Galveston Texas
A Magical Island Kingdom
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Neighborhoods



In 1838, the new Galveston City Company hired surveyor John D. Groesbeck to lay out a street grid for the new city, which they would incorporate in 1839. Groesbeck chose a simple grid layout, with avenues running east and west, which were designated with letters, and streets running north and south, that were assigned numbers. As the years passed, many streets acquired two names; the original one, plus a new name to honor a prominent person, or landmark. For example, Avenue P is also Bernardo de Galvez, and 23rd Street is also known as Tremont.

It is not known exactly why Groesbeck chose small building lots for his design. It may have been the experience of living in New York City that persuaded him to create a small city, on this big sandbar, rather than a large rural town; but his choice certainly created a dense urban environment, which sets the feel and ambiance of the City.

His design called for seven narrow lots, on the north and south side of each block. Each lot was only 42 feet 10 inches wide, and 120 feet long. They were oriented north and south, and ran back to where they met a 20-foot-wide alley. From the other side of the alley, another seven lots completed the block. With fourteen lots squeezed into a 300 foot x 260 foot block, this would be a city dominated by closely-packed single-family dwellings, in most areas. This layout is why most houses have very small yards, and even grand mansions have small grounds in proportion to their size. Anyone who wanted to deviate from this plan had to buy more than one lot! It is the close proximity of the houses, and other buildings, that gives the City its "urban" feel, even with its relatively small population.

City Block Map 
The Galveston City Block.
Seven lots across the top, an alley,
and another seven lots on the bottom.


The closely-packed rows of buildings are also able to achieve the effect of creating "outdoor rooms", which produces the sense of being "intimately enclosed", in a protected environment. In addition, in the residential neighborhoods, some of the streets are sheltered by impressive canopies of Live Oak trees that form a kind of majestic alcove that encloses those beneath their limbs, and creates a special feeling of comfort and tranquility!

The people who live in the residential areas experience a unique and entertaining daily event, as they watch others pass by, from their front porches. This "parade" is made up of the usual vehicular traffic, but also includes many more pedestrians than seen in most towns, as well as horse-drawn carriages, the Galveston Trolley, and surfers on their way to "catch a wave"! Even in January, a few brave souls walk by with their wet suits on, and their surf boards tucked under one arm!

These neighborhoods take you back in time. They are places where people walk to the stores, the neighborhood bars and the beach; sit out on their stoops, and stop and visit with their neighbors, in their yards, or on their porches.

The original grid covered the area from about 6th Street to 57th Street, and ran from Avenue A, at the Harbor, to Avenue M. South of Avenue M, Groesbeck used blocks that were four times as large as the blocks in the main grid. These larger blocks were known as “outlots”, and offered more space for people who wanted large estates, farms, rural homesteads, major commercial spaces, or to subdivide these large lots at a later date.

The street grid continued to assign letters to every east-west avenue south of Avenue M, all the way to the Gulf. However, because the outlots were twice as long as the normal blocks, these avenues were further apart. In later years, the outlots were subdivided more and more, until they came to resemble the blocks north of Avenue M, so east-west avenues were cut through the middle of the original outlots, and assigned the name of the closest avenues, just north of them, plus ½. Thus we have, Avenue M ½, N ½ , O ½, P ½, etcetera.

Part of the charm of the City of Galveston is the scale of its streets. The 19th-Century layout was set up for trolleys, carriages and horses, but the narrow streets still accommodate trucks and cars quite nicely! 
This smaller scale makes the City ideal for walking, strolling or biking, but nothing is more than 10-15 minutes away by car! The only real traffic problem imposed by the original design is that it does not allow adequate space for today's parking requirements.

Construction of the City started, in the downtown area, between 20th and 25th Streets, near the Harbor. Residential dwellings sprang up in areas just south and east of downtown. Of course, many of the streets, farther away from the center of the new city, were not actually built for many years after incorporation, so these areas of the grid filled in over time.

It is difficult to say if the City had designated names for various neighborhoods, during its early existence, so this discussion is only concerned with a reasonable method to divide the City,
as it exists today, into neighborhoods. This page will primarily be concerned with the neighborhoods that are in the historic center of Galveston; what we call The Magical Island Kingdom. This is an area that runs from the Harbor to the Gulf, and from 6th Street to 39th Street. This is the same section of The Island that was protected by the original Seawall.

There are also differences of opinion about the names and boundaries of the City’s current neighborhoods, and neighborhood associations, so we will not try to settle these disputes, but will simply offer what we consider the most logical names, and boundaries.

