Past Treasure of the Month – March 2012
The Rosenberg Library presented architectural remnants from the Morris Lasker residence as its March 2012 Treasure of the Month. Objects on display included a silver-plated door knob, glazed fireplace tiles, decorative cast-cement fragments, and a section of colorful stained glass ornamentation. This collection of artifacts was donated in 1989 by the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and by Elisabeth Darst of Galveston.
Born in Jorcain, Prussia in 1840, Morris Lasker immigrated to the United States at the age of fourteen. Lasker worked various odd jobs in New York, Georgia, and Florida but eventually settled in Central Texas around 1860 and was employed as a store clerk. During the Civil War, he enlisted in the Second Texas Regiment cavalry and fought in the Battle of Galveston as a member of Hood’s Brigade in 1863.
Morris Lasker returned to Galveston several years later and established the M. Lasker Real Estate Company. As his real estate business boomed, Lasker ventured into banking, serving as a director of First National Bank and of Island City Savings Bank. He was also President of the Toyah Land and Cattle Company.
One of Galveston’s most notable philanthropists, Lasker provided generous gifts to the Adoue Seaman’s Bethel, the Osterman Widow and Orphans Fund, the Galveston Orphans’ Home, and the Letitia Rosenberg Home for Women. He also provided funds to establish the Lasker Home for Homeless Children in 1912. Lasker was an active member of the Temple B’Nai Israel congregation and served on the Galveston Board of School Trustees. He died in 1916 at the age of 76.
In 1889, Mr. Lasker commissioned respected Galveston architect Nicholas Clayton to design a grand residence for his wife and eight children at 1728 Broadway. One of Clayton’s largest private homes, the Lasker House boasted five bedrooms, a lavish reception hall, oversized baths, and a kitchen complete with the most modern amenities of the day. The Classical design of the pink stucco home featured Romanesque details and double-tiered porches with elaborate cast-iron details. The interior of the home was outfitted with ornate hardware, art-glass panels, burled pine molding, massive doors, and a circular staircase fashioned from square nails and wood pegs. Construction costs for the home totaled $22,000, and the project took three years to complete.
Born in Ireland in 1840, Nicholas Clayton was raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. He moved to Galveston in 1872 to help supervise the construction of the First Presbyterian Church (1903 Church Street). His designs were so influential that architect and author of The Galveston That Was, Howard Barnstone, called the period from the 1870s – 1890s the “Clayton Era.” Examples of his work that are still standing include: Walter Gresham’s residence known today as the Bishop’s Palace (1402 Broadway), Lemuel C. Burr’s home (1228 Sealy), the Leon & H. Blum Co. Building — today the Tremont House (2300 Mechanic), the Trueheart-Adriance building (210 Kempner), the dome on Sacred Heart Church (1302 Broadway), and the Hutchings and Sealy Building (Strand at Mitchell Ave.). The 1900 Storm coupled with legal and financial woes hurt Clayton’s business, but he continued to practice until his death in 1916. Clayton’s grand architectural style had a profound influence on Galveston that visitors and residents still enjoy today. Many of his letters, drawings, and blueprints are housed at the Galveston and Texas History Center in the Rosenberg Library.
Despite a public campaign to save the Morris Lasker house, it was razed in 1967 to make way for an apartment building. The demolition of this beautiful home helped spark the historic home preservation movement in Galveston. Many people began to see that the rich architectural heritage of the island could be an asset for the city. Organizations like the Galveston Historical Foundation helped ensure that Galveston’s historic buildings would not suffer the same fate as the Lasker home.