Damage report on Galveston's historic treasures
Tue September 16, 2008 5:07 pm

This e-mail was forwarded to me by my colleague Mimi Swartz. It is from Preservation Texas, and it contains an evaluation of the damage to important historical places and things by the Galveston Historical Foundation.

The Galveston Historical Foundation (GHF) announced today a preliminary assessment of the damage to its historic properties due to Hurricane Ike. “The news is serious, but certainly not as bad as we feared,” said GHF executive director Dwayne Jones, speaking from the foundation’s temporary headquarters in the offices of Preservation Texas in Austin. “Most importantly, of course, all our people came through without injury. As for the properties, some fared better than others.”

First reports from the scene indicate the following:

The 1861 U. S. Custom House, GHF’s headquarters, was flooded by as much as 8 feet of water, causing damage to files, archives, equipment, systems and inventory. Structural damage seems to be limited to an upstairs door onto the gallery, although the extent of roof damage if any is not yet known.

The 1877 tall ship Elissa, restored by GHF in 1982 and a proud symbol of Galveston, seems to have ridden out the storm with little damage beyond the loss of several of her sails. Large steel piles driven deeply in to the harbor bottom allow the vessel to remain attached to the shore even beyond the estimated 18 foot rise of water on Friday.

The Texas Seaport Museum at pier 22, Elissa’s home berth, did not do as well, suffering considerable damage to the brick and wooden pier structure, and a suspected total loss of the wooden workshops which serve the maintenance needs of the ship. The Seaport Museum itself, in the 1990 Jones Building, is suffered little damage.

The 1857 Italianate mansion Ashton Villa at 24th and Broadway lost two to three windows on the second floor, and had as much as 18 inches of flooding on the first. Damage to furniture on the first floor and windowless parts of the second floor must be extensive.

The 1889 Gresham House at 14th and Broadway, known as the Bishop’s Palace and the most visited historic attraction on the island, seems to have weathered the storm with little damage, as it did during the Great Storm of 1900. The bottom floor of the building, which contains offices, a ticket counter, and has been in the process of renovation as a visitors center, is actually a little below grade. It was subject to as much as three feet of flooding.

The city’s two oldest residential houses, the 1837 Michel B. Menard House and the 1839 Samuel May Williams house, suffered surprisingly little visible damage.

The wooden 1859 St Joseph’s Church building, the state’ oldest German Catholic Church lost one window, but was otherwise undamaged. Its wooden steeple, somewhat truncated in the 1900 storm, still stands. Damage to the contents of the foundation’s warehouse on Mechanic Street was extensive, as it was inundated with at least 10 feet of active water. Most of the physical equipment used during Dickens on The Strand, the foundation’s popular holiday festival, was destroyed. The foundation’s Salvage Warehouse at the Sealy Garage building suffered window damage and flooding of several feet.

This report appears to be limited to Galveston Historical Foundation properties, so it does not mention the fate of the restored Grand Opera House or any of the private residences in the East Broadway historical district.

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