Galveston has fallen into the drink a few times. Perhaps common knowledge but I guess not, don’t build a city at or close to sea level, especially not on the windward side of an enormous gulf where warm water breeds storms of a vicious nature. Victorian Texas didn’t get the memo and so they not only built a city, they built a beautiful city… To replace the beautiful city that burned down just after the War of Northern Aggression/Civil War/Recent Unpleasantness as well as a few additional fires.
The hurricane and flood of 1900 consumed most of that city built to replace the city that burned. Sitting on an island is a hazard for any city. At the height of summer, when all of actively mobile Houston was catching the then fresh air (this was before Texas City, what people say, oh I smell Texas city [it’s a sulfur cancerous smell]) the city succumbed to a violent storm. Somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 died. It was a terrible blow to the city and to the ruling class of Houston.
To respond to nature, rather than give up the island and retreat to the mainland, give Mother Nature back Her uninhabited island, the City Fathers (with the Mother’s tacit blessing I am sure) asked and demanded of the State Wig Party (or whoever they had) to call upon the Federal Government to activate the Army Corp Of Engineers who, one generation removed from sapping the defenses of Charleston and assisting Sherman in salting the earth, came to save Galveston by pushing up sand and rock and pouring a varied amount of cement.
So they built a sea wall. Raised the city a few feet. And saved the day. The blessed city was rebuilt rebuilt and large houses again sprung up. Then… The car came. The un-segregated city came, and “earl” was discovered off the coast turning the agrarian mainland and pristine gulf into one industrial and endless southern version of New Jersey’s “Meadowlands”. And anyway, on a jet the average middle class duck could get away to Mexico for the warm un-brown ocean waters and Colorado for cooler calmer weather.
It is a hot walk in any direction and as I rode my rusted rental bike, I wished for some trees. Hurricane Alicia. Hurricane Rita, Hurricane Ike, and a number of other smaller storms have killed off most of the major trees in and around the city and they have not since been replanted, not that a few saplings could provide much shelter from the sweltering sun. I rode about quiet streets and many houses were just lone survivors sitting unused in a field now overgrown and lumpy, the way so many former cities look today.
So again… Galveston fell into the shitter. This time, not born by ocean winds and the raging of tides.
Not that the ocean had finished with Galveston. Having become a place for the rising middle class to store boats and toys in various beach houses, Neptune had his way with the city not once, but twice since the implementation of Reaganomics and the trickled down approach. So, other than FEMA coming with a fuckyou letter, and the closing of any military outpost still extant, there was little help for Galveston, and again the fine houses and establishments and rows of second home fell into rack and ruin.
Today oil rigs being repaired vie for a skyline along with cruse ships on their way to and from other places. The downtown is like Brigadoon as are so many “historic downtowns” – existing for a moment and then vanishing. Several building downtown still bare the scars of various storms, social economic and natural. One store, an antique shop, was apparently a much larger place according to the proprietor, a suspicious older woman who took my interest as some type of preparation for a heist, least the total crap that was her inventory stolen in some Oceans 11 incident… It was a long time ago since this storm and still upstairs was closed, a curtain held off the back end and it was clear that whatever this place had been before become a junk shop was much grander and now entirely a footnote in history.
From the other side of the island the seawall rises to protect the current ruined development and aspersions of future greatness. The ocean ebbs and flows a chocolate brown. As I was there the health department declared the water the same as “toilet water.” Nevertheless, the locals insisted the water was plenty safe. I had to take them at their word, since it looked plenty horrible but I was there for the ocean. I took my chances with the flesh eating and brain eating bacteria and other wee beasts of the poo poo kingdom.
What is now the Pleasure Pier was once a hotel of some note called the Flagship Hotel. Rita tore a hole in it, the man at the bar stool said to me, for some reason, given the exuberance of that weekend, I was not entirely sure his motives and whether he was trying to engage in conversation to pick me up or just being friendly. The hole was there for years. You could see rooms, all made up, the beds, the furniture, the pillows in place. But there was a missing part of the building and it just stood there. Then [unintelligible] bought up that and [other locations not noted so hence forgotten] and built that pier and is sitting on the rest of the places. I thought of the poor black sections of the old town. Run down and sun burned. I thought of the Dollar Stores and Chicken Places that ruined a once grand boulevard…. Huh? I inquired. But, their table had been called and he and his party bid me goodnight. End of history lesson. (You can learn more from another great blog HERE)
I bumbled back to the hotel. Bikes and trikes and ambulatory vacationers drunk and sober traversed the Seawall and off, off in the distance was a series of storms marching across the mainland in gloriously varied coloured light. Galveston is still alive, somewhere between being a southern gulf coast Coney Island and the chemtrail manufacturers of Trenton, NJ. From most beaches on the east one can see the smoke stacks spewing godknowswhat from the refineries and the deep sea intercontinental freighters are so common and regular surfers have abandoned native waves for riding the wakes of these heavy with PRC goods floating cities. These beaches are full of people and beach culture, even if it seems to be past not just one, but several hay-days. The old city itself has its charm, but like the beach, it could use an injection of some sort, something new, maybe a few trees would help too. Rebuild. Just in time for the next storm.
Editor’s Note: Sadly, much of this may be a rehash from an older blog post. The writer of this blog was there to learn how to surf but didn’t seem to get a new view of the city of Galveston. Perhaps a fresher perspective will be provided should the writer choose to post about that experience.