Historic Galveston

By R. B. Ferrier, published in Texas Architecture magazine, 1986
Richard Payne's commanding photography and Geoffrey Leavenworth's informative text make Historic Galveston an impressive volume; it rewards the optimistic anticipation that followed Herring Press's entry into the regional publishing market.

The initial impact of this book comes from the brilliant photographic vision. Each building is depicted with a taut composition, close enough to render explicit detail yet inclusive of the primary façade elements. The consistent view is upward, capturing the building profile against the magnificent coastal sky. The printing and color reproduction are exceptional.

Payne offers a new comprehension and vision of a place one might consider familiar. He reveals details not previously noticed, a Galveston that even a careful observer might have overlooked. As always, it is a joy and a revealing experience to see architecture through his eyes.

The text is brief but appropriate. Geoffrey Leavenworth provides an intriguing narrative of the events that influenced and shaped the Island's architecture. He traces Galveston's past, with its long-gone prosperity, its diverse ethnic population, its pirates, its strategic location, its international influence, and its catastrophic handling by the forces of nature. These factors make up the context of a population struggling against forces that threatened to render the place uninhabitable.

The 53 buildings presented in the book are described in detail in a concluding segment, with small black-and-white photographs of more typical views for each building. The name, date, and location of each are noted, along with a brief history and description. This summary provides detailed information concerning the architecture, materials, style, influence, and historic reference.

Reading Historic Galveston, one feels compelled to return to Galveston and to view it more closely, with new wisdom, new vision, and a sense of discovery.

R. B. Ferrier is Professor of Architecture and Associate Dean of the University of Texas at Arlington School of Architecture and Environmental Design.


Galveston homes grace new book

By Brenda Beust Smith, published in the Houston Chronicle, September 1985

Long before tourists reach Galveston's famed sand and surf, the charm of the island works it magic. Although visitors may not be able to pinpoint exactly what's happening, just drive down Broadway Street, with its swaying palms, palatial homes and gingerbread Victorian cottages, starts the relaxation juices flowing.

It's those mansions and cottages, along with others of the same ilk hidden on the island's back streets, that will become stars in their own right with the publication of Historic Galveston. It's a coffee-table architectural volume with incredible photographs and fascinating histories of 53 private and public structures.

The idea came from Galvestonian Dancie Perigini Ware, who had seen a similar project done on the outstanding architectural creations of New York City. Richard Payne provided the photographs, Geoffrey Leavenworth the text, the George Mitchells the backing and the Galveston Historical Foundation an official stamp of approval for the volume which will be available in bookstores Oct. 15.

For free-lance writer Leavenworth, a past president of Galveston's historically preserved Silk Stocking District (which includes many of the buildings listed), the challenge was to bring new focus to a history which already has been covered many times in print. He admits that looking at the buildings from strictly an architectural/historical viewpoint meant starting from scratch on his research.

Many of the more impressive structures no longer serve the original functions, Leavenworth says. The Masonic Temple at 816 22nd St., originally a Jewish synagogue with Moorish influences now is gutted on the inside. The Sealy House at 2424 Broadway, which was willed to the University of Texas Galveston Medical Branch, will reportedly become a conference center. Rumors have it that the Moody House at 2618 Broadway, which is covered with scaffolding while it is being restored, will be converted into a museum.

Ashton Villa at 2328 Broadway, once scheduled to be razed, was purchased from the Shriners by the Galveston Historical Foundation. Once the headquarters for both Confederate and Union armies, Ashton Villa now is a museum house. The circa 1839 Menard House at 1605 33rd St., one of Galveston's oldest remaining homes, is currently for sale and rumors have it that the asking price of $1 million has dropped considerably.

Descendants of John Henry Hutchings, who received the eclectic mansion at 2816 Ave. O as a wedding present from his father-in-law, Robert Mills, in 1856, are among the very few families still living in their ancestor's homes. Dan Thorn is another, still residing in the Spanish colonial mansion his grandfather, Daniel W. Kemper, built for his bride in 1907 at 2504 Ave. O. The 2 1/2-story stucco exterior, with its mission-style gable ends and red tile roof, started a new trend on the Island, and the Galvez Hotel was built soon after in the same design.

The buildings photographed for the book were selected partly because they reflected the architectural changes Galveston experienced from its early period of Greek Revival, seen in buildings like the Menard House, through the Victorian period, which coincided with the heavy use of iron fronts on buildings. The gingerbread trim which visitors so love on Galveston homes came in after the Civil War. At the end of the century, Renaissance was "in" among the rich, and the Sealy mansion is a good example, followed by the Spanish Revival looks of the Kemper home and the Galvez hotel.

