Friday, July 31, 2009

Galveston Historic Strand Buildings & Information

The information on this sign is given at the end of this post

Hutchings-Sealy Building (1896)

This is a good example of the Victorian iron-front commercial architecture in the Strand.

Kauffman & Runge Building (1882)

Stewart Title currently occupies this building. I think this is the most beautiful of the Strand historic buildings. It is an example of the 'modern High Victorian version of the Renaissance style'.

Marine Building (build date unknown)

Wells Fargo Financial Advisors currently occupies this elegant building.

Another example of Victorian era architecture

Grand Opera House (1894)

The Grand is one of the few remaining theatres of its era in Texas and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. As further recognition of its importance to the citizens of Texas, in 1993 the 73rd Texas Legislature proclaimed The Grand "The Official Opera House of Texas." Shows go on through the current repairs and renovations. The 2009-2010 Season Events include everything from the Oak Ridge Boys to Ballet Folklorico de Mexico to Smokey Robinson to Broadway shows.

The Strand Tourist Area

Antique shops, boutiques, restaurants, galleries and pubs. Everything a tourist could want. The Strand is widely considered the island's shopping and entertainment center. Today, "the Strand" is generally used to refer to the entire five-block business district between 20th and 25th streets in downtown Galveston, very close to the city's wharf.

Tremont House

The original Tremont House was built in 1839. Twice the hotel has been reborn. First, in 1872, following a raging fire that had swept through the Strand district in 1865 and once again, in 1985, forty-five years after the doors of the last Tremont were closed. The new Tremont House occupies the 1879 Leon & H. Blum Building, an architecturally lavish landmark that once housed the South's premiere wholesale dry goods concern. In the ivoried pages of the century-old Tremont register are names now legendary: General Sam Houston, Ulysses S. Grant, Clara Barton, Edwin Booth, Anna Pavlova, Buffalo Bill. From the earliest days of the original Tremont House the hotel's fortunate Galveston location and its undeniable cachet attracted a fascinating array of visitors from Texas, America and the World. Elegant Victorian ladies and gentlemen came to dance at grand balls: soldiers from three wars returned to homecoming banquets: Sam Houston delivered his last public speech; cotton merchants negotiated deals; Sioux Chiefs sampled southern meals; six Presidents came to call, and refugees of the storm of 1900 sought shelter all within the sturdy walls of The Tremont. The Tremont House is a Wyndham historic hotel. Note the Mardi Gras arch over the street in front of the Tremont.

American National Insurance Building

This is the headquarters building of American National Insurance Company (ANICO). Hurricane Ike's storm surge was over 8' in some areas of the Strand. The ANICO building only suffered water damage to its first floor and underground garage; however, there was severe damage to many nearby buildings.

Garten-Verein (1880)

The flamboyant octagonal Garten Verein (Garden Club) was the center of 19th-century refined social life in Galveston. Lit at night like a fairy lantern, dancing couples would swirl within as German waitresses served beer steins and sandwiches. Built by Galveston's prosperous German community — but open to anyone who could afford the modest membership — the whimsically designed Victorian pavilion flew the flags of all nations, and sported a bowling green, exotically landscaped park, croquet grounds, an ornate fountain, and even a genteel zoo. Galveston businessman Stanley Kempner bought the site in 1923 and donated it to the city as a public park dedicated to his parents. Today Kempner park is a favorite of joggers and people who enjoy a walk through a beautiful park.

Hotel Galvez (1911)

Hotel Galvez is a Wyndham historic hotel located on Seawall Boulevard. It is considered to be the grand dame of Island hotels

San Luis Resort, Spa and Conference Center

This is a 30-acre year around beachfront resort on Seawall Boulevard.

Rainforest Café is part of the San Luis Resort.

Rosenberg Tribute to the Heroes of the Texas Revolution

Henry Rosenberg, a prominent Galveston business leader and philanthropist, provided funding for many worthy causes in Galveston, including the building and furnishing of a home for elderly women, the first free public library in Texas and many other charitable and religious causes.

