Architects reflect on their favorite island buildings
Moody Medical Library
Michael Gaertner, a San Antonio native, studied architecture at Texas A&M University at a time when history was out of vogue, he said.
“We were all in the throes of modern architecture,” he said.
But Gaertner wanted to learn more architectural history. He decided to work in that field, which led him to Galveston, which has one of the largest and most historically significant collections of 19th-century buildings of any city in Texas.
“I thought it would be for three years,” he said. “Here I am, 37 years later.”
Despite his academic focus on the historical, he developed a fondness for more contemporary architecture, he said.
“In Galveston, people didn’t stop building things,” Gaertner said. “We get so focused on historic properties, sometimes we forget about these mid-century buildings.”
One of his favorite modern-yet-historic buildings is the Moody Medical Library at the University of Texas Medical Branch, he said.
Architect O’Neil Ford, who designed the library, studied indigenous Texas design by going around the state and sketching folk architecture as part of a Works Progress Administration program during the Great Depression. The Works Progress Administration, renamed in 1939 as the Work Projects Administration, was the largest and most ambitious American New Deal agency, employing millions of people to carry out public works projects.
The medical library, completed in 1972, blends form-follows-function with style and character, Gaertner said.
“The shape of it, the way that it looks — it’s got character,” he said.
Bishop’s Palace, 1402 Broadway in Galveston, is one of architect David Mullican’s favorite historic places in Galveston.
“It just doesn’t look like and feel like buildings today,” he said.
Using materials that aren’t used today, architect Nicholas J. Clayton designed the sturdy 1892 building that eventually withstood the 1900 Storm, Mullican said.
“I like the stone and the craftsmanship — the spaces it creates,” Mullican said. “You don’t see a lot of Victorian buildings with castle-like features.”
While most people pay attention to the outside of Bishop’s Palace, the inside is equally exquisite, Mullican said.
The Tremont House
“One of my favorite historical buildings in Galveston County is certainly The Tremont House,” said Sean Mickler, president of Jacob White Construction.
The 1879 building formerly housed a dry goods business. In 1985, George and Cynthia Mitchell, after careful renovations, opened The Tremont House as the first major hotel to debut in downtown Galveston in 60 years. The Tremont House was a catalyst for the revitalization of Galveston’s historic downtown, coinciding with the revival of Mardi Gras.
The Mitchells worked with architects Boone Powell and Carolyn Peterson of the firm Ford, Powell & Carson and Chicago interior designer Ann Miller Gray to restore the exterior of the former Leon & H. Blum building, of which Eugene T. Heiner was the architect, and transformed the interior to a 124-room hotel, according to the Galveston Architecture Guide book. Heiner in 1879 designed a substantial three-story building of stucco-faced brick at the corner of 24th and Mechanic streets. In 1882, the Blum firm called again on Heiner, this time to expand the building farther east along Mechanic Street, according to the guide book.
“Not many properties exist in our county with the historical background and detail work that The Tremont incorporates into its façade and interior,” Mickler said. “The entire Strand that surrounds it is almost a destination in itself — allowing a true sense of ‘being somewhere else’ right in our own backyard. Historic properties are certainly something that should be appreciated by our communities as they remind us of a time in history that craftsmanship was at its absolute.”
One of Chula Ross Sanchez’s favorite historic buildings is the Garten Verein, 2704 Ave. O in Galveston.
The Garten Verein, built in 1880, is a tiered dancing pavilion where musicians played and where they still play today at weddings and other special events.
It’s the perfect Galveston venue for dancing and music, Sanchez said.
“The air moves,” Sanchez said. “It’s almost like you can hear the music when you open the door. I always feel like I’m in a magical place. It’s a space you walk into and feel good.”
Architect David Watson also counts Garten Verein as one of his favorite examples of historic architecture.
“Inside the Garten Verein, the architecture is fully expressed,” Watson said. “What you see is what is there. It’s such a light and airy space.”
In February 1876, a group of German businessmen organized the Galveston Garten Verein (garden club) as a social club for family and friends, which eventually led to the construction of the octagonal dancing pavilion, according to the Galveston Historical Foundation.
After World War I, overt “Germanness had fallen out of fashion” in America, and the garden club membership dwindled, according to the foundation. Stanley Kempner acquired the property and transferred it to the city as a public park dedicated to his parrents, Eliza Seinsheimer and Harris Kempner, according to the foundation.
“The architect of the tiered octagonal dancing pavilion is unknown; it may have been John Moser, the city’s leading German architect,” according to the foundation.
Matt deGrood and Laura Elder contributed to this article.