There is a long tradition of moving houses, in the City of Galveston, that dates back to the 19th Century, so that a house that you find in one neighborhood, today, may have actually been built in another area. Some houses have been moved more than once!







Downtown

Downtown
The Hutchings-Sealy Building (1896); 2326-2328 Strand

The Downtown area has always been the commercial center, as well as the heart and soul of Galveston. The Harbor, and the business district, created the economic engine that made Galveston so prosperous in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. In the mid-to-late Nineteen Century, it was the most powerful banking and financial center between New Orleans and San Francisco. The Downtown area contains the largest concentration of important buildings, in the City, and one of the most important collections of 19th-Century commercial buildings in the country! This area is so historically significant that a section of Downtown Galveston has been designated as The Strand National Historic District.

Today, Downtown Galveston has been transformed into the home of over 95 shops, nightclubs, bars, restaurants, pubs, antique stores, boutiques, coffee shops, souvenir stores and art galleries; as well as many offices, apartments and lofts. It is also the center of a rich and diverse live music and art scene.

There is a sense of timelessness in Downtown Galveston. Nothing is more relaxing and enjoyable than strolling through the streets, or sitting outside at one of its many bars, coffee shops or restaurants and just letting the world drift by.

Downtown Galveston is THE place to go for many of the activities, and experiences that are unique to The Magical Island Kingdom, and it is also the locale for special events such as Mardi Gras, Dickens on the Strand, and the Lone Star Biker Rally.

The area of the Downtown, south of Church (Avenue F), is more residential in nature, and also includes Central Park and the old Galveston County Courthouse, as well as several churches

Downtown Self-Guided Tour

Downtown
The Stewart Title Building (1882); 220 22nd Street

The Downtown neighborhood runs from the Harbor to Broadway (Avenue J), and from 19th to 25th Streets.

The Strand National Historic District has its boundaries at Harborside Drive (Avenue A), Market (Avenue D), 20th Street and 25th Street.


The East End

East End
The Jacob Sonnentheil House (1887); 1826 Sealy

This neighborhood is made up of the large residential area east of Downtown Galveston. Many of the first residents of the new city chose to build their houses in the East End, with its relatively higher land, and its convenient access to the Downtown area. More affluent people chose to build in the area adjacent to Downtown, and closest to Broadway, so as you move further north and east, there is a greater variety of residential dwellings. Some are nearly as grand as those near Broadway, but many were built for the working class, and are smaller in scale, and much less opulent!

At the far north east corner of this neighborhood is the University of Texas Medical School complex (UTMB). This area is dominated by UTMB, which includes some historical buildings on campus, such as Old Red.

In 1971, 40 blocks of the East End became the City’s first historic district. It later added an additional 18 blocks, so that The East End Historic District now covers a large portion of what was, and is, the most prestigious residential area in the City. This is the place where many of the most prominent citizens of 19th-Century Galveston chose to build their homes.

East End Self-Guided Tour

East End
The Joseph Robertson House (1894); 1212 Sealy

The East End runs from 19th to 6th Street, and from the south side of Broadway (Avenue J) to Harborside Drive (Avenue A).

The East End Historic District runs roughly from 19th Street to 10th Street, and from the south side of Broadway (Avenue J) to Market (Avenue D); with some areas pushing as far north as The Strand (Avenue B).



San Jacinto

San Jacinto
The Marcus McLemore House (1869-70)

Most of the land south of Broadway (Avenue J) was considered sub-prime compared to the East End. This is why this area developed primarily as a working class neighborhood, but it had/has its share of grand houses, and country estates. In earlier times, there were also farms and ranches, and commercial uses, such as cotton compresses.

As the neighborhood with the longest frontage on the Gulf of Mexico, San Jacinto was also the heart of the development on the beach, and Galveston’s tourist industry. This area, that we call Beach Central, was located where 25th Street met the Gulf, so it straddled the boundary between two neighborhoods; San Jacinto and Kempner Park.
 
Beach Central Self-Guided Tour

When the 1900 Storm devastated Galveston, San Jacinto took the worst hit! It is estimated that the land area of this neighborhood extended about four blocks further south, than it currently does, because that much of it was reclaimed by the Gulf, during The Storm. The houses, and other structures, nearest the beach suffered more complete destruction than in any other neighborhood! As this debris was piled up, and pushed inland, it formed a natural breakwater, or seawall that eventually saved the rest of the city from more complete destruction. A large percentage of the 6,000 people that died that day lived in San Jacinto.

