Thursday, September 30, 2010

Looking West from Ball High School, Galveston, Texas


If you're like me, you have an interest in views of Galveston. I have collected postcards of Galveston for the last ten years or so, especially those postcard views that highlight its turn-of-the-century architecture, be it houses, commercial buildings, or government offices. 

Tonight on eBay a new to me "birdseye view", circa 1909, sold for $32.00. Sadly, not to me! Obviously, it appears to be a particularly scarce postcard for it to sell for so much. I copied the view from the website so I could share until I can find a copy I can afford.

The postcard is entitles "Looking West from Ball High School, Galveston, Texas." I've spent several hours trying to find the house and its location with no luck. It's a wonderfully designed Victorian mansion with a distinctive facade and a set of sweeping double-entry stairs, but I can't seem to find it in 'The Galveston That Was', 'Historic Galveston', or the Rosenberg Library website.

Upon review of the Sanborn Insurance map of 1912, the building is a boarding house, at the southwest corner of Ball and 22nd, directly across the street from Eaton Chapel. That is one fine boarding house. If anyone can further identify the building, please let me know. I'll be happy to acknowledge your mastery of Galveston trivia in a revised posting.

Allen Stross, photographer, 1967

Upon further investigation, I have identified this residence as the Herman Marwitz House, also known as the "Marwitz Castle" or the "Old Castle". Located at 801 22nd Street, it was built between 1890 and 1894. Designed in the Queen Anne style by Marwitz's nephew, the architect Alfred Muller, the three-story mansion was built with bricks over a stone foundation.

"The exterior elements include an elliptical arcaded porch with a circular corner pavilion and a monumental curving stair ascending to the entrance level. The second story bay is deliniated by stone balusters with rich Victorian detail throughout. The structure is capped by gabled and mansard roofs." [Historic American Buildings Survey Habs-TX 2105]

Construction of the house nearly wiped out Marwitz's checkbook, despite his position as president of the Street Railway Company and the Galveston Savings Bank. After completion, he decided that rather then live there, he would lease it out to the Goldbeck College of Music. Marwitz died in 1899, and by the time of the 1900 Storm, the residence served as a women's boardinghouse. Its use eventually devolved to that of a whorehouse before being bought by the First Baptist Church in 1931. It was demolished in 1969.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Site of F. W. Medlenka Bakery and St. Mary's Infirmary

A few years ago I was able to acquire a large (12 x 17 cm.) photograph entitled "Site of the F. W. Medlenka Bakery" taken soon after the Galveston Storm of 1900. The photographer, who stamped his name on the embossed mount, was [Victor J.] Biron of Galveston. The photograph certainly shows its age, with fading and surface scratches, but is still an interesting view, historically.

Ferdinand Medlenka was born in Galveston around October of 1861 to Antone Medlenka, a tailor from Bohemia. He married in Galveston on November 15, 1882 Emma Nelson, born May 27, 1860 in Galveston, and died in Houston May 7, 1919. She was the daughter of Pete Nelson, of Denmark, and Willa Meda, of Germany.

Ferdinand and Emma had five children, as listed in the June, 1900 Federal Census. Of their two daughters, Irene and Oralee, I know nothing further. Their three sons were Ferdinand Jr., Joseph, and Flore. Fred Medlenka was born December 31, 1883 and died in June of 1963. Joseph was born July 29, 1887 and died in February of 1967 in Houston. Flore W. was born April 13, 1888 in Galveston, and died January 14, 1967 in Houston. None of the family are found in the lists of the known dead from the 1900 Storm, but they could have been among the unidentified and unlisted.

Victor John Biron was born May 22, 1862 in New Orleans, Louisiana and died January 17, 1937 in Galveston. He married in Galveston on January 7, 1886 Pauline E. Boussion, born about 1860 in Louisiana.


The Medlenka Bakery was located at 609 Church (or Avenue F) near 6th Street. According to the Sanborn Insurance map of 1899, the bakery was a one story building that fronted the property, and was attached to the two story house slightly set back from the unpaved street. At the front of the bakery was a large awning or shed, typical of Galveston storefronts, that reached to the street. The bake house and oven were in separate buildings out back along the alley, nearby the stables which possibly held a delivery wagon, along with the horses.


The Medlenka Bakery is in the map,with the star just above it. The photograph by Biron was taken roughly from the southeast corner (see arrow) towards the northwest. In the photo you can see the ruins of the house and bakery, as well as in the distance, the rear of St. Mary's Infirmary. The dormitory of the Sisters of Mercy was located along 7th Street, attached to the octagonal Chapel, both seen in the 1899 Sanborn map.


