Heritage, 2011, Volume 4 Page: 16
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By Brian M. Davis
Every Texas town has them-a large
house on the main street, a small movie
theatre, or a neighborhood store that ev-
eryone thought would always be there.
Once the center of activity and the
heartbeat of their communities, these fa-
miliar architectural icons, as often hap-
pens, became victims of fire, storms, new
development, or general neglect.
The same can be said for Galveston,
a city known for its surviving collection
of historic buildings. Its natural harbor
made the island city a fixture in 19th-
century commerce and immigration.
The combination of prosperity, qual- , _, L
ity materials, and emigrant craftsman-
ship filled the port city with imaginative r .
buildings that left an impression on visi-
tors. Lost Galveston, a recent book by Ar-
cadia Publishing, gives clues into the dis- .
appearance of more than 200 structures
from the city's past. Buildings of all sizes and styles are repre-
sented, from small Gulf coast cottages to ornate mansions.
Readers of Lost Galveston should not expect to drive by any
of the buildings included in the book while on their next visit
to the island. Instead, the descriptions will lead to the site of
a newer construction or vacant lot, where these historic build-
ing once stood. This presentation begs the question of how
these physical representations of the past could be demolished
and shows the importance of saving the historic inventory that
One significant building that has faded from existence was
Galveston City Hall, designed in 1888 by the Prussian-born
architect, Alfred Muller. This eclectic building replaced an ear-
lier market house and featured a meat and produce market at
street level. City offices and the police station occupied upper
floors. The building was heavily damaged by the 1900 hur-
ricane, which flooded the city and killed an estimated 6,000
to 8,000 people. The structure was repaired and later became a
firehouse, although it was barely recognizable in later years, due
to unsympathetic alterations. The site now serves as a median
in the city's downtown business district.
Many Galveston buildings razed in the mid-20th century
might still be around if today's historic preservation ethic was
in place back then. One example is Ursuline Academy, the Ve-
netian-gothic masterpiece of architect Nicholas Clayton. Born
in Ireland, Clayton immigrated to Ohio with his mother at age
eight and settled in Galveston in 1872. Seeing the rapid growth
city, he - , .. -
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played an ac- t n -9 >
tive role in
shaping its ap-
the next 40
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walls withstood the fury of the 1900 storm and, in fact, shel-
tered many from the disaster. Tornados spawned by Hurricane
Carla in September 1961 damaged the roof and dormers of
the school. Afterwards, the choice was made to demolish the
landmark and replace it with a more modern building. Former
students and older residents of the city still lament its loss.
Although it is impossible to save every building, with the
disappearance of each one, a part of a community's identity
is erased. Without a tangible reminder of the past, the stories,
talents, and importance of one's heritage are quickly forgotten.
Brian M. Davis is director ofpreservation services for the Galveston
Historical Foundation, and author of the book Lost Galveston.
Above: Ursuline Academy was designed by Nicholas Clayton and
survived until 1961. Below, a marker sits at the site today. Photo-
graphs provided by the author.
16 TEXASHERITAGE I Volume 4 2011
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, 2011, Volume 4, periodical, 2011; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth254223/m1/16/: accessed November 20, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.