On 13 November 1885, a fire started at an ironworks at 17th Street and The Strand (Avenue B). It quickly spread through the East End residential area, and then it moved south of Broadway (Avenue J), where it destroyed 20 city blocks between 17th and 21st Streets. Most of these properties were rebuilt within a year, which gave them a new architectural consistency, and prominence. The area that burned, and was then rebuilt, forms the most contiguous area of prime real estate within San Jacinto, and it is now the heart of the Lost Bayou Historic District.

The San Jacinto Self-Guided Tour


San Jacinto
Engine House #5 (1891); 1614 Avenue K

The San Jacinto neighborhood forms the shape of a triangle between 23rd Street, Broadway (Avenue J) and Seawall Boulevard.

The Lost Bayou Historic District has its boundaries at 16th and 21st Streets, and Avenues K and M 1/2.

Beach Central runs from 25th Street to 20th Street along the Seawall.


Kempner Park

Kempner Park
The John H. Hutchings House (1859/1892); 2816 Avenue O

Like San Jacinto, Kempner Park lies south of Broadway. It also started with the regular grid pattern down to Avenue M, and outlots south of there to the Gulf, so its early history and uses were similar to those in San Jacinto. There were country estates, and commercial uses, such as cattle yards, slaughter houses, and cotton compresses, but the residential grid gradually came to resemble the older sections of the City. This neighborhood contains a very wide variety of housing, from the magnificent Hutching Estate, to simple shotgun houses for the working class. A portion of Kempner Park also developed into the City’s first predominately-Black neighborhood.

Kempner Park was the site of the Ursuline Academy, which was a spectacular building designed by Nicholas J. Clayton; and the Ursuline Convent. Although not truly contained within the neighborhood boundaries, the early City cemeteries were located just outside, and adjacent to this area; south of Broadway, between 40th and 43rd Streets.

Ursuline Academy
The Ursuline Academy

Kempner Park also contains the two oldest houses on The Island; the country estates of Michael B. Menard (1838), and Samuel May Williams (1839). In addition, the German pavilion known as Garten-Verein (1880) sits in the city park that gives the neighborhood its name. 

Although there are several prominent residential sections in this neighborhood, probably the most prestigious has become the Silk Stocking Historic District. This was an area of light development before the 1900 Storm, and the east side of 25th Street was being used as a site for cotton compresses. When The Storm wiped out what had been there, this 25th-Street corridor was open for re-development. Much like the re-building of the area that became the Lost Bayou Historic District, after the fire of 1885; the new construction along the 25th-Street corridor produced a contiguous run of magnificent houses.

Kempner Park Self-Guided Tour

Kempner Park
Garten-Verein (1880); 2704 Avenue O

The Kempner Park neighborhood runs from 23rd Street to 39th Street, and from Broadway (Avenue J) to the Seawall.

The Silk Stocking Historic District forms an irregular rectangle with boundaries at roughly Avenue P, Avenue K, 23rd Street and 25th Street.



The Industrial District

Industrial District
The Galveston Brewery (1895/1965); 33rd and Church

This is the final area, in the historic center of Galveston. It lies west of Downtown Galveston, and north of Kempner Park. In the early days, industrial and port activities dominated the land closest to the Harbor, and west of 29th street. There were huge cotton compresses, the city gas and water works, and railroad yards. Although there were some grand houses along Broadway, and as far north as Postoffice, most of the residential dwellings, in this neighborhood, were built to accommodate people in the lowest economic classes, in and among the industrial structures that dominated the area.

Of all the neighborhoods in The Magical Island Kingdom, The Industrial District has suffered the worst from urban renewal, and demolition, and has been helped the least by preservation, and rehabilitation efforts. Since no sizable contiguous area of historical significance remains, there is no historic district in this neighborhood.

Industrial District Self-Guided Tour

Industrial District
The Galveston, Houston & Henderson Railroad Station (1904);
325 33rd Street

The Industrial District runs from 25th Street to 39th Street, and from Broadway (Avenue J) to the Harbor.


Industrial District
The neighborhood tries to make a comeback:
The Village Coffeehouse (????); 2828 Church Street



Galveston Historic Preservation Plan

Property Owner's Guide to Galveston's Historic Districts Part 1
Property Owner's Guide to Galveston's Historic Districts Part 2

Design Standards for
Historic Properties of Galveston Texas:
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 - History
Chapter 2 - Preservation Concepts
Chapter 3 - Application Process
Chapter 4 - Development of the Neighborhoods
Chapter 5 - Design Standards for Residential Buildings
Chapter 6 - Design Standards for New Construction
Chapter 7 - Design Standards for Non-Residential Buildings
Chapter 8 - Strand/Mechanic Commercial District History
Chapter 9 - Design Standards for Commercial Buildings
Chapter 10 - New Construction in Strand/Mechanic
Appendix



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