"Protection from storms is not only required for the preservation of life and property, but also, and in hardly les degree, to give confidence to the people of Galveston, and to others who may be drawn here by business interests, in the absolute certainty of the safety of the city against the re-occurrence of such catastrophe as the one of 1900." — Board of Engineers Official Report.
During the two years prior to the formation of the board of engineers and the release of its report, the city of Galveston had already made triumphant strides in its recovery. A mere 11 days after The Great Storm of 1900, the rail bridge that connected the Island to the mainland was completely repaired and operable. Within two weeks, the port was reopened.
With the financing securely in place for both the construction of the Seawall and the subsequent grade-raising, construction commenced on the first phase of the plan devised by the Board of Engineers. The wall against the sea would begin at the intersection of 8th Street and the Harbor, run south to the Gulf, then curve gently toward the west and run continuously from there to 39th Street.
Although the city had marveled at the ingenious plan set forth by the Board of Engineers, citizens of Galveston grew anxious as the Seawall neared completion and they were confronted with the mystery of how the grade would ever be raised. The New City Charter did include instructions for the administrative processes of the task, but ultimately that only meant that city officials would delegate the intricacies to others more qualified.
The summer of 1904 was a season of change for the island of Galveston, when beach activities had little to do with sunning and swimming and more to do with forever altering the economic landscape of the prominent port city.
The undeniable yet oft ignored rebound of Galveston's commercial pursuits after The Great Storm were due in part to the brilliant entrepreneurial minds in control of the port, but the other part was merely semantics. Galveston was the gateway to the West and Midwest, areas that were booming both in agriculture and industry, and it was the closest port to the origin of a multitude of exports by several hundred miles. No established port, not even New Orleans, could compete.
January 17th of 1920 marked the official commencement of Prohibition in the United States. An attempt to assuage so-called societal ills, the Eighteenth Amendment sent into effect a nationwide, constitutional ban on the sale of alcohol as well as its production and importation. Galveston County had actually been dry since 1918 when it endorsed the proposed amendment even before it was ratified.
Few were left unscathed by The Great Depression as tremors from the crash of the United States stock market were felt all over the world. Galveston, however, proved somewhat impervious to the collateral damage from international economic collapse, for what it lost by way of a population with diminished expendable income for beach vacations, it gained through its provision of an escape from reality along with the hope of a lucky hand.
The dawn of this new decade carried with it the momentum of the one prior, as Galveston’s ever-expanding population continued its vicarious love affair with the vices of its frequent visitors and all of the prosperity it afforded. The fog of economic depression had at last lifted from the rest of the country, but since it had not greatly impacted the Island in the first place, the city merely continued along its upward trend of growth and expansion. As the nation was content to breathe a sigh of relief at the return to normalcy, the Seawall verifiably boomed.
The year 1950 ushered in an era that would provide enough nostalgic wax to keep its memories shiny and clean well past the turn of the century, and despite major setbacks and a complete shift in its culture, the Galveston Seawall was not immune to the picturesque trappings of bobby socks and rock n’ roll.
The Seawall had survived two wars, a depression, raids by the Texas Rangers, and four hurricanes. But the sidewalk by the sea had grown weary under the weight of its troubles. Galveston lost its identity twice—first to the Port of Houston and next to the scruples of a selective American morality—and the last three decades of the twentieth century would see the Island community struggle yet again to redefine itself.
Life on the modern day Seawall is boisterous and colorful, teeming with novelty stores, restaurants, hotels, and endless entertainment. Scattered among the throngs of beachside pleasures are the stoic remnants of the Boulevard’s past, the ones who have managed beautifully the passing of the decades and shored up their timeless relevance.