The yellow flowers have bloomed around the Broadway cemetery, Mother’s Day is around the corner, and the weather is heating up - and that all points to one thing, Galveston Historic Homes Tour. This marks the 42nd year Galveston Historical Foundation (GHF) has presented the event that brings families, friends, and many tourists to the island for two weekends.
“Homes Tour patrons are some of the most passionate and dedicated event participants you could ever imagine,” said Jami Durham, Galveston Historical Foundation's historian. “We always hope to feature several houses every year that have never been on tour before. This year, five of the nine houses on tour are featured for the first time."
Each year GHF spends months touring homes, making selections, and cultivating a unique tour experience for those who attend each year or those who are first timers. “They look at several criteria: age, condition, location, historical significance - be it connected to the person who built it or the architect who designed it, or a past owner who might have made significant contributions to the community,” Durham explained. “The current owner’s willingness to allow their home to be featured is also important. People forget that these aren’t 'model' homes. Someone lives in them. And it takes a very special homeowner to open their door for two weekends and allow 5000 people to walk through.”
Durham, who is also the co-author of Galveston: Playground of the Southwest, said many people believe if their homes are not filled with antiques it’s not eligible, but that’s simply not the case. “Our patrons appreciate the juxtaposition of time between a Victorian-era house and modern furniture. We like to show people that anyone and everyone can make a home out of an old house," she said.
This year old isn’t so old anymore as GHF is hosting a special event the second weekend of Galveston’s Historic Homes Tour, The Mid-Century Modern Tour and Happy Hour, May 7th.
“The Harbor View neighborhood lies along Galveston Bay, creating extraordinary views of the water,” explains Galveston Historical Foundation’s Chief Executive Officer, Dwayne Jones. “Platted in 1954 and designed by Houston landscape architect Herbert Skogland, only three streets - Harbor View, Harbor View Circle, and Marine - comprise the Harbor View Development Company’s subdivision. Physicians and administrators from UTMB found Harbor View particularly attractive for new homes. Today, the largely intact neighborhood has some of the island’s best mid-century residences along walkable streets with a safe, friendly environment.”
While the Mid-Century Modern Tour is only for one evening, you can split up the regular tour over 4 days and two weekends if you like, and there is usually lots to see.
One of the most interesting houses on the tour wasn’t even a house at all, it’s a commercial property. “The original use was for the Texas Bottling Works, who bottled Cherry Blossom and Orange Crush soda, and a fortified beverage called Iron Brew,” Durham explained about The Manchester Building. “Although the building was built in 1905, and the lot is right in downtown, this is the first building to ever be on this piece of land. Royal Crown and Nehi were bottled there until 1965. I won’t spoil all the surprises and unique amenities this property contains, but it’s sure to be a crowd pleaser."
Durham’s research into the homes found another oddity that makes a particular home one of this year's more curious additions. “This is our 'rehabilitation in progress' property - 3624 Avenue R 1/2. The house was a 'ready-cut' house from the 1915 Aladdin House Company catalog. The Fairmont model, as the house was referenced in the catalog, was shipped to Galveston from Michigan," Durham said. “The way I discovered it was by reading the property’s original 1915 insurance record. Down at the bottom, in very small print were the words House shipped from Michigan ready to nail together. Further investigation revealed it to be from the Aladdin House Company. Their company slogan was Homes Built in a Day. Each piece of lumber was numbered, and the house came with assembly instructions (and photographs) to help guide you along as you put it together."
So this build-a-house came with windows, doors, hardware, fixtures, roofing shingles, and enough paint for two coats, inside and out. Durham noted the house was built by a man who used it as rental property. It was donated to GHF, and the organization will sell the property once it’s finished.
Tickets purchased in advance save you $5 each. They are available on the GHF website at galvestonhistory.org, and GHF shops at Bishop’s Palace (1402 Broadway), Architectural Salvage Warehouse (2228 Broadway) and Eighteen Seventy One (2217 Strand). Tickets are good any or all four days of the tour. You can’t see the same house twice, but it you want to spread them out over two days or four days, you can. You don’t have to visit the houses in any particular order.
The entire crew at GHF would like to send a loud shout out to the volunteers. “It takes literally hundreds of them to make this tour happen. GHF could not host this event without our dedicated volunteers. They are the real stars," Durham said.
Photo credit: Denise Alexander, Galveston Historical Foundation