Reports From Galveston
Below are updates from Peter Brink, former executive director of Galveston Historical Foundation from 1973 to 1989, and current Senior Vice President, Programs, at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Helping Preserve Galveston's History
Galveston County Daily News
My visit to Galveston last week was bittersweet; on one hand, I was saddened by the enormous amount of damage Hurricane Ike inflicted on the city’s historic areas. But at the same time, I also saw first-hand the courageous response of Galvestonians to the storm, and the impressive progress in debris clean-up and remediation of damage that has already taken place.
I went to Galveston looking for additional ways in which the National Trust for Historic Preservation can partner with the Galveston Historical Foundation (GHF) on recovery efforts. For the past three years, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has been working on the ground in New Orleans focusing on post-Katrina recovery, and that work has given us extensive insight into large-scale disaster response efforts. I traveled to New Orleans just a few weeks after Katrina struck in 2005, and as I walked through Galveston last week, comparisons to the New Orleans I saw then came to mind.
We had a coordinating call this afternoon with NTHP (SWO Director Daniel Carey and me), Texas Historical Commission, Galveston Historical Foundation, and City of Galveston Preservation Officer. Highlights include:
- Residents in core City were allowed back starting this Wednesday. Folks are returning - needing to do new electrical and plumbing hook ups in many houses, where water more than 10 inches. Utility companies doing a great job. Still issues with sewage and drinking water.
- GHF is focusing on its damaged historic properties (1859 Ashton Villa and the 1861 Federal Customs House, where GHF has its offices) and at the same time working to get fliers out to returning residents.
- Conflicting information exists about FEMA position on allowing use of federal funds to demolish historic structures where damage determined to exceed 50% of pre-storm value - and a FEMA person saying this is so if water exceeded 4 feet in structure. I offer our experience in New Orleans that this was not the case re historic neighborhoods. THC says other FEMA contacts are saying this does not apply to historic structures.
- GHF dealing with strict Texas law re mold remediation. Concern that this could force owners to rip out interiors where lesser mitigation could do the job. Concerns that may have to comply to get insurance. THC to take this up with appropriate state agencies.
- GHF sharing list of 40 volunteering structural engineers and architects from PreservationNation of National Trust with City Preservation Officer
- She sees need increasing for such assistance.
- THC is to open office a week from Monday to help with sec 106 demolition issues and provide guidance to owners.
- National Trust is looking at ways to help publicize GHF's December event "Dickens on The Strand" - an event that will be held this year and normally draws nearly 100,000 people - it is a magical event and provides critical income for GHF operation.
Beaumont, Orange and nearby communities
- Two THC assessment teams have visited Orange. Widespread damage, but could have been worse.
- THC opening office in Beaumont to assist.
- THC has emailed the 40 volunteering structural engineers and architects from PreservationNation to seek their assistance.
We've received new images of Galveston, courtesy of Robert Mihovil. Click here to view the slideshow
A few key highlights from the coordinating call on September 17th. This included the Galveston Historical Foundation, Galveston City Preservation Officer, Texas Historical Commission, Preservation Texas, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
- The City of Galveston is now doing windshield survey of all historic areas (some 2,000 structures). They are finding water damage (see above) but only minimal wind damage. Demolition does not seem likely in most cases.
- An urgent need is for owners to get back and address water damage - but this cannot happen yet because of the broken sewers and lack of potable water creating a health problem. The Mayor is balancing this, and all hope this can be worked out in the next several days.
- GHF staff is going on island tomorrow to check its properties and to put flyers with next steps on houses in historic areas - the flyer is based on one developed by the National Trust and Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans for Katrina.
- The City foresees need for structural engineers and architects in selected situations, but not huge at this time - we are coordinating on that.
- THC is taking the lead in helping communities outside of Galveston. Preservation Texas is assisting.
Galveston Historical Foundation has just received permission from authorities to go on the island today for several hours to do emergency remediation of its historic properties and to assess broader damage to historic areas.
George Mitchell, a major owner of historic buildings in the Strand NHL district, was able to visit his properties yesterday. He reported to me last evening that the damage is substantial due to high water surge of 8 plus feet on first floors. At the same time, he is determined to recover and is documenting damage for insurance purposes. He also reported that the historic Hotel Galvez is in good condition.