Ice Manufacturing Plant

The first ice manufacturing plant in Texas was built on this location. The smokestack was for a dedicated power plant for the ice plant. The original plant building has been demolished . The building in the picture is an associated cold storage building built in 1910 that has been converted into condos. The apartments start at $269,000.

Now comes the sad part – photos of Ike damage

Lonely Old mansion

I think this is the saddest photo. Today this old mansion is an empty shell but it was once a beautiful, elegant home for a wealthy family

Burger Joint on Seawall Boulevard

Flagship Hotel and Pier on Seawall Boulevard

This entire hotel and pier must be demolished and rebuilt. Note the huge hole in the upper left side of the hotel.

Fort Crockett Homes

There are over a dozen of these federally owned houses in a 6.4 acre development for sale. The homes were originally part of the Fort Crockett Army base. The buyer must restore two of the houses to their original conditions.

Strand Building by ANICO

This is one of the many buildings heavily damaged in the area of the American National Insurance Building. This heavily damaged building will be demolished.

High Rise Apartment Building by ANICO

This is another building heavily damaged in the area of the American National Insurance Building. This high rise apartment building is the largest casualty of Ike. It is structurally damaged and will be demolished.

Another Damaged Strand Bldg

This is another large Strand building that was severely damaged by Ike.

Large Damaged Home

Another Large Damaged Home

Strand Sign Content

The Rush at the Menard and Central Wharf, now known as Pier 21, during the 1860's and early 1870's, with the big fleet of 'red' Morgan ships discharging cargo and passengers, with the river boats loading and unloading, was so great that a police officer was kept on duty there all the time.

"At times during a rush there would be a line of drays extending from the steamboat landing at Central Wharf as far up town as the corner of Strand and 22nd streets, and it required the services of policemen to keep them straightened out.

"During the year 1871 no less than 41,670 passengers by sea landed in Galveston, the majority of them coming in the Morgan Line steamships, although there were some from New York by the Mallory steamers and a few hundred from Bremen by sailing vessels." (Galveston Daily News, Oct. 25, 1908)

As of 1874 "The number of entrances of foreign and coastwise vessels in Galveston harbor yearly varies from 700 to 1,400 …. The imports are salt, coffee, crockery, iron and tin, and a steady current of sturdy Germans …. The importation of lumber from Florida, Louisiana, and Northern ports employs a large number of vessels …. Steamships loaded with cotton run regularly between Galveston and Liverpool, and, and returning, bring back English, Irish and Scotch emigrants …. The steamship line between New York and Galveston carries about 95% of all the merchandise sent into Texas from New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Baltimore. The foreign trade of the port is increasing with wonderful rapidity …." (Edward King, Texas 1874)

The Strand, in the late 1800's, was dubbed "The Wall Street of the Southwest". It was a street of opulent Victorian buildings with 5 banks, wholesale houses, grocers, liquor and cigar dealers, cotton factors, commission merchants, insurance companies, printers and 8 newspapers, dry goods companies, steam and sail ship agencies, auction houses, a fair sprinkling of saloons and sailor boarding houses.

With all its wealth, bustle and business, Galveston was one of the richest cities in the world per capita. Before the end of the century, The Strand was not only the financial heart of Galveston and Texas – but of much of the Southwest as well.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Galveston's Historic Mansions

Galveston has dozens of historic mansions - the oldest dates back to 1838; however, the following mansions from Galveston's golden era between the civil war and the great hurricane of 1900 are my favorites.

Bishop's Palace 1895
Galveston's grandest and best-known building, the Bishop's Palace is an ornate delight of Texas limestone accented with gray granite, pink granite, and red sandstone. Inside it has intricately carved ornaments, rare woods, stained-glass windows, bronze dragons and other sculptures, luxury materials and furnishings, and impressive fireplaces from around the world. It was built by Walter Gresham, a politician-turned-lobbyist during the mansion-building boom of the late-1800's. The mansion's solid stone construction, combined with steel framing, helped it weather the 1900 Storm and all hurricanes that have occurred since. Hurricane Ike caused only minor water damage to the basement and lower floor. In 1923 it was purchased by the Catholic Diocese of Galveston to become the official residence of the bishop. But only one ever lived there. Reverend Christopher Byrne stayed there until his death in 1950. In 1963 the Catholic Church opened it to the public, making it the first of the Galveston mansions to be turned into a museum.

