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Galveston, Oh Galveston

After my workshop in Houston ended last Thursday, I had a half day to kill before my flight home. Being a child of the ocean, I was going to check out the waterfront – and that meant a run down to Galveston.

I love history, and Galveston is dripping in it. The island city is probably best known as the victim of the 1900 hurricane which killed 8,000 of Galveston’s residents, still the worst natural disaster in American history. You can’t travel around the city without seeing signs of the storm, from the monuments along Broadway to the stone mansions that survived the storm, to the impressive 10-mile-long seawall that was built after the storm and allowed the height of the land behind it to be raised by over 10 feet.

Pink granite groins - imagine how many countertops that could have made!

Speaking of impressive, you should see the local choice for break wall materials. Like many beach cities, Galveston has a series of groins – short perpendicular break walls that extend from the beach and slow the lateral movement of sand. We have similar structures in Redondo, and use local materials to create them. For us, that means modest granite blown out of the quarry on Catalina Island. Here in Galveston, the material is also granite – but it’s pink, and looks to be high quality. Can’t help but think the stuff would look a lot nicer in some high end home somewhere.

The architecture of the homes here belies the biggest threat from a hurricane – storm surge. In 1900, the surge was several feet higher than the highest point in the island and basically swamped it; as a result, most of the deaths came from drowning. Even with the additional height of the seawall, the island is dangerously low – Hurricane Ike in 2008 managed to overtop the wall. Builders accept this a certainty, and take it into consideration when they design their homes. Most houses – and many businesses – have a sacrificial lower floor, consisting of little more than an enclosed staircase and a carport. All of the living spaces are on the second or third floor, presumably above any potential flooding.

Driving in this morning, and as I explore the island, it’s clear that the damage from Ike was significant. Nearly half of the waterfront homes show some level of damage or repair, and construction activity is evident everywhere. There are several piers on the south side of the island, and you can see that several are missing the final segments, presumably due to storm damage. On the bright side, one pier destroyed in 1961 and bashed again by Ike is about to debut as a tourist attraction on a par with our own Santa Monica Pier.

The wind is actually blowing pretty good here in Galveston today, and I suspect there are at least Small Craft Advisories in place. As you can see from the video I shot down at the seawall a little while ago, it’s no day to be on the water:

And this was only three out of five on the warning flag scale they use along the beach. Good thing it was low tide, or it would be slapping the seawall.

I actually started this MB entry while sitting in a restaurant on 61st street in Galveston, waiting to enjoy a different kind of cultural experience – a Waffle House breakfast. As a Cali guy, there are certain experiences that aren’t available to me, so I feel obligated to seek them out when possible. Last night, a bacon-and-cheese Whataburger; this morning a Waffle House All Star breakfast. Quite the cultural enrichment … :-)

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