An extreme close-up of St. Mary's shows how the dormitory, along with the building facing Post Office Street housing the laundry and the Colored Ward, are completely destroyed. All that remains is the octagonal Chapel, with the connecting wall, on the right, completely missing. Among the debris being inspected by the two men in the foreground (and their trusty mule), appears to be railroad tracks, though I could be mistaken. If they are indeed rails, then they may have come from the nearby Galveston and Western Railroad along 9th Street.


This undated drawing of St. Mary's showa the buldings from the corner of Avenue D (Market) and 7th Street. The Sister's Residence and childrens Dormitory is the building on the left with the cupola.


This handcolored postcard dates from around 1900-1910 and was published by Charles Daferner, the Galveston bookdealer and stationer. This view was taken from the corner of Avenue D (Market) and 8th Street. Note the horse and buggy and the early model automobile on 8th Street, and the streetcar or trolley tracks along Market.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Fred Brown is dead. Well, maybe not.

Here's another interesting article from the Weimar Mercury.

Fred Brown, the ex-livery stable man of our city, who was reported as having been killed in the Galveston storm of Sept. 8, was in our city last Friday, looking quite lively for a dead man. Fred was caught in that storm all right enough. He was struck on the back of the neck—a large scar is visible where the timber struck him—rendered unconscious, and while in that condition was found, identified, pronounced dead and thrown with a lot of dead bodies to be carried out and dumped in the gulf. Very fortunately, he regained consciousness ere they dumped him into the waters of the gulf, and he lost no time in separating himself from his grewsome [sic] company. Fred says he has enough of Galveston to last him for a lifetime.

Weimar Mercury, October 13, 1900, page 5.

Well, I can certainly understand Fred's reticence about visiting Galveston again after his near-untimely demise. He was not alone in deciding to quit Galveston for good. One reason for the wide range in estimated deaths due to the 1900 Storm was the unknown number of citizens who left Galveston after the storm and never returned. The (human) bean-counters could only estimate the death-toll because of so many unidentified folks who left the island for good after the hurricane.

A Handsome Residence Comes and Goes

Recently I found this series of articles on the Weimar Mercury website. I thought it was worth posting here as it pertains to a Galveston resident, T. H. James, and the architect, Nicholas J. Clayton.

A HANDSOME RESIDENCE
Is the One Now Being Erected for Col. T. H. James.

A MERCURY reporter last Monday morning wended his way to the Western portion of the city, where the commodious residence of Col. T. H. James is in course of construction. Arriving there, we were kindly received by Mr. Jake Wirtz, one of the contractors, who showed us the plans and specifications of the buildings. This handsome residence was designed by N. J. Clayton & Co., the Galveston architects, and they certainly had an eye to beauty and comfort while engaged in the work. Messrs. Wirtz Bros. of Columbus are the contractors, and as they and their work are already so well known in this county, we will only add that a glance at their work will convince any one that they are masters of their profession. Both are Colorado county boys.

The building will be two stories in height. The first floor has a 70 foot gallery on the east. This leads into a reception hall. On the west is a 15x21 foot parlor. Two bed-rooms 15x18, on the south, next come into view. Then on the north is an octagon-shaped dinning-room. In the rear of the first floor are the trunk room, kitchen and gallery, with a neat porch surmounted by a hood on the extreme west.
The second floor has a 70 foot gallery in front, with five bed-rooms, a bath-room, a sewing-room, and a gallery on the south. Small closets are conveniently situated throughout the building. In length the building will be 70 feet from east to west, and 42 from north to south. The roof will be a marvel of mechanical beauty and finish.
Bay windows are to be placed upstairs and downstairs, on both the east and north sides.
The contractors inform us that, with fair weather, the building will be finished about the 15th of December. There are at present only five men at work, but the force will be doubled next week.
Weimar Mercury, October 31, 1891

FINE RESIDENCE BURNED.

