From stunning beach houses to a sleek sailor base, area architects and designers make their mark
We drive by them every day — buildings that are part of the urban landscape and form the backdrop of our lives.
Some are works of art that shape a city and add visual appeal.
In Galveston, where Nicholas J. Clayton, the state’s best-known late 19th-century architect, is highly revered, historic architecture is as much a part of the island’s identity as the Gulf and the bay.
But modern architects and designers are shaping the scenery, too.
Coast Monthly visited with five people who are making their own marks on the island, while helping to preserve its rich architectural heritage.
Galveston architect David Mullican prides himself on the fact that no two of his beach houses look the same.
“That’s what brings me joy,” Mullican said. “To have total creativity for a well-built object.”
Mullican, who moved to Galveston in the 1980s, used to do some historical remodeling, but now exclusively designs beach houses.
“I’ll do three designs for each client,” Mullican said of the process. “You don’t want to give them too much or too little to look at. And I’ll hand-draw all the drawings. That was looked down on originally, when everyone had started doing work on the computer, but I think it’s starting to become appreciated now.”
Clients will choose one of the three designs and the project will proceed from there, Mullican said. Using that process, Mullican has designed about 250 houses in Galveston, he said.
One project that went particularly well is a house on Turks Point on the island’s West End designed for a former judge, Mullican said.
“The home is in a transitional style,” Mullican said. “It’s not modern and it’s not traditional. But the space is like the best rotundas. I like the space of it because it’s activated by the space around it. And it has a beltway around the top of it.”
Mullican modeled the house after Italy’s Villa La Rotonda by Andrea Palladio, he said.
“I wanted it to be as dramatic as it could,” he said. “I also wanted it to appear as a dome.”
Mullican positioned the house at a 45-degree angle to take advantage of a scenic coastal view, he said.
Mullican also wanted visitors to feel the space, so he designed the entire house around a central area that opened up to the rest of the house.
“You need to feel the space of a place,” Mullican said. “There’s a big difference between looking at pictures of Europe and going to the spaces.”
– Matt deGrood
When Galveston architect Michael Gaertner walks into a building for the first time, he always looks up.
It’s often the ceiling that reveals how much attention went into the details of a space, he said.
“That’s where an architect can fumble the ball,” Gaertner said.
It’s not just what’s at eye level that’s important, he said. “It’s what’s above and below.”
For an example of that visual feast above and below, Gaertner points to the lobby of the Hotel Galvez, 2024 Seawall Blvd. in Galveston.
Gaertner has worked on the 1911 Spanish Mission-style building for 20 years, he said.
Part of that work was restoring the lobby back to its vibrant original colors, he said.
“Many people don’t realize how polychromatic it was,” Gaertner said. “They were not bashful about using color.”
Workers peeled back layers of old paint to restore the look. Columns were painted to look like they were made of stone. Gold leaf was restored between heavy, wooden Mission-style beams on the ceiling.
“Visually, it’s so rich,” Gaertner said. “To me, it’s just a rich and exciting environment.”
– Valerie Wells
Chula Ross Sanchez
Galveston residential designer Chula Ross Sanchez makes a disclaimer before she talks about architecture.
“I can’t be listed under architects in the Yellow Pages,” she said.
But she is a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified designer of casitas and small, whimsical homes that are sustainable and resource-efficient. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is a designation from the U.S. Green Building Council.
One of Sanchez’s favorites among her own designs is a modern casita hidden in the Cedar Lawn neighborhood in Galveston. She designed the guest house behind the main house, fitting it amid large live oak and yew trees.
Her clients were Jack and Sally Wallace, but the home — including the guest house — now belongs to Dee Dee Perugini.
Architect David Watson’s historic preservation work has touched on almost every downtown Galveston building, he said.
His renovations have included façades, atriums and interiors. He has created high-end townhouses and apartments in downtown Galveston while advocating for more 24/7 activity that goes beyond nightclubs. He also has designed low- to moderate-income housing and has won an award for that work.
Watson moved to Galveston after getting a master’s degree in restoration at the University of Texas at Austin. In 1986, he started his own practice.
One of his favorite spaces he has worked on is the lobby of Frost Bank, 2201 Market St., in Galveston.
The bank building was constructed in 1925 to house the United States National Bank of Galveston, founded by the island’s Kempner family in 1874. Alfred C. Blossom with Sanguinet Staats & Hedrick was the architect. Watson rehabilitated the building in 1990.
“It’s the most beautiful space,” Watson said. “It has an ornate ceiling. It’s just a wonderful space.”
– Valerie Wells
Jacob White Construction
Rising over Offatts Bayou and designed to withstand a Category 5 hurricane, the Sea Star Base Galveston is hard to ignore.
The Sea Star Base Galveston, 7509 Broadway, is a marine and maritime destination offering aquatic education programs.
“The building was designed and built with millions of men-and-women hours of blood, sweat and tears,” said Sean Mickler, president of Jacob White Construction, which offers design-build services.
Jacob White Construction is proud of its work on the marina and educational maritime venue on the shores of Offatts Bayou, Mickler said.
As the project commenced, contractors and architects worked to overcome several challenges and unique design requests, Mickler said.
“For example, the curved steel supporting the front canopy could only come from a fabricator in Chicago, given the size,” Mickler said.
Much work and thought went into the design, Mickler said.
“The gabion walls are filled with recycled oyster shells donated from a plethora of seafood houses,” he said. “The landscape was hand-selected and grown in nurseries between Florida and Texas; the louvre system wrapping the entire building is made of fiberglass materials that are near corrosion resistant; the site was raised using tens of thousands of yards of fill from Offatts Bayou that in turn allowed for the marina to be built simultaneously with site work.”
Jacob White also built a pool below sea level and added tanks to the building to store rain water and irrigate the property, Mickler said.
The 60,000-square-foot building and pool, docks and other structures was completed in 2014 for $44 million at the 10-acre property.
– Matt deGrood