with a faux iron façade made from cement and plaster that was immediately leased to cotton factor and farm machinery merchant Joel B. Wolfe.   

 Placeholder image The two-story J.S. Brown Building (2111) was famed Galveston architect Nicholas Clayton’s very first appearance on The Strand, but it would certainly not be his last. The modest two story structure was subtly ornamented with Clayton’s trademark artistic nuance but it would soon pale in comparison to his future works.

  Next to it was the second of Mrs. Lang’s buildings (2109), and the eastern end of the block was capped off by the Ball, Hutchings, & Company Building (2101), both completed in 1878. A simple design with a stucco finish and modest cornice, the latter building and its pointed archways housed a grocery business and would later become home to one of the first Western Union Telegraph offices.

  The last of the buildings from this decade has since been demolished, but in 1879 the widow of the second president of the Republic of Texas, Henrietta Lamar, built a small investment property at 2304 Strand that was leased to several different commission merchants.

  Placeholder imageBy the end of the 1870s, Galveston was ranked third in the nation in cotton exports, and its booming commercial district was now beginning to look the part. The city, however, had still not reached its ultimate zenith, economically or architecturally, and some of The Strand’s most monumental achievements were yet to be accomplished. 

This is the 4th installment of 12 monthly features chronicling the history of The Strand from it’s inception through modern day. The features will appear each month in the magazine and also on our Facebook page.

Chapter 1 - 3 - 4 - 6 - 78 - 9 - 10 -11 - 12