Galveston Historical Foundation’s Salvage Warehouse: Reviving the Historic 1940s Sears Building


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By Kimber Fountain

Long before we had “HGTV” and “DIY,” there was GHF. A sneaky double entendre lies in the name of one of the nation’s largest historic preservation societies. Galveston Historical Foundation is definable as a ‘foundation’ in the literal business sense of its operating strategies, but less recognizable is the accurate inference that GHF is an integral piece of the foundation upon which the future of Galveston has been built. Not too long ago, one hundred year old buildings were being bulldozed to build a Dairy Queen. Fast forward to present-day, when the majority of the city’s historic architecture is as beautiful as the day it was built, and collectively it is an undeniably stunning and remarkably important facet of Galveston’s personality. The Galveston Historical Foundation played a huge role in that shift, and it continues to prove that Galveston will likely never run out of history to reinvent.

GHF salvage warehouse1This is a natural progression, however, because of course as time goes on, history deepens. Events and structures get older, and within a moment, the output of eras that were just considered ‘old fashioned’ are suddenly a part of history. “Technically, things are considered ‘historic’ if they are over fifty years old,” says Matthew Pelz, Director of Preservation Services for the Foundation. “But our role as preservationists is to reevaluate what we consider historic, as we move forward in time, priorities in the community change, and ultimately it is the community that makes that decision.” His comments come on the unveiling of GHF’s latest endeavor, the high-profile restoration of the 1940s Sears Building on the northeast corner of 23rd Street and Broadway. The age of the building falls within the parameters to be considered historic, but most importantly, the decade it represents has officially made the transition from merely sentimental to boldly iconic.

The building also stands as a slice of societal evolution, as Matthew explains. Originally in city development, “department stores were within the downtown area, and as we see now most of the larger retailers are in the outskirts of cities and in the suburbs.” The location of this particular Sears demonstrates the first step in that movement. “It was the first store of its kind in Galveston to be moved outside downtown proper.” Exterior renovations were just completed, and designers worked with previous alterations to the building in order to achieve the original look. “The original awning had been replaced,” says Matthew, “but instead of completely removing it and replacing it with a replica, we used the existing awning and [refashioned] it to achieve the original look.” Overall, the project is a bold statement that the Galveston Historical Foundation will always be relevant.

GHF salvage warehouse2Inside, the upstairs area was converted to offices for the Preservation department and an area for the Preservation Resource Center, a (paper) database perfect for research enthusiasts or homeowners searching for information on their property. A mini-library of sorts, the collection is overseen by Jami Durham and includes information on both city and state history in the form of archives, insurance records, and even city directories that date back all the way to 1855. Also available at the Resource Center are patterns for historic décor, such as layouts for cottages and bungalows, wallpaper stencils, and designs for spindles and ballisters.

Downstairs, the former Sears showroom floor is now the home of GHF’s Salvage Warehouse, a wellspring of hard-to-find, historic housewares that is as much of a museum as it is a retail center for historic renovation. It began in a small space in 2002, with the intent of helping homeowners through the process of renovating historic homes. Following Hurricane Ike in 2008, the amount of inventory they were procuring began to increase steadily, as did the demand for it, both relative of course to the amount of damaged homes left in the storm’s wake. Thus a larger venue was needed, and the space to expand the breadth and reach of the Preservation Department. “We didn’t just want to sell materials, we wanted to tell stories too,” Matthew explains. Much of their inventory is recycled from homes on the Island that have been torn down, and so they began to tag the pieces with the address of the house from which it came and the year it was built.

The bulk of the warehouse’s offerings are windows, doors, and shutters, along with some smaller housewares and hardware, and warehouse staffers Craig Cahill and Devon Hooper point out that it is not only homeowners who frequent the store. “We have a lot of artists that come in here,” says Devon; they use the pieces as an alternative canvas or for conceptual art. “This is the store for Pinterest,” adds Craig. The two are actively involved in assisting people with their respective projects, and often encourage them to bring in pictures of the completed project to put on what they have dubbed their “wall of inspiration.”

Indeed the whole of Galveston Historical Foundation seems to be focused on one goal, and that is uplifting the community by celebrating its splendid history and by beautifying the town, one building at a time. If you wish to contribute to GHF this fall season, join in their annual fall fundraiser, Genteel Junque that will take place on October 17th and 18th at the Salvage Warehouse. The two-day event is a sale of donated items from local residents, specifically furniture, art, and high quality antiques. The Friday night preview is free for members and $15 for the general public, and the sale is open to the public on Saturday from 7am to 4pm. For more info on Genteel Junque, to become a member, donate, or volunteer, visit www.galvestonhistory.org or call (409)750-9108. GHF’s Salvage Warehouse , 2228 Broadway Ave., Galveston.

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