Islanders enjoy view from the top on custom observation decks
Joe and Joyce Kirchner really wanted a garage behind their midtown Galveston Island home. Soon after, they decided to add an apartment over the garage. But then they got really creative and had a palapa constructed above the garage apartment, providing incredible views, continuous Gulf breezes and a 56-foot-high topic of conversation.
“People are coming by all the time wanting to see this,” said Joe Kirchner, referring to his party deck on 31st Street. “We can see the whole island from up here, from Moody Gardens to East Beach. The sky is the limit.”
The Kirchners own Alley Antiques on Broadway and were one of the first midtown island residents to build a lookout tower on their property. Unlike many others, they put a roof on theirs, made of synthetic leaves resembling palm fronds meant to last many years.
The structure is sturdy and the room at the top easily can hold about a dozen people in chairs or about 20 standing. Sometimes, when the Kirchners have parties, musicians station themselves upstairs and their music emanates down to partygoers.
“We love it when there are fireworks,” Joe said. “The view from up here is great.”
A few blocks away, builder Joe Kusick was putting the finishing touches on an over-the-top deck for homeowners Sarah and Derrick Rose. Their house, a 1901 cottage near the seawall, was completely remodeled by Kusick, who removed walls and added two decks and a spiral staircase to the second floor.
Kusick, owner of Joe’s All Service Carpentry, has been remodeling on Galveston Island for 27 years and is confident the viewing perches he made will outlast hurricanes and storms that threaten and hit the island, he said.
“It will still be here,” Kusick said.
Nearby, Sean Coffey sits on the third level of his free-standing tower on Avenue N1⁄2, taking in the 360-degree view of Galveston Island. Unlike most of the other observation decks, Coffey’s deck was built in his yard and not above his house and has three large 17-foot-by-22-foot patios for parties, dinners, movie-watching or sipping margaritas and smoking cigars. The third story is accessible through a winding staircase.
Coffey’s tower is 34 feet high and was constructed by driving piles into the ground 17 feet deep. The structure is “incredibly stable,” Coffey said.
“I can’t even feel it sway,” he said. “I like being up here to watch the cruise ships and container ships at the port,” he said. Although he can see the Gulf of Mexico, his view of the beach is blocked by trees and tall structures on the seawall.
Building such observation decks is permitted by the city, as long as they meet all the requirements and regulations enforced by the city. David Ewald, building official for the city of Galveston, noted decks are required to be engineered to comply with the 2012 International Residential Code. This would include wind load and live loads on the decks and guards. Also, guard rails would have to comply with height — 36 inches minimum — and spacing requirements.
If residents in the island’s historic districts want to build decks, the structures have to be approved by both the planning department and the landmark commission, said Adriel Montalvan, senior project manager for the city. There are no other restrictions.
“But residents must comply with the heights that are allowed in the area,” Montalvan said.