Sealy Mansion 1889
After George Sealy used some of the money from the sale of his Gulf, Colorado, and Santa Fe Railway to build this mansion he called "Open Gates", it inspired other Galveston businessmen to demonstrate their wealth through architecture. The style is known as Neo-Renaissance.

Rosenberg Home for Aged Women 1895
Henry Rosenberg, a prominent Galveston business leader and philanthropist, bequeathed a gift of $30,000 for the building and furnishing of this home for elderly women. This enormous Renaissance Revival mansiion designed by architect Alfred Muller has 47 bedrooms.

Ashton Villa 1859
Ashton Villa was built for hardware wholesaler, banking and railroad tycoon J. M. Brown. This Italianate home was the first of a series of mansions built along Broadway during the height of Galveston's social and economic prominence. It was also the first brick house to be built in Texas. When the Villa was almost razed in 1970, the Galveston Historical Foundation led a campaign to save it, and now manages it as a house museum. The Galveston Visitor's Center is on the grounds of this mansion.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Galveston History & First Impressions

It's hot, much worse than Austin. Actually the temperature is 5-10 degrees lower than Austin. Problem is the humidity is very high.

Galveston is great for history buffs. Texas history by comparison is boring. Galveston's history goes back to 1528:

1528 - Cabeza De Vaca was shipwrecked on Galveston. De Vaca and his men lived among the Karankawa Indians for four years. De Vaca became a trader and healer before he and three survivors eventually traveled overland to Spain's outpost in Mexico.

1816 - the first permanent European settlement on the island was established by the pirate Louis-Michel Aury.

1817 - French pirate Jean Lafitte occupied the island.

1821 – The U.S. Navy forced Lafitte to leave the island.

1825 - Mexico (after its successful revolution from Spain) established the Port of Galveston and made it a customs entry point.

1835-1836 – Galveston served as the main port for the Texas navy during the Texas Revolution.

1836 - A Canadian named Michel B. Menard, along with several associates, purchased 4605 acres of land for $50,000 from the Austin Colony to found the town that would become the modern city of Galveston.

1839 – The city of Galveston was incorporated by the Congress of the Republic of Texas

1863 - Confederate forces under Major General
John B. Magruder expelled occupying Union troops from Galveston.

Remainder of the 19th century - Galveston became a booming metropolis with a population of 38,000. Galveston's financial commercial district that is now called The Strand was nationally proclaimed as the wall street of the south. Its position on the natural harbor of Galveston Bay along the Gulf of Mexico made it the center of trade and one of the biggest cities in the state of Texas. Galveston's port was second only to New York. A highly social town as well, with a southern paw deep into organized crime and illegal gambling, Galveston's charm lured the crooked as well as the "up and coming" of society.

1900 - Galveston was utterly destroyed by the great hurricane of 1900 and never recovered economically.

1917 – The Houston Ship Channel was completed, ensuring that Galveston would never recover its status as the second largest port in the U.S. Houston was inland, safer, and closer to the rail connections and oil fields that became economically critical early in the 20th century.

Through 1957 - Galveston evolved into a gambling and drinking resort town. The Texas Rangers raided the city in 1957, putting an end to that era.

1980s onward - Galveston underwent revitalization by overhauling and promoting the Historic Downtown District known as the Strand, which contains one of the largest and most well-preserved concentrations of Victorian iron-front commercial architecture in the country, adding the 1877 Tall Ship ELISSA to the Texas Seaport Museum and reviving the Mardi Gras Galveston. Through the efforts of the Galveston Historical Foundation more than 2,000 buildings in town have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Modern-day high rollers have turned empty Strand warehouses into retail stores, restaurants, offices and trendy apartments.