But there were other practical selection factors as well. Payne and Leavenworth wanted to include the large, gray stucco Lee Kemper house on Broadway. But in the deep shadows of the trees, all the aging architectural details dropped out, and the stucco, as photographed, looked like mush, Leavenworth says. 

No owners, be they longtime residents of the historical buildings or new acquisitors, objected to being in the book, and some expressed great enthusiasm for the project, Leavenworth says. While researching the Landes House (1887) at 1604 Post Office, for example, he was allowed to explore the tower which includes a 20-foot ladder on which H.A. Landed would climb to the top of his 50-foot turret to look out over the harbor and keep tabs on his extensive shipping fleet.

Leavenworth was also delighted to find, tucked away in a corner of First Presbyterian Church at 1903 Church St., the remains of an old mortuary, circa 1889, once considered a modern convenience. It was put to good use, he discovered, following the 1900 hurricane when there were some 6,000 bodies to dispose of. Some other interesting facts he includes:

• During a yellow fever epidemic in 1838, a visiting priest who was attending the sick was stricken himself and died. As a memorial, his relatives sent 500,000 bricks from Antwerp, Belgium, to use in the construction of a new church to replace the the wood frame structure then in use. With those bricks, St. Mary's Cathedral Basilica, 2011 Church St. at Broadway, was completed in 1848.

• Early Galvestonians had a penchant for moving huge multistoried homes, even before they undertook the massive raising of the city some 10 feet following the 1900 storm and building the new seawall. At that time, each building was lifted up with screw jacks inserted under the floor and turned by scores of men positioned around the building. A drum was used to synchronize their efforts; each man turned his jack one-quarter turn per drumbeat.

The John Z. H. Scott House (circa 1850), now at 1721 Broadway, once stood on the present day site of the Bishop's Palace. The George Ball House, now at 1405 24th St., once stood on the present day site of the Rosenberg Library, 23rd Street at Sealy.

• On the 20th Street side of the Henley Building on the Strand, the damage left by the shelling from a Union gunboat during the Civil War still is visible on the top of the seventh granite column. No mention is made of this on the nearby Strand historical marker.

• Leavenworth calls the Darragh House, an incredible wood palace at 519 15th St., "one of the saddest buildings in Galveston" because it is deteriorating from neglect. This is actually two houses combined into one, a common practice during the 19th century.

• The coral-shaped railing and shell-motif window-boxes make the Lucas Terraces apartment building at 1407-9 Broadway easily recognizable. The bricks for this building were scavenged by Thomas Lucas from the debris left by the 1900 storm, which destroyed his first apartment building. He stored the bricks in the street until the city demanded he remove them. Lucas did most of the labor on this apartment building himself.

Although there are no plans at this time for a second edition, Ware and Leavenworth feel there are more than enough notable architectural structures left to warrant one.

"We could do one on ecclesiastical structures alone," Leavenworth says. "There's St. Patrick's and there's a beautiful German Lutheran church and many others."

Ware has no illusions about what's going to happen when the book hits the stores, she says. Everyone whose home is not pictured is going to call, wanting to know why.

Historic Galveston was edited by Stephen Barnhill, with Jerry Herring as designer and Ware as producer. A foreword is provided by Cynthia Mitchell, and the publisher is Herring Press.


Book Notes: Historic Galveston 

Published in Journal of Southern History, August 1986

Large format books are commonplace, but the spectacular color photography by Richard Payne makes this volume stand out. A spritely text outlines the history and suggests the personality of Galveston, and Mary Remmers provides a handy chronology of the island city. But clearly the beautiful photographs of Galveston's abundance of Victorian architecture are the cynosure of the book. Following the color photographs is a detailed inventory of the structures illustrated, with a brief history and architectural features outlined. The color photographs emphasize particular features of the buildings; the inventory includes small black-and-white photographs of the entire structure. All in all the book is a handsome introduction to a city almost destroyed in 1900 but now in the midst of a restoration boom.


Books: Historic Galveston 

Published in Architecture, March 1985

Historic Galveston. Richard Payne and Geoffrey Leavenworth (Herring Press)

Galveston, that finger of an island in the Gulf of Mexico, frames a narrow slip to Galveston Harbor, which became the aperture of all trade for the entire state of Texas during the latter two-thirds of the 1800s. The city became a center for banking, too, earning the moniker "Wall Street of the Southwest." As the wealth of Galveston grew, buildings were raised that celebrated this vital port.

The book, a veritable orgy for the eyeballs, gives us a close-up view of some of the best of Galveston's historic architecture, including homes, schools, churches, office and government buildings. Richard's Paynes photographs are beautiful, but they are composed in such a way that only a building's profile and ornamental detail can be seen. The book gives us no visual sense of the urban nature of this city on an island. Geoffrey Leavenworth's historical text provides an overview of the city's colorful history and touches on Galveston's recent preservation renaissance.