Galveston Approaches Designation of 100th Local Landmark

At the end of the month, the island is scheduled to celebrate its 100th local landmark, a designation that marks Galveston's commitment to heritage, officials say.

The Galveston County Daily News reports the designation comes as the city increasingly focuses on promoting its history to attract some of the more than 7 million people who visit each year.

With one of the largest concentrations of historic homes in the country, Galveston has hooked onto growing statewide popularity in heritage tourism, in which people visit a place at least in part because of its connection to the past.

Galveston's landmark process has only been around since the 1990s, and in 2005 only seven landmarks were listed, city Historic Preservation Officer Catherine Gorman said.

The 1922 house she owns with her partner, Brax Easterwood, is slated for designation as the 100th landmark.

Now, Galveston averages a new landmark every few months, Gorman said.

"It speaks to the number of unprotected properties that the city has," Gorman said. "We're known for all these historic buildings, but we only have three residential historic districts."

Buildings in these districts, such as the Lost Bayou and The Strand/Mechanic historic districts, are entitled to certain protections that prevent demolition or serious alteration.

Local landmarks receive similar protections, and owners receive a 35 percent exemption on city taxes for five years.

Because of budget concerns, the Galveston City Council may need to reassess the feasibility of this tax benefit in the near future, Gorman said.

In the past, the city focused on historic districts because these areas were more easily marketable to tourists, said Dwayne Jones, executive director of the Galveston Historical Foundation.

"The island has some 21,000 historic properties," Jones said. "There's just a lot here."

This specific landmark designation creates an opportunity for people outside those districts, Jones said.

"That's exciting for Galveston because we have such a quantity of properties," Jones said.

Like the districts, the 100 island landmarks could also prove to be a draw for tourists, he said.

Heritage tourism has drawn focus from Galveston officials in recent years seeking to draw visitors who stay longer and spend more money. The recent Historic Homes Tour lured 1,000 people to the island, said Tom Schwenk, chairman of the city's landmark commission.

People are looking for a more authentic experience, he said.

"You can go to any chain restaurants and get a nice meal," Schwenk said. "You can go to Star Drug Store and you can have more than a great meal, you can have a great memory."

This is a tourism trend across Texas, said Chris Florence, communications director at the Texas Historical Commission.

The state agency advocates for historic preservation.

"There are more and more businesses interested in having a storefront or a residence or an office that is in a historic building," Florence said.

Texans want these historic environments, which can drive economic activity, he said.

Galveston is uniquely positioned to take advantage of this trend with its rich connection to the past, he said.

"The first thing I think of when I think of Galveston is the unique downtown area," Florence said. "I would consider Galveston one of the centers of historic preservation in the state."

The Galveston City Council is scheduled to consider two more historic designations at its meeting next week, which, if approved, would push the city's landmarks over 100.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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