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Galveston And Houston Architectural Housing Styles


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I know Galveston has a better reputation of preserving homes more than Houston or any other Texas city for that matter, but I have a question. I know Houston has a history of not doing a very good job of preserving its architecture within its neighborhoods but where is the striking in your face Victorian architecture in Houston that can be found in Galveston? I walk a lot in the inner loop neighborhoods in Houston where one may be able to stumble on some Victiorians such as Westmoreland, Woodland Heights, the Heights, and Sixth Ward and honestly the architectural detailing in the housing seem extremely modified and not that impressive. Did Galveston just have more wealth where they could do more with their money or were the architectural styles in the two cities significanly different even though they are a rocks throw away from each other (not really but you know what I mean). Here are some of the houses in Galveston that I am speaking of:







I do not think I have ever stumbled upon anything in the city of Houston as striking as the examples shown above but these type of houses are a dime a dozen in Galveston, specifically east of the Strand. Again, I know many of Houston houses were not saved but I am assuming with what we still have standing from the late 19th/ early 20th century are a good representation of what we have lost.

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I really believe that Galveston's great stock in Victorian houses today is purely out of circustance. Houston prospered, while Galveston remained stagnant. The fact that you see those buildings today are a testiment to that. For instance, did you know that the preservation and restoration movement in Galveston started in the late 60's. It was sparked by the 1963 novel "The Galveston That Was". Howard Barnstone wrote the novel to bring attention to the awful condition (and raising) of the cities once beautiful houses and mansions. Then in the early 80's George Mitchell restored and revived the Strand. Paul Burka in the December 2005 edition of Texas Monthly wrote of how Galvestonians in the 60's actually had an "out with the old" type of attitude. This is half of the reason you see strip centers on Broadway today, because historical buildings were raised.



Edited by J.A.S.O.N.
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Yeah I usually hear that the cities that were stagnant have a greater collection of urban historic buildings because there was no need to raise such buildings because there was no boom. That's why cities who have a past or current history of being stagnant such as New Orleans, Philly, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and St Louis happen to have such a large number of neighborhoods that still have that nostlgiac feel to them and not filled with strip malls like the booming cities that were plagued by urban renewal(raising buildings for surface lots) like Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Tampa, and many other sunbelt cities. But that is hardly what my main point was. I am trying to find out why there are little to no historic houses in Houston that have the admirable architectural detailing like the many residences on the island that were built at a time where people built homes as almost a competition. If you drive around the few historic areas in Houston, there is no Trube Castle, no Landes-McDonough house with beautiful iron work, or a Bishop's Palace. Instead we have extremely modified homes with little character. I am assuming this had to do with the wealth that was on the island at the turn of the century, but I am not sure or did we really get rid of all our fine examples of Victorian architecture where these examples are no longer left in the city.

For example here is a Houston 1890 "beaut" very representative of the modified setbacks of Victorian architecture in Houston:


Compared to a Galveston 1890's Victorian beaut for a cheaper price actually:







Get my drift?

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I guess my question would be, were the more extravagant type of buildings raised in Houston, or did they ever exist in the first place? Also, what were the occupations of those who had the homes built in Houston and in Galveston. Was it a white collar/blue collar type of deal?

Maybe Galvestonians were that much more prosperous during that time? Where are the houses of the "big wigs" of the 19th century in Houston btw?

Edited by J.A.S.O.N.
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The old "South End" which is the south end of downtown and what is now mid-town was Houston's Victorian mansion district. Main Street apparently was something like Broadway Blvd in Galveston. From the block south of Foley's, where there were two large Victorians, (one a Nicholas Clayton design) on south.

There was a huge Beaux Arts style Mansion at 2016 Main. The old Kirby Mansion, the big English Tudor you can see from the Pierce elevated, was built on the site of the Kirby's old Victorian Mansion.

There are very few left. There is that one big Greek Revival just north of McGowan behind that Cadillac dealership. It used to face McGowan and had these elaborate grounds. In the old picture I saw you can see a domed cathedral on the next block west where the Camden property is now. There was a story years ago in the HBJ I think on that house, which claimed that in the 1930's the owners were having a little financial difficulty and he was going to move to a then far-flung suburb called River Oaks. His wife turned the movers away saying she was not "moving to a lower class neighborhood."

