The Galveston Strand, in the late 1880’s was dubbed “The Wall Street of the South.” 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 Galveston Strand was not only the financial center of Galveston and Texas, but much of the South, 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 encouraged 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, the Texas Historical Commission and the Texas Society of Architects.
After nearly two centuries in existence, the Strand National Historic Landmark District, Galveston’s heart and soul, has continued to blossom into a gathering place for the community. The modern-day Strand District, named for the historic Strand Street on which it is located, is home to a wide variety of shops, historical points of interests, art galleries, museums, and many top-rated restaurants.
There is so much to see and do in the area, that you can easily enjoy a full weekend on the Strand. Spend the night in Galveston’s only downtown hotel, the historic and award-winning Tremont House, conveniently located just one block south of Strand Street. The original Tremont House was built in 1839, the very same year that Galveston was founded, and was a favorite destination of the rich and fashionable at the time. It has hosted several US presidents, soldiers from both sides during the Civil War, and even Sam Houston himself. The current location of the Tremont House is its third location. In 1981, George and Cynthia Mitchell acquired the 1879 Leon & H Blum Building and transformed it into the third Tremont House. For a true Galveston experience, the Tremont House should be on your must-see list.
Stroll through the beautiful historical streets and admire the Victorian architecture. Feel as if you have been transported to another era with an old-fashioned horse and carriage ride, giving you the perfect vantage point from which to explore the city streets. To enjoy modern-day shopping in an iconic piece of Galveston architectural history, check out the Rosenberg Building.
Originally constructed in 1875, the multi-story brick building is notable in both its history and its architecture. Henry Rosenberg, one of Galveston’s first philanthropists, funded the construction of the Rosenberg Building. Inside, it has a beautiful skylight that allows natural light to fill the building through a three-story atrium, which is representative of the iconic architecture of the time. Today, this historic property is filled with a number of unique local shops, offering anything from bath and body product, made onsite at The Spice & Tea Exchange to jerky made from beef and all sorts of exotics at The Beef Jerky Outlet.
Just a short walk away is Pier 21, located directly on the harbor and filled with incredible entertainment, history, and dining. Grab a bite to eat at one of the Pier 21 restaurants or book a room at the Harbor House Hotel and Marina to really submerge yourself into the Strand's unique culture.
If you would like to learn more about Galveston and the rich history of the area, visit our tenants page and our our Galveston Strand events page. There, you can plan your next visit to Galveston, and start making your long list of all the incredible shopping, entertainment, culture, and dining the town has to offer.