Nonprofit Organizations Rally to Provide Classes, Salvage, Information and Guidance.
By Barbara Canetti
They are the keepers of the cultural history of their cities. They aim to protect, revitalize and restore homes, buildings, landmarks and the heritage of their areas by engaging the community as well as elected officials.
The Galveston Historical Foundation (GHF) and Preservation Houston are two hardworking nonprofits formed to preserve what is left of the cities’ oldest structures in neighborhoods where new construction threatens the historical character and personality of the community.
It’s not been easy, but preservation leaders say it is worth the battle.
“Signs of neglect and abandonment as well as forthright demolition were quickly making Galveston a desert of blighted areas,” says Dwayne Jones, executive director of GHF. “The early initiatives of GHF and the supportive response from many in the community and architectural professionals in the region began to educate other residents and visitors. That educational component started a slow but deliberate arc to recognize the island’s history as an economic tool for tourism and growth.”
In Galveston where many structures were destroyed by a huge 1877 fire and then the devastating 1900 Storm, GHF has been successful in helping to create four historic districts – the East End, The Strand, Lost Bayou and the Silk Stocking. GHF played a critical role in bringing attention to the vast collection of historic buildings in the city and their significance in state and national history.
In the 1950s and 1960s Galvestonians showed little regard for older neighborhoods, the mansions in the East End, and the historic Strand and Mechanic area. In those areas, strict rules today regulate the kind of exterior improvements allowed, therefore the homes and businesses in these neighborhoods have (for the most part) retained their turn-of-the-century charm. Galveston’s preservation activity actually began in 1871, with the development of the Galveston Historical Society, set up primarily as a historical and literary society. In 1958, it merged to become the newly incorporated Galveston Historical Foundation.
GHF’s mission is public education, historical preservation advocacy, maritime preservation (the Elissa), and stewardship of old properties. Besides the annual and very successful spring home tour, GHF also sponsors the popular Dickens on the Strand pre-Christmas festival, as well as backyard tours, sacred places tours, and a series of classes aimed at homeowners who want help in preserving their 100+ year-old homes.
Additionally, to further assist those homeowners, GHF operates an architectural warehouse where doors, windows, shutters, fixtures and other elements taken from tear-downs are sold to do-it-yourselfers fixing up their island homes. All items purchased from this store – at pretty good prices – must remain on the island and be incorporated into another local house.
GHF also assists with wind storm exemption certificates, which allows owners of designated homes to do repairs that sometimes conflict with today’s building codes, such as the type of glass required in windows and doors.
Houston, which has saved many of the mid-19th century structures, has had a running battle with inner-city development. With no zoning laws, neighborhoods have been ripped apart with incessant lot-by-lot growth with no sense of community or character. Preservation Houston began in 1978, to preserve the local culture, diversity, invention, vitality and can-do spirit by celebrating and revitalizing buildings, neighborhoods and places. But it wasn’t until 1995, that city officials, under the leadership of then-Mayor Bob Lanier, passed local ordinances to protect historic structures.
Protecting irreplaceable historic structures is paramount in protecting the city’s architectural and cultural heritage, officials say. Besides appreciating history, Preservation Houston focuses on urban redevelopment, revitalization, defense of neighborhood integrity, authenticity of place and preservation of green spaces. To assist homeowners, Preservation Houston worked with city officials to create the Historic Preservation manual which lays out rules for the remodeling, reconstructing or revitalizing structures in the city’s 22 historic districts.
Additionally, Preservation Houston conducts popular (and frequently sold out) architectural walks of neighborhoods and historical locations. Reservations and tickets are available on the website at www.preservationhouston.org
Presently, the city of Houston is establishing guidelines for three historic neighborhoods in the Heights and holding community meetings to get citizen feedback on what residents want for their areas. The process could take up to a year to complete, according to Suzy Hartgrove, public affairs manager with the city’s planning department. Residents can get more information at www.houstonplanning.com -- look at the tab labeled Houston Heights Historic Districts Design Guidelines.
“This project is directed by ordinance. It is important to protect the historical assets of the city for future generations and tell our story through those assets,” says Hartgrove. The guidelines will be incorporated into a visual reference guide for homeowners and developers of what is an appropriate design element for those areas.
Houston City Council Approves Landmark Designations for Historic Properties
The City Council approved Protected Landmark status for the Mr. & Mrs. S.I. Morris House at 2 Waverly Court. The contemporary residence was designed by prominent architect Seth Irwin.
The Judge & Mrs. J.A. Platt House at 3311 Del Monte Drive was designated a City of Houston Landmark. The finely detailed French Renaissance style house was designed by Joseph Finger in 1937.
City Council also approved landmark designations for two downtown properties: the Melrose Building (Hermon Lloyd & W.B. Morgan, 1952), 1121 Walker Avenue, and the Stowers Building (Green & Finger, 1913), 820 Fannin Street, downtown; and the Gulf Oil Filling Station (1925) at 3709 LaBranch Street, Midtown.
In addition, Preservation Houston nominated the 1911 Craftsman-style residence of Joseph R. Greenhill III and Violet Stanuell Greenhill at 2520 Mason Street in the Fairgrounds Addition of Montrose.
Preservation Houston staff also assisted the City of Houston preservation office in the designation of the Heights Water Works as a Protected Landmark, located at 449 W. 19th Street.
Landmark designation is extremely important because it offers the only protection for historic properties. Designated landmarks may also qualify for City of Houston property tax incentives, if they are restored to high standards.