Sunday, May 8, 2016

Galveston Day: The Strand

Street scene along The Strand
The historic district of Galveston is centered on The Strand, one block inland from the port.  You know immediately you are in a historic district, with old-style architecture, trolley tracks, hansom cabs, chain restaurants in historic structures, dessert shops aplenty.

And big giant mega cruise ships close in sight,  Historic Galveston is a cruise port.

It is a cruise port without nearly enough to keep a cruise ship that size happy and content with things to do,  There are some very nice older buildings, such as this:

And this:

There are historic markers identifying the ages of various interesting buildings:

The sidewalks and streets are nice and wide, which doesn't seem to fit the historic nature, but is welcome nevertheless:

And there are cool little quirks here and there:

But there's not enough there there.  Yes, I did have a delicious milkshake at La King's candy store (which was filled with kids acting like, yes, kids in a candy store).  But my Tex-Mex food was kind of "meh" at the historic Original Mexican Cafe.

Basically, Galveston is a downscale beach town.  (Not that there's anything wrong with that -- I like some downscale beach towns, dislike others, but I like more downscale beach towns than I do upscale beach towns.)  A downscale beach town with a small historic district attached, with a cruise ship port attached to that.

There is one very interesting quirk that resulted from the last major hurricane that crossed Galveston Island, which was Ike in 2008.  The trunks of a number of trees that were otherwise destroyed in the hurricane have been carved into sculpture.  I found a few here and there:

This was just in the front yard of a small apartment building,  My favorite were these in a small park next to the Galveston Fire Department:

That's a dog in the foreground, looking forlornly at ...

An elevated fire hydrant,

It works for so many reasons in this locale.  These sculptures give Galveston something the cruise ships, dessert restaurants, and T-shirt shops can never give:  character.

This was the highlight of Galveston Day,

Galveston Day: The Bishop's Palace

The Bishop's Palace
I love the Houston area.  I desperately needed a weekend getaway.  I regret not having spent anytime in Galveston when I have visited Houston.  So this weekend was going to be a Galveston getaway.

Except that hotels in Galveston are really expensive on weekends.  And Houston is cheap.  And only 45 miles away.  So I opted to sleep in Houston and visit the historic section of Galveston.

As you enter the historic part of Galveston, which is the northwest part of Galveston island, opposite the ocean and around the harbor, there is the giant monument in the middle of Broadway.  It's the Texas War Heroes monument:

It was erected in the spring of 1900.  1900?  That was the year of the Galveston hurricane, the most deadly natural disaster in U.S. history.  The monument appears to have survived.

Another survivor?  The Bishop's Palace!  (And that, my friends, is a segue.)  What caught my eye was this beautiful church on the periphery of the historic district:

It's right across the street from the now-named Bishop's Palace.

The original Sacred Heart church alas did not survive the 1900 hurricane.  This was rebuilt (very magnificently) on its original site.

But let's tour the Bishop's Palace, name for the bishop of the Diocese of Galveston who lived there.

The Bishop's Palace originally was known as the Gresham Castle, named for its original occupant, the Gresham Family, whose patriarch was Walter Gresham.  Mr. Gresham was from King and Queen County in Virginia and he was -- this is very important -- a graduate of the University of Virginia who studied law.

The house was lavish even for its time.  That is the formal dining room.

Beautiful staircase to the second floor.

Mrs. Gresham apparently was quite an accomplished artist. She painted the scene at the top of the mantle.

Exploring some of the other rooms:

Who's that apparition in the mirror?  Oh.  That;s me.

That's looking into the street from the front parlor.

This is an interesting piece of original furniture,  It's a postcard box, for one to organize picture postcards received from around the world.

This is the conservatory.  It was made of zinc.

The phone is not an original furnishing.

Ascending the staircase to the second floor, one is greeted by a stained glass window of Saint Therese.

Second floor bedroom, used by the bishop after the diocese bought the house.

One room was converted into a chapel with a beautiful altar piece.

The house withstood the 1900 hurricane so well that it was a sanctuary that housed storm survivors in the aftermath.  However, today, it is having difficulty surviving the Galveston climate, as salty seaspray -- this far inland -- is wreaking havoc with the palace roof.

The Art Car Museum

Early 70s Karmann Ghia. Covered in seashells.
When I was in Houston over Christmas, the Art Car Museum was closed.

So with a weekend trip to Houston and Galveston on the itinerary, I thought I would visit.  This time it was open.

Houston is famous for its "art car" scene and its annual "Art Car Parade," held in April.  All of the vehicles on display at the museum are (a) driveable and (b) once were actually driven in the actual parade.  My favorite of the cars on display was shell-encrusted Karmann Ghia:

This Monte Carlo was quite interesting, too:

I thought this Prius was a little "eh," but apparently it is someone's regular transportation ride and, thus, only on temporary loan:


Finally, there was this little number, the only one of the four cars on display not to have started life on the showroom floor as a common model:

I'm guessing one would have to be jockey-sized to pilot this vehicle which, incidentally, appeared to be a British model (steering on the right).

And the fact that there were only four vehicles points to the problem with this museum.  It's too small.  But I guess the actual owners of these "art cars" want to keep them for themselves -- and in some cases drive them -- rather than put them in a museum for show,  So I guess the real solution is not a visit to the art car museum, but a visit to an art car parade.  Some day.