Heritage, Volume 02, Number 04, Fall 1985

BOOK REVIEW

Historic Galveston. Photographed by
Richard Payne. Written by Geoffrey
Leavenworth. (Houston: Herring Press;
Distributed by Texas Monthly Press,
1985. Pp. 99. $49.95.)
A visitor to Galveston today hardly has
time for the beaches, inviting as surf and
sand may be. Throughout the city new
and renewed attractions now vie for the
tourist's attention. Train museums and
trained dolphins, tall sailing ships and
sturdy sternwheelers, outdoor theaters
and gourmet indoor dining offer far more
than rainy afternoon diversions. But more
than anything else, the historic old city's
architecture beckons the visitor. Wherever
one goes-along the majestic Strand with
its wonderful storefronts, down Broadway
with its stately mansions, through the
tree-shaded streets of the East End Historical
District and the Silk Stocking Historic
District with their charming
homes-the richness of Galveston's
mostly Victorian architecture enchants
the traveler.
The visible heritage of brick and wood is
made even more poignant by the recognition
that it is only by a sort of miracle that
anything one sees and admires here still
exists at all. On that frightful September
day in 1900 when a devastating hurricane
swept across this low barrier island named
after Bernardo de Galvez, 6,000 citizens
were killed, 10,000 were left homeless,
and thousands of buildings were destroyed.
Photographs of the storm damage
shock the mind, and the memory of
those images increases one's respect for
what remains. When one recalls in addition
that following the construction of the
seawall soon thereafter the city's existing
structures-stores, warehouses, homes,
outbuildings-were jacked up an average
of ten feet while 14 million cubic yards of
wet sand were pumped in to raise the level
of the island, then the stately old Galveston
we now see vibrantly alive appears
absolutely Phoenix-like.
Galveston was Texas' leading city
HERITAGE * Fall 1985

throughout the post-Civil War decades,
and the immense commerce handled
across her wharves created enormous
wealth. The profits were often invested in
handsome homes and commercial buildings;
by the turn of the century the "Wall
Street of the Southwest" seemed primed
for permanent state leadership. Suddenly
on September 8, 1900, time stopped for
the semitropical city. The bustling, cosmopolitan
seaport that had survived numerous
lesser hurricanes, Civil War capture,
and yellow fever epidemics met a
catastrophe too severe to survive with
anything like the promise of before. For
six decades the once Queen City of Texas
was economically stagnant while to her
west Houston boomed. But that economic
stagnation, that isolation from the
builder's wrecking ball and the shoppingmall-mania
of suburbia guaranteed that
when Galveston's time came once againas
it now has-her architectural heritage
would be surprisingly intact. All Texans
are now the beneficiaries of what might
be called the state's largest museum, an
island sanctuary where examples of architectural
styles nonexistent or almost extinct
elsewhere in Texas-Greek Revival,
Italianate, Second Empire, Romanesque,
and especially Victorian-thrive and are
restored by concerned and informed citizens
and officials.
This beautifully produced, large format
volume celebrates the city's colorful history
and its distinguished built environment.
After a brief appreciative foreword
by Cynthia Mitchell, along with her husband
George Mitchell the prime backers
of Galveston's renaissance, comes a
spritely written historical sketch of the
city. Special places like Galveston always
have a definable personality, and author
Geoffrey Leavenworth captures the flavor
and texture of the city well in his prose
portrait. Interspersed throughout the text
is a magnificent collection of stunning
color photographs by Richard Payne. The
angle and elevation of the shots repeatedly
reveal architectural highlights even

the practiced observer might otherwise
miss. The photographs are reproduced
with unusual sharpness by the Japanese
printers Dai Nippon on high quality
paper. This is, quite emphatically, the picture
book to remember Galveston by.
Most of the text of the book follows the
historical essay. Pages 75 through 95 in
double-column detail provide an "Architectural
Inventory" of some fifty-three
representative structures beginning with
the Michel Menard House (1838-1839)
and concluding with the Santa Fe Railroad
Building (1931-1932) at the end of
the Strand, although forty-seven of the
buildings listed predate the 1900 hurricane.
Here is the real meat of the book.
Identified by a small black-and-white
photograph, each structure is described
architecturally, with its most significant or
characteristic features noted. Information
is provided about builders, architects, and
the changing inhabitants or uses of the
structures. The extensive research that
underpins the book is most evident in
these brief biographies of buildings. A
surprising amount of historical information
about the city as a whole and its leaders
is incorporated in the sketches, many
of which are enlivened by quotations
from contemporary documents. The careers
of the great Galveston families are
limned; the contributions of craftsmen
and master architects like Nicholas
Clayton are made clear. Even those
knowledgeable about the city's history
will learn from this section of the book,
and although these informative architectural
and historical notes on the buildings
are not arranged in the fashion of a walking
or driving tour of Galveston, many
readers will want to locate and observe in
person the structures so interestingly described.
The final section of the book is
entitled "A Galveston Island Chronology,"
which, though only two pages long, incorporates
in its three-column format a
surprisingly detailed thumbnail history of
the island city. The book is not indexed.
9

Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 02, Number 04, Fall 1985. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45445/. Accessed July 24, 2014.