During Galveston's golden era before 1900 it was home to a number of state firsts, including: the first post office (1836), first naval base (1836), first Roman Catholic Cathedral in Texas (1839), first Texas chapter of a Masonic order (1840); first cotton compress (1842), first newspaper still in operation (Galveston Daily News) (1842), first parochial school (Ursuline Academy) (1847), first insurance company (1854), first gas lights (1856), first Jewish Reform Congregation (Congregation B'nai Israel) (1868), first opera house (1870, still in operation), first orphanage (1876), first telephone (1878), first electric lights (1883), first medical college (now the University of Texas Medical Branch) (1891), first school for nurses (1890) and the first country club (1898).

Over 75% of Galveston's buildings were damaged by hurricane Ike in September 2008. Although many buildings have been restored, many others have not. I suspect the reasons for this are primarily lack of insurance or law suits over insurance claims, responsibility for damage, etc. Over 11,000 trees on public land and 30,000 trees on private land must be removed because they are dead, damaged or have severe root damage caused by the salt water surge.

I got the impression that there are few people on the Galveston beach; however, that is probably misleading because Galveston Island is over 27 miles long.

I've taken a lot of pictures but cannot find my camera>PC IF equipment. When I find it I will post a photo tour of Galveston.

For more information go to Galveston info on Wikipedia.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Next stop Galveston

It took much longer to repair my Acura than I expected because they found a lot of damage underneath. Final repair cost was $2410.72. I spent the extra time working on my stock portfolio and playing tourist. Took a tour that included Austin City Limits, Barton Springs, Restaurant Row, Zilker Botanical Gardens, Congress Avenue Bridge and Bat Colony, the French Legation, Hill Country views on 2222 and Loop 360, J. Frank Dobie House, LBJ Presidential Library, Long Center for the Performing Arts, Moonlight Tower, O. Henry Museum, UT Performing Arts Center, Texas Capitol Building, Texas Governor's Mansion, State Cemetery, Treaty Oak, Umlauf Sculpture Garden, The Warehouse District and a lot of other places.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Air Force Plans for All-Drone Future

Is the day of the hot-shot fighter jock nearly done?

An Air Force study, released without much fanfare on Wednesday July 15th, suggests that tomorrow's dogfighers might not have pilots in the cockpit. The Unmanned Aircraft System Flight Plan. which sketches out possible drone development through the year 2047, comes with plenty of qualifiers. But it envisions a radical future. In an acronym-dense 82 pages, the Air Force explains how ever-larger and more sophisticated flying robots could eventually replace every type of manned aircraft in its inventory — everything from speedy, air-to-air fighters to lumbering bombers and tankers.

The entire story is available at

Related stories:

Drone War Escalates; 365 Dead Far in '09, Study Says

Secret Missions for Special Forces' Stealth Robo-Copter

New Urban Communities

New Urbanism is an approach to land planning that reduces traffic and eliminates sprawl. A New Urbanist neighborhood resembles an old European village or pre-war U.S. small town with homes and businesses clustered together. The goal is to create environments in which people can live, work, eat and shop within a walkable distance. Hundreds of these new urban communities are being developed all over the country, many in older depressed areas of established towns or cities. Builders like these communities because they are typically allowed to build more dense residential and commercial developments, politicians like them because the tax base is increased and residents like them because they get dynamic interesting places to live. Some examples include:

The Triangle in Austin The Triangle is only 33 acres in size but it has many upscale restaurants, shops and condos. When I visited it Sunday afternoon there were dozens of people shopping and walking around the attractively landscaped streets and small parks. Actually I visited the Triangle, visited Mueller and then returned to the Triangle for a late lunch around 2:00 PM. I wanted to have lunch at Galaxy Cafe but there was a 15 minute wait so I went to the Fish City Grill. The Fish City Grill had several Maryland Blue Crab dishes but although I love blue crab I just couldn't see myself having them in Texas. So I had grilled catfish with Tex-Mex sides.

