The Strand, in the late 1880’s was dubbed “The Wall Street of the Southwest.” It was a street of opulent Victorian buildings, with five banks, wholesale houses, grocers, liquor and cigar dealers, cotton factors, commission merchants, insurance companies, printers and eight newspapers, dry goods companies, steam and sail ship agencies, auction houses, saloons, and sailor boarding houses.
At that time, Galveston was one of the richest cities in the world per capita. It boasted being the “third richest city in the United States in proportion to population” and efforts were being made to increase its sea port value. All major railroads served Galveston and 60 percent of the state’s cotton crop was exported through its port. Before the end of the century, The Strand was not only the financial center of Galveston and Texas, but much of the Southwest as well.
The Strand – 1975 to present
More than 30 years ago, the Galveston Historical Foundation and Cynthia and George Mitchell began the process of bringing Galveston’s downtown back to life through efforts to restore and preserve the architectural history of the area.
Galveston’s downtown had thrived from the mid-1800’s, weathered the 1900 Storm, and continued to function through the 1950’s. However, economic decline in Galveston began in the 1960’s and many of the historic downtown buildings fell into disrepair or were demolished. In the mid-1970’s, the Mitchells saw the need to revive the downtown and preserve its history. They began with several buildings and by encouraging the Galveston Historical Foundation to play a prominent role in the preservation of buildings and homes on the Island. In 1985, to celebrate the renovation and grand opening of The Tremont House, an elegant European style hotel they restored in the downtown district, the Mitchells revived the annual Mardi Gras celebrations and parades, a 75-year old tradition in the city that had been lost during World War II.
The renaissance for the 36-block business district was slow, but proceeded with the persistence of the Mitchell’s vision. The Downtown Revitalization Coalition was founded in 1984 when there were just 12 businesses in The Strand Historic District. Today there are more than 200 viable businesses. In 1996, the Downtown Revitalization Coalition merged with the Historic Strand Partnership to form the Historic Downtown Strand Seaport Partnership.
A major catalyst in the development of Galveston’s historic downtown is the Tax Reinvestment Zone Program which funded $5 million in improvements to The Strand and surrounding areas. Improvements included pedestrian lighting, signage, graphics, and improvements to Post Office Street and Pier 21.
The buildings restored by the Mitchells were held to the highest standard of preservation practice, resulting in numerous awards from organizations such as the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Houston AIA, and the Texas Society of Architects.