Heritage, Volume 7, Number 2, Spring 1989 Page: 22
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spreading trees, which seem to be quietly
remembering things past. One of the most
interesting is the Sonnenthiel House at
1826 Avenue 1. Built in 1887 and often attributed
to Clayton, this is a French Empire
style house in wood with latticed balconies
and an elaborate bracketed cornice. But
the most prestigious addresses and grandest
of Victorian houses are to be found on
Broadway itself. Always intended to be the
grande allee of Galveston, Broadway, surveyed
as Avenue J, was developed with a
wide central median which now boasts a
rich planting of oleanders and palm trees.
Along this street the Sealys and the
Moodys and the J. M. Brown family built
grand homes that survive to this day. The
Brown home survives thanks to the efforts
of the Galveston Historical Foundation
which maintains and operates it as Ashton
Villa, a delightful Italiante house which
easily comes to life through the guided tour
which opens with a vivid account of the
1900 Storm. But it is probably true to say
that the most memorable house on the
island is yet another Clayton building. The
Bishop's Palace at 1402 Broadway was built
by Colonel Walter P. Gresham and represents
the epitome of High Victorian design.
The richness of its three-part composition,
almost Queen Anne in its turreted
and balconied splendor, is a study in granite,
limestone and red sandstone, capped by
a roof of glazed tiles and romantic chimneys.
The interior is, if possible, even
richer. The paneling is in a wide variety of
the most expensive woods; the huge roomheight
fireplace mantels were the result of
purchases at the great fairs and expositions
so enjoyed by the manufacturing nations of
the world, who never tired of showing off
their wealth and capacity for spending it.
The Victorians in Galveston lived and
played in a grand style. The Great Storm of
1900, which killed over 6,000 souls and left
the whole island in ruins, demonstrated
how fragile was the foundation on which
all this grandeur was built. It is hard not to
be puzzled about Galveston's apparent inability
to rise from the tragedy. The physical
efforts of raising the island by pumping
sand from the bay went on for a full eleven
years, the sea wall was the largest in the
United States, and many of the great families
were still on the island. But Houston,
the rapidly growing city to the north, had
the greater vitality and drive and the opening
of the Houston Ship Channel in 1915
sealed Galveston's decline. 1901 marked
f WY I I I 1 I f
Jacob Sonnenthiel House, 1886-88. A delightful example of the Carpenter Gothic style, this house draws
heavily on many other periods for its inspiration. Generally attributed to Nicholas Clayton, the house is one
of the jewels of the East End Historic District. Courtesy Rosenburg Library.
the end of the great Victoria's life, and the
end of an era in Galveston.
Yet the city lives. In many ways the
economic setbacks of the 1900s, the Great
Depression, and the fleeting flurry of activity
during World War II all left unchanged
a great legacy of Victorian architecture
that must surely have been swept away had
the economy remained strong. Manchester,
like Galveston, has seen the value of
continuity and connection with things
past. The Victorian buildings that have
survived are being cleaned and restored,
often turned to new uses, and that vitality
of form, richness of plan and boldness of
scale serves as a constant reminder of the
achievements of that era.
Walking down the Strand in 1964, surrounded
by run-down, near-derelict buildings,
was a nostalgic experience. Here was
a microcosm of my home town. Here even
was a man who claimed to have been a
cotton exporter. Could he have shipped to
an office that housed my grandfather or my
father, both of whom were "in cotton"?
In spite of all man and nature could do
we still celebrate the glories of Victorian
Galveston. Wander down the Strandmany
of the stones underfoot came as ballast
in the cotton ships as they returned
from England; peek in at the Opera House,
Mr. Dickens may be doing a reading; ride
the trolley and tarry at the Tremont
Hotel...they even serve afternoon tea!
Home, Sweet Home!
David G. Woodcock came to Texas from
Manchester, England in 1962. He is Professor
of Architecture at Texas A&M
University and is active in both the teaching
and practice of preservation. He is a
consultant to the Galveston Historical
Foundation and serves on the Faculty
Steering Committee of the Center for Historic
22 HERITAGE * SPRING 1989
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 7, Number 2, Spring 1989, periodical, Spring 1989; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45432/m1/22/: accessed July 22, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.