The fine residence of Col. T. H. James--so much admired by all--was entirely destroyed by fire Tuesday night. The building was erected several months ago by Wirtz Bros. of Columbus at a cost of about $7,000, and was a very beautiful and substantial two-story structure. The fire originated in the second story from a defective flue, and was under good headway when discovered about 83:0 [8:30] o’clock. At the first alarm the fire boys responded, and did all in their power, but the flames had gained too much headway, and as no water could be procured in the neighborhood, the steamer was rendered powerless. Every effort was then made to save the furniture and good on the first floor, with the results that almost everything was removed to a place of safety ere the walls fell in. In about thirty minutes the handsome residence was a glowing bed of embers. The residence of Mr. John H. Fisher would have been destroyed but for the heroic efforts of the firement and citizens, The James’ residence was occupied by Mrs. Falwell and Miss Blanche Rogers, Mr. and Mrs. James being absent on a visit to relatives in Virginia. The loss is estimated at $9,000; Insurance $5,000. The fluthes were observed at Ammansville, Pecan, Schulenburg and other points. Mr. James and family have the sympathy of the community in their misfortune.
Weimar Mercury, July 15, 1893

Mr. Jake Wirtz of Columbus, who was one of the firm of contractors that built the James residence, claims tht the fire was not the result of a defective flue, as the kitchen flue was one of the most substantial ever put up, and he says he stands ready to prove the assertion. If some one removed the cap to the flue, then the fire may have originated from the flue, otherwise not.
Weimar Mercury August 5, 1893

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

City Hall and Farmers Market, circa 1900 to 1908


Speaking of City Hall, here are two postcard views of the City Hall and Farmers Market, shown from the south. Both views offer the same building from the same perspective, but there are slight variances, other than the artistic freedoms taken in the drawn and colored version.

The first postcard (above, click to enlarge) was based on a real photograph and printed in the rotograph method. This postcard is from my personal collection, and is undated, but circa 1900. Note on the third level that the offices extend back only a short ways, well under half the length of the building.

The second postcard (below, click to enlarge) is a hand-drafted drawing and printed in color. The card is also from my collection, and is postmarked 1908. A close look at the third floor show the offices now extend almost all the way to the end of the building.


Howard Barnstone, in "The Galveston That Was", states, "It was once a fine example of the French Renaissance.... [T]he ground floor base is a highly rusticated firm foundation on which sits a myriad of columns, statues and architectural paraphernalia ranging from fourteenth-century English windows to sixteenth-century Italian balustrades and eighteenth-century American pilasters and garlands. Springing from the east and west corners of the south elevation were minaretlike round bays (oriels) rather precariously hung and crowned with mansard tile roofs and open fleches. The central tower had an open Palladian-motif pass-through below the clock."

"The building was three stories high," Barnstone continues, "with the farmers' market occupying the ground floor; the other two floors were city offices. The north portico, with its eight Ionic columns and decorated frieze, made an imposing sight. The grand stairways on the east and west sides made the building look even larger."

Photo of damaged City Hall after the 1900 Storm

"In the hurricane of 1900 the building , though severely damaged, was used as a refuge for the victims." Barnstone closes with a description of the building as it existed, circa 1965. "Architecturally, the building has been completely ruined since. The third story and tower have been removed and, where there had been statuary and other architectural motifs, signs designating the north section as the police department, and the south section as the central fire station have been installed."

If someone has a picture they can share of the City Hall building in its final indignity, I would gladly add it to this article. Thank you.

Galveston Island Birdseye View Pre-1890


This pre-1890 birdseye view of Galveston was taken from the roof of the second Tremont Hotel (1872-1928) at the corner of Tremont (23rd) and Avenue F (Church Street). The photographer was probably Paul H. Naschke and his camera was aimed to the northeast, with Grain Elevator 'A' at the foot of 14th Street and Wharf in the background. The Texas History Center of the Rosenberg Library has a similar photo credited to Naschke from the same viewpoint and dated circa 1890s. But there are enough differences between the two photos to date this version as an earlier view.


Shown here in this close-up is the side view of the old City Hall that was situated in the middle of 20th Street between Mechanic and Market streets. Visible is the distinctive clock tower which was lost in the 1900 Storm, along with the 3rd story offices with 6 windows on the western side. At an unknown later date the 3rd floor seems to have been expanded to at least double the length seen here. The Rosenberg's Naschke photo, mentioned above, had at least 12 windows on the 3rd floor.

The 1888 building was designed by the architect Alfred Muller, who declared the building his "masterpiece". The general contractor was Frank Jones, calling it one of the most elaborate and intricate he had ever constructed. The building was three stories high, with a farmers market on the ground floor and city offices on the 2nd and 3rd levels. The clock tower rose 108 feet from the base to the clock. Above the clock was a pinnacle 30 feet high.


Seen in this close-up is the Island City Savings Bank Building. Sadly, I have not been able to find anything about this building; its architect, its date of construction, or even its location. If anyone knows anything about the building, please let me know. At one point, Morris Lasker was President of the bank. He hired Nicholas J. Clayton to build the Romanesque Lasker House in 1889, so perhaps Lasker commissioned Clayton to design the bank building also.