Mueller in Austin, TX I was disappointed in Mueller until I learned more about the development cycle of the community. It already has several attractive new housing developments and a number of big box stores such as Home Depot, Best Buy, Bed Bath & Beyond, Marshalls and others. Apparently the new urban component will come later. Comment from a knowledgeable Austonite "Mueller is a 711 acre site, of which only a small percent has been developed. The "new urban" feel won't be there until the town center is completed in the coming years. The big box retail was completed first so that there would be some income coming into the development. The town center will be a mix of smaller scale retail like that found in the Triangle. Mueller is a much larger scale and still in its early stages. But unlike the Triangle, the retail/restaurant component will be more local. Developments like the Triangle and the Domain rely on chain establishments, thereby giving the developments a "theme park" quality. In addition, neither the Triangle nor the Domain have any home ownership components (either houses or condos)."

The Domain The 304-acre Domain located in the high-tech corridor of northwest Austin is calling itself Austin's second downtown. It's an ambitious effort. The Domain is already an impressive community with every type of upscale shop you can imagine. For example, it already includes or will soon include Neiman Marcus, Macy's, Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, Whole Foods Market, Burberry, Victoria's Secret, Tiffany & Co., Lacoste, an Apple Store and a Borders bookstore as well as restaurants, office spaces and apartments. Eventually it will have a 9-acre community park and pavilion and commuter rail connections to downtown and communities to the north.

North Central Texas The stars on the map represent new urban communities in the Dallas – Ft Worth area. Click on each for information. I particularly like Addison Circle north of Dallas. They have their own theatre company and a huge park where they have frequent free entertainment and events.

The Village at Shirlington in Arlington, VA I watched Shirlington go from a dingy little WWII era village into a chic new urban community.

The South Side Works in Pittsburgh, PA The South Side Works was developed on about 120 acres of former steel-making property along the Monongahela River.

Friday, July 17, 2009

California v Texas: America's future

AMERICA'S recent history has been a relentless tilt to the West—of people, ideas, commerce and even political power. California and Texas, the nation's two biggest states, are the twin poles of the West, but very different ones. For most of the 20th century the home of Silicon Valley and Hollywood has been the brainier, sexier, trendier of the two: its suburbs and freeways, its fads and foibles, its marvelous miscegenation have spread around the world. Texas, once a part of the Confederacy, has trailed behind: its cliché has been a conservative Christian in cowboy boots, much like a certain recent president. But twins can change places. Is that happening now? These days California's unemployment rate is running at 11.5%, two points ahead of the national average. In such California cities as Fresno, Merced and El Centro, jobless rates are higher than in Detroit. Its roads and schools are crumbling. Every year, over 100,000 more Americans leave the state than enter it.

Chief Executive magazine has ranked California the very worst state to do business in for each of the past four years. By contrast, Texas was the best state in that poll. It has coped well with the recession, with an unemployment rate two points below the national average and one of the lowest rates of housing repossession. In part this is because Texan banks, hard hit in the last property bust, did not over expand this time. But as our special report this week explains, Texas also clearly offers a different model, based on small government. It has no state capital-gains or income tax, and a business-friendly and immigrant-tolerant attitude. It is home to more Fortune 500 companies than any other state—64 compared with California's 51 and New York's 56.

The complete story is available at

My first impressions of Austin

I'm staying in north Austin in a very nice neighborhood named the Arboretum. The Arboretum is actually an upscale shopping mall but everything within several miles is called Arboretum this or that. This neighborhood has virtually every type of dining and shopping you could want. A wide range of entertainment, cultural events and UT football is only 20-25 minutes away downtown. Austonians (some prefer to be called Austinites) keep complaining about the traffic. They should try rush hour on the Beltway around Washington. So far I've stayed in small furnished studio apartments in Marriott Springhill Suites and Extended Stay America Suites. My daily housing costs so far have been about 20% less than I was paying in my Fairfax apartment. I'll be moving on to Corpus Christi next week. When I return to Austin I will try living downtown.