"As I tracked Hurricane Ike in the Gulf and prayed for it to go to some sparse area, rather than New Orleans or Galveston/Houston, etc., I saw the landfall whamming Galveston, Houston and surrounding areas and thought of the 1900 Storm. As it turns out, while the Seawall held and the storm surge was less than the worst expected, the flooding and aftermath are terrible. These are reports from Galveston Historical Foundation, which is in touch with folks in the city, and other friends. GHF hopes to visit the Island later today (Tuesday) and will send photos as soon as possible. Here is a summary:
- Close to 10 feet of water in the Strand, a National Historic Landmark District. This is the marvelous 19th Century commercial area adjacent to the Port, on the North side of the Island. The water damage is compounded by a thick mud from Galveston Bay that has been left by the flooding. There will be a huge need for reinvestment in these landmark buildings and support for the 60 or so small business that brought the Strand to live. This is the area where in the 1970s and 80s the Galveston Historical Foundation, of which I was then the executive director, created and used a Strand revolving fund to achieve the rehab for active use of some 18 buildings. The largest investor/developer is George P. Mitchell, one of my preservation heroes - and there were scores of small developers, investors, and merchants. I'm not envisioning any demolition, but the clean up of this water and muck - and saving of the small businesses - will be huge. All possible help is needed.
- One specific piece of good news is that the 1877 Barque ELISSA came through the hurricane well. This is due to the excellent preparation by GHF staff and volunteers – taking down much of the rigging and lashing all securely – and to the flexible tall pilings we’d installed years ago that enable ELISSA to rise with the water during storms. At the same time there is bad damage to the pier on the ELISSA pier and possibly to the rest of the Texas Seaport Museum.
- The East End residential district, also a National Historic Landmark, was also hit badly with 5 - 6 feet of water. Thank heaven many of these houses are raised for just this reason, but many not that high, and there will be a great cost of clean up and repair the mess.
- I was surprised that the water was higher and thus more damaging in the above areas than on the south side of the historic city. I'm told that the wonderful and more vernacular neighborhoods actually closer to the Gulf had less depth of water - apparently because the north side was being flooded both from the Gulf and from the Galveston Bay to the northeast. At the same time, a good number of these smaller houses were not in top repair, and thus there could be pressure here. (I talked with the owner of a lovely restored cottage on the south side, and her cottage came through with no flooding or damage!) The 1907 Galvez Hotel, facing the Gulf, also had only a foot of water in its basement; this historic hotel was built by Galveston investors as a response to the horrific 1900 Storm.
- The picturesque pleasure piers along the beachfront all are wiped out. This including the famous Balinese Room, which was famous for illegal gambling until closed down finally by the Texas Ranger in the early 1950s – now all gone.
The National Trust, on PreservationNation, put out a call for volunteer structural engineers and architects by Friday evening of the storm. This sign up system will enable Galveston Historical Foundation, the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance, and other preservation partners in the area to draw upon additional expertise to help City officials and home owners evaluate damage objectively and determine best next steps to minimize any unnecessary demolition.
All of the above damage is being compounded by damage to the sewerage and water systems of the City. Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas is thus urging all still on the Island to leave. There is strict control of who can enter the Island – no one will be able to return to homes for at least two weeks.
Other Affected Areas in Texas
Impact in the Midwest
From Royce Yeater, director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Midwest Office:
Flooding from Ike's heavy rains this past weekend have created isolated flooding in many communities located along rivers feeding into the Mississippi, but nothing massive or particularly damaging to historic resources. For the most part, the areas flooding are areas that flood repeatedly and so locals are used to dealing with it. A few areas in and around Chicago have been more heavily impacted this time, but not widespread damage that threatens the future of buildings in general and historic buildings in particular - mostly just water blocking streets that then spills or seeps into basements. They are pumping them out now, but we are getting no reports of damage, beyond the Farnsworth inundation.
Recognize though that the flooding is just beginning to concentrate into the larger rivers downstream and may create more damage there later in the week.