There are a couple of books out that have some incredible photographs of these old homes. It's amazing to realize there was a whole neighborhood of these type homes that has been wiped out. Somebody help me out, I can't remember the names of the books for sure, Houston's forgotten legacy and Houston, the unknown City I think are the titles.

Maybe somebody can post some pics???

Edited by rps324
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I might have that book called "Houston Then & Now". That area was definitely Midtown. Also the section between downtown and the warehouse district, where the GRB is and the rest of the surface parking had a lot of beautiful wood framed housing. Here is a house turned office building on Milam that might represent what stood in Midtown. The building is in need of help as you can tell.


Edited by WesternGulf
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This is the 1200 block of Main, The house on the left of the picture was a Nicholas Clayton. This was the Henry Fox house. The old Humble oil building that is now condos and a hotel is now where these houses sat.

This house below was 2016 Main


Here is another Mansion in the area at 2210 Main @ Hadley


Edited by rps324
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WOW. That's crazy. I cannot believe single family homes crept that close to what is now downtown. Definitely some impressive structures but they did take up quite a bit of land for being so close to downtown. Anyway, definitely a crime to demolish such structures. Now how many homes do we have of this magnitude today? I cannot even count one. The closest is probably that haunted house on Westmoreland and the home on Montrose Boulevard south of Westheimer near UST. Still not of the magnitude of the ones posted above, but I commend Galveston for still having structures still standing that are just as much if not more eye candy than the ones posted.

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As a native Houstonian who has lived here nearly all my life, I can remember seeing many large, ornate 19th and early 20th century houses that were still standing through the 1940's. Post WWII, they were torn down in the name of progress. A number of them were in the area now known as Midtown and were in pretty bad shape even then. The descendents of the original owners were elderly or poor or both (as in the case of friends of my family); some houses had been sold and turned into rooming houses or apartments in the 1930's and 1940's. Many of those beautiful old structures were wood and hadn't been painted in years. A lot of them were sure to have had termite damage.

Houston has always been a city whose residents, with the exception of a tiny, non-vocal minority, have no interest in preserving its architectural history or the integrity of its historic neighborhoods.

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Check out some of the collections at the Julia Ideson building (adjacent to the main library building downtown). They have photos of houses which stood in what's presently known as the Skyline District. I recall seeing a picture of the house which stood on the site of Pennzoil Place - a huge Second Empire structure which occupied the whole block.

Bear in mind that the Market Square/Allen's Landing area was Houston's downtown until the latter part of the 19th century. Our present downtown was a residential district, and Midtown would have been out in the sticks (as was the 4th Ward).

The 1830s brick house at Sam Houston Park is (I think) the only house of that era which remains on its original site.

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  • 1 year later...
Anyone interested in the architecture of Nicholas Clayton might want to take a look at the February issue of Texas Highways. It has a pictorial on his work in Galveston in an article titled The Buildings of Nicholas Joseph Clayton

and if you are a faithful follower of Nich Clayton as I sure as hell am, you must take this annual tour.

Most of the tour is of his works of art.

Its almost here! Thank you a million 57TBird for the reminder!

I wish they would make a movie about this genius and his contributions to the world of turn of the century architecture. Much, much deserved.


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  • 3 years later...

Houstonians have often chosen to move on out to newer, more trendier and modern neighborhoods. The case with what is now Midtown, where the rich of Houston used to live around the turn of 1900, was that many sold and moved to River Oaks in the 1920's and 30's, as the automobile allowed a quick and scenic drive along Allen Parkway and Buffalo Speedway (names were suitable to the promotion of the new neighborhood!) to these "modern" homes situated away from the encroaching development of expanding downtown Houston. Many of the former palatial homes that graced the old Main Street area were torn down, after only 25-30 years of existence, to become sites for some of the first modern car dealerships and "strip" shopping centers that catered to drive up parking, on the diagonal, for their customers. Julia Ideson Building of the Houston Library does indeed have fascinating archival articles and photos of this transformation. The large book, Houston's Forgotten Heritage,is an invaluable resource to follow some of the city's early development in residences.

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  • The title was changed to Galveston And Houston Architectural Housing Styles

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