Restaurants: I have only tried a few upscale restaurants but have already found some good ones:

Z'Tejas Southwestern Grill Fish Tacos. Good frozen margaritas.

Serranos Tex-Mex Restaurant Taco Grande Plate

North by Northwest Restaurant & Brewery Texas Style Whole Grilled Quail wrapped in spooked bacon and stuffed with a goat cheese stuffed jalapeño over spinach-cabbage salad

Sam's Boat Snapper w/Crawfish & Crab Sauce (FAVORITE) STRONG margaritas

Iron Cactus Salmon w/lobster picante sauce (FAVORITE)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Now that’s a Texas sized armadillo

The 7-foot-long Glyptodon, a large relative of the modern armadillo, shared its ice age world with wooly mammoths, saber-toothed cats and a beaver the size of a black bear. I took this photo at the Texas Memorial Museum, the exhibit hall of the Texas Natural Science Center. It is located on the University of Texas campus in Austin, Texas:

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Cheap hotel rates

I've been surprised how cheap hotel rates are if you do a little research on the Internet. For example I stayed in a new Marriott Springhill Suites in a nice section of northwest Austin for $75 per night. I tried to extend my stay but the Internet rates were no longer available – their cheapest suites were $119. So I did a bit of research and moved into an Extended Stay America suite nearby for $74 per night. The Extended Stay is not as classy as the Marriott Springhill Suite and there are no free newspapers and free breakfast buffet; however, it has an even bigger benefit: free passes to Gold's Gym.

The super cheap Internet rates disappear quickly. I figure the hotels dump rooms onto CheapTickets, Orbitz and the other Internet sites when their occupancy rate drops too low. The advantage is you get a good deal. The disadvantages are they charge your credit card immediately when you accept the reservation rather than when you register at the hotel. And worse – the cancellation policies are really bad. For example, most cancellations or changes made after 4:00 PM local hotel time on the day of arrival are subject to a 100% charge. Still, if your travel plans are firm you can save a lot by using Internet rates.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Chuck is in Austin, Texas

This picture was taken 4-5 miles west of Austin
It was taken from's Forum > Photography Forum > My City Photos.
For more Austin pictures go to

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Camp Ford park in Tyler, Texas

During the civil war 5500 prisoners from every Northern State except Delaware and Vermont were imprisoned at Camp Ford. Camp Ford had the distinction of having the most naval prisoners of any camp, north or south. As the highest ranking prisoner in the camp Lt. Col. J. B. Leake of the 20th Iowa was allowed to have a cabin set at a prime location closest to the spring. The cabin pictured is a reconstruction based on his diary and drawings using materials from the park.

The Old Rock Gym in Winnsboro, Texas

This historical gym, completed in 1939 as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project, is one of America's premier examples of WPA depression style construction. It was used for basketball, football field house, band hall and auditorium from 1939-1974. In 1989 it was restored, preserved and passed to future generations as a historical landmark. Each year students gather the 4th Saturday of October for an all school reunion. Older Winnsboro High School graduates have fond memories of playing basketball, participating in concerts and attending their graduation exercises in the Old Rock Gym.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Texas vs Virginia: the difference

10-15 degrees warmer each day

You always look for a tree to park under

Some of the Texas undercover police vehicles are trucks

About half of the restaurants are Mexican – not bad if you like Mexican food…

Wolf brand chili

Cowboy Churches

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Quitman, Texas

After leaving Dallas I will be visiting relatives in Quitman, Texas, a small town in Northeast Texas. It's biggest claim to fame is being the birthplace of actress Sissy Spacek. It is the county seat of Wood County and claims to be the "Big Bass Capital of Texas." Not a bad claim considering that Lake Fork, a nearby 27,690 acre lake built on the Sabine River, holds 15 of the top 20 Texas State Record Largemouth Bass catches.