Past Gallery Exhibit – The Small Houses of Galveston
A Retrospective Exhibit Presented by Rosenberg Library
with guest curator Ellen Beasley
author of The Alleys and Back Buildings of Galveston
and The Corner Store and co-author of Galveston Architecture Guidebook.
In 1975, when Galveston was expanding and energizing its preservation program as part of the American Bicentennial celebration, Burke Evans and I felt that a huge swath of Galveston was being overlooked — the city’s remarkable collection of small houses, a collection that numbered literally in the thousands.
|Before and after photographs of the raised cottage at 2008 N½ are among the most dramatic in the exhibit.
It was built in 1893 by brothers August J. and Henry C. Henck, Jr. in their first joint venture as property developers.
We decided that the best way to call attention to the small houses of Galveston was an exhibit. There was nothing academic about what we did or how we did it. Little research had been done so our selection of buildings was all gut but that was allowed in 1975. We went for ones we liked, thought were “interesting,” deserved attention or looked threatened. Sometimes we fudged on the definition of small. For every house we chose, we knew there were dozens more that fit the same rationale for inclusion.
All the photographs were taken in 1975 by Burke, often wearing his white doctor’s coat, and using a 2×2 format camera. Harold Drushel, from the University of Texas Medical Branch, did all the darkroom work while I did the research, writing, and coordination. Featuring thirty-eight houses and addresses, (some with multiple photographs), the exhibit formally opened in Galveston on February 29, 1976 — Leap Day.
|Some houses, such as this dormered cottage built in the mid-1880s at 2914 Avenue L, show
little change during the forty year period. It was built for the Ernst Wittig family and, in fact,
may have been built by Wittig who, at the time, was shifting trades from butcher to carpenter.
There are two things that prompted wanting to do The Small Houses of Galveston: Another Take. The first is to answer the question: What has happened to these houses since 1976? After all, it is a forty-year period during which, on the positive side, Galveston’s preservation program has become a national model but on the negative side, the city experienced a powerful Hurricane Ike in 2008.
The houses, like Galveston itself, have fared quite well. The majority show varying stages of renovation and care and only five are gone, a smaller number than what seemed likely in 1976.
|In December 1901, this three-room commissary house was built for screwman George Kreid on property his family had owned since 1875. Kreid received $250 in relief money from the city’s Building Committee after the 1900 hurricane. The owner of a similar commissary house shown in the exhibit at 1008 Avenue I also received $250 from the committee.|
The second reason is to call attention once again to one of Galveston’s greatest resources. Upon moving back to Galveston, it was driving through the streets that reminded me just how remarkable this collection of small houses is. While they each have a story that enriches and broadens the history of Galveston, their most important quality, their major contribution, is their presence on the Galveston landscape.
So, please enjoy The Small Houses of Galveston: Another Take and then go for a drive or a walk and see for yourself!
Ellen Beasley, guest curator
(and Burke Evans in spirit)
1975 images by Burke Evens / 2016 images by Ellen Beasley