Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Crown Jewel of Texas

Wheresoever there is a restored movie theater or hotel, we try to include it on one of our walks or tours. One such walk took us under the Boone Powell Arch to the Tremont House in the Historic Strand District in Galveston, TX.

Evoking the sailing ships that called on Galveston, this arch (also known as the Mardi Gras Arch) by architect Boone Powell was commissioned in 1985 by George and Cynthia Mitchell for the 1986 Mardi Gras celebration and as a salute to the sesquicentennial of Texas Independence.

An article by Amy Matsumoto seemed to capture the history and the spirit (and spirits) of the Tremont:

"The Tremont House is a porcelain doll: painted the most delicate shade of pink, pieced together with meticulous care, displayed as art and put back together every time her painfully exquisite, fragile parts are destroyed. The Tremont is also prized as a museum piece, especially by those who value grandiose pronouncements--this obsessive human need to be surrounded by beautiful things. Obsessive humans--this is what keeps Tremont thriving, and what makes it one of the most haunted hotels on the island.

"Like many famous structures in Galveston, the Tremont is not an original. The current model is its third version, a middle child between extreme opulence and humility.

"On San Jacinto Day in 1839, the first Tremont opened its doors to the public. From the start the hotel made headlines, though it was only a '…sturdy, two-story building,' as described by the Austin Business Journal.

"But the hotel was also the biggest in all of Texas....
Four-story atrium lobby

"In the heat of the summer of 1865, the first of many Galveston fires ravaged downtown, and the Tremont was, by the end of the day, a sifting heap of crispy black ashes.

"Seven years later the famous Galveston architect of the late 19th century Nicholas Clayton was hired to rebuild what was considered a landmark, and in 1872 one of the grandest hotels in the entire nation was born.

"Until the Great Storm, the hotel maintained its elite status....
Restored lobby and Toujouse Bar

"The 1900 Storm sent hundreds of desperate people on the hike of their lives to the top floor, the glassy demonic waters below nipping at their feet. The Great Storm would ultimately take perhaps not all the lives of Galveston, but most certainly all its livelihood.... Just before its demolition in 1928, the Houston Chronicle wrote: 'What was formerly the pride of the South has been content to drowse in the shade, dreaming after the manner of old things.' And that same day the final chapter in the eventful history of Tremont was concluded.
Toujouse Bar, dating back to the 1870s

"Thanks to the great visionaries Cynthia and George Mitchell, the Tremont was once again reborn in 1985 in a new location-―the 1879 Leon H. Blum building, where it maintains a 19th century ambiance. The Houston Post described it as '…running with the precision of a big city deluxe hotel.' And also unique.
Brick facade of the former Belmont House, entrance to Tremont Cafe

Anecdotal stories from guests and hotel employees, along with folklore, began to emerge, adding to its top notch reputation, an entirely new dimension. A series of knockings, the ceiling fan and lights switching on and off, showers going on and off intermittently, 'breathing' on a guest's ear while he slept, and the whispering of a man’s voice were reported by guests and staff members. These reports just seemed to add character to this hotel.

"To stand in the sun-dappled marble lobby of the Tremont is to be oblivious only to what is improbable and forever endangered, to cultivate an appreciation for a time when luck existed on a continuum rather than a plateau, to stand in the center of a humble little island and feel truly romanced by a whirlwind of international luxury. If a hotel can withstand multiple fires, wars and obliterating storms, there is no measure or standard higher for any architectural ingĂ©nue. This ‘Crown Jewel of Texas’ will endure, as long as Islanders man its front desk, clean its floors, play its piano and work to keep its spirit alive" (http://theislandermagazine.com).

The Tremont Ballroom, located opposite the hotel in the 1890 Davidson Building, restored in 1995

Refreshed, we continue our walk with an appreciation for Tremont's spirit.

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