Tobin Park & Salado Creek

Just south of I-410 on the North Side of San Antonio, you’ll find Robert L.B. Tobin in bronze.
TobinTobin (1934-2000) inherited Tobin Suverys, the largest mapmaker to the oil industry, at only 19 when his father died in a plane crash. Apparently, the younger Tobin made a good run of it, enough to make him a major philanthropist in San Antonio and elsewhere. As the NYT said (and where is the Express-News obit?):

“Mr. Tobin served on the boards of the Metropolitan Opera in New York and the Santa Fe Opera. He was also on the boards of the Museum of Modern Art and of the Spoleto Festival in Italy. He endowed libraries and museums, underwrote operas, sponsored symphony premieres and championed artists and composers in many places.

“The major beneficiary of his philanthropy was the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio [an excellent museum]. Mr. Tobin’s mother, the late Margaret Batts Tobin, was president of the museum’s board of trustees for many years. She built a special wing for the museum on the 50th birthday of Mr. Tobin, her only son.”

I’ve also seen mention of Tobin’s “Lucchese alligator boots,” which can be expensive indeed. This must be them in bronze.
TobinAlso notable on the statue is Tobin’s cane, which has See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil monkeys on it. Not sure why the motto was close enough to his heart for him to want it on his cane, and then in bronze, but there you have it.
Monkeys!The statue is at the trailhead of Robert L.B. Tobin Park, a roughly two-mile segment of the Salado Creek Greenway between I-410 and Eisenhower Road. In a non-drought July, the greenway is green all right.
Tobin ParkTobin himself helped design the park shortly before he died, and his foundation ultimately donated 89 acres of land to the project. It opened in 2008. No wonder I’d never heard of it before Google Maps told me about it this year. All of the while I lived in San Antonio, and for years after, it was simply inaccessible land owned by Tobin (though if you’d asked me or anybody, no one would have known who he was).
Tobin ParkTobin Park is part of the bigger Linear Creekway Parks Development Program, the goal of which is to create linear parks along Salado Creek, Leon Creek, Medina River and the San Antonio River. Remarkably enough — Texas isn’t always the anti-tax place it seems to be — sales tax funding for the project was approved by voters in the 2000s. I wish the municipality well with this project. Greenways are fine things.

This is Salado Creek, with some visible sedimentary rock.
Salado Creek, July 2015It’s surprising there’s still water in it at all, but then again that’s a sign of how wet the weather has been this year. I imagine during some of the downpours in the spring — which is characteristic of San Antonio’s weather — Salado Creek was a torrent.

Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo de Zuñigais & Presidio Nuestra Señora de Loreto de la Bahía

Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo de Zuñigais is on the San Antonio River, but it’s well downstream from the SA metro area, in the modern town of Goliad. It’s been there since 1749 in one form or another, at first doing what missions did in the early days, such as convert the natives, engage in ranching, and be a part (along with the nearby presidio) of Spain’s claim to the region against French and English inroads.

By the early 20th century, it was a ruin. But not forgotten completely, because the CCC rebuilt it in the 1930s. It isn’t as well known as the chain of missions in San Antonio, including the Alamo, which were tapped by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site earlier this month. That agitated a few simple-minded crackpots, since it’s always something. So the NPS felt obliged to include the following sentence in its press release about the honor: “Inclusion of a site in the World Heritage List does not affect U.S. sovereignty or management of the sites, which remain subject only to U.S., state and local laws.”

Ann and I made our way to Mission Espíritu Santo in the late afternoon of July 11. Only one other group was visiting at the time, and in fact the interior was already closed for the day. But we got a good look at the mission and its grounds.
Goliad, july 2015Some parts are still ruins. It adds a certain something to the site.
Goliad, July 2015Other parts are open to the sky.
Goliad, July 2015A short drive away is Presidio La Bahía, the fort that protected the mission. In full, Presidio Nuestra Señora de Loreto de la Bahía, it was the place to go to when Apaches were coming. During the Texas Revolution, Fannin and his men were imprisoned there before they were killed not far away. In our time, that means people tell ghost stories about the place.
Presidio BahiaWe got there after closing time. The presidio, being a fortress, has a wall all the way around — also rebuilt, I assume — so no peeks inside. That just means I’ll have to come back someday for a longer look.

Fannin Battleground State Historic Site

The easy way to get from the greater Houston glop to San Antonio is via I-10. That route has its interests, such as Flatonia and Schulenburg and not far away, the Painted Churches, a few of which I’d like visit someday. But on the 11th, I had other things in mind, and followed US 59 southwest out of town.

Or rather, the future I-69. Every 20 or 30 miles, a sign told me that the current route of US 59 — which is already mostly a four-lane highway between the outskirts of Houston and Victoria — would someday be a bone fide part of the Interstate system running all the way to Laredo. For ordinary drivers like me, I’m not sure of the value, since on an Interstate you can’t use turnarounds in the medians, as you can — and as I did a few times — on a large US route. But looking at a map, I can also see the advantage of an I-69 through Texas for trucks barreling up from Mexico to points east: they can bypass San Antonio and its traffic.

Just southwest of Victoria is the Fannin Battleground State Historic Site, where Col. Fannin surrendered to Gen. Urrea after the Battle of Coleto not long after the fall of the Alamo. An obelisk marks the site.

Fannin BattlegoundSoon after the surrender, of course, Fannin and most of his men were murdered on the orders of Santa Anna, in a move that wasn’t just a crime, but a blunder. The Texas State Historical Association posits: “The impact of the Goliad Massacre was crucial. Until this episode Santa Anna’s reputation had been that of a cunning and crafty man, rather than a cruel one. When the Goliad prisoners were taken, Texas had no other army in the field and the newly constituted ad interim government seemed incapable of forming one.

“The Texas cause was dependent on the material aid and sympathy of the United States. Had Fannin’s and Miller’s men been dumped on the wharves at New Orleans penniless, homesick, humiliated, and distressed, and each with his separate tale of Texas mismanagement and incompetence, Texas prestige in the United States would most likely have fallen, along with sources of help.

“But Portilla’s volleys at Goliad, together with the fall of the Alamo, branded both Santa Anna and the Mexican people with a reputation for cruelty and aroused the fury of the people of Texas, the United States, and even Great Britain and France, thus considerably promoting the success of the Texas Revolution.”

Ann, Fannin BattlegroundA little further to the southwest is the town of Goliad, seat of Goliad County. It has a handsome courthouse, as many counties in Texas do.
Goliad County CourthouseAlfred Giles, a British immigrant who did a lot of work in South Texas, San Antonio in particular, designed the Goliad County courthouse in 1894. A hurricane knocked down the clock tower in 1942, but it was finally replaced in 2003.

On the courthouse grounds is the Hanging Tree.
Hanging Tree, GoliadAccording to a State Historical Survey Committee plaque near the tree: “Site for court sessions at various times from 1846 to 1870. Capital sentences called for by the courts were carried out immediately, by means of a rope and a convenient limb.

“Hangings not called for by regular courts occurred here during the 1857 “Cart War” — a series of attacks made by Texas freighters against Mexican drivers along the Indianola-Goliad-San Antonio Road. About 70 men were killed, some of them on this tree, before the war was halted by Texas Rangers.”

More on this little-known incident here; it isn’t to the Texans’ credit. Even so, across the street from the Hanging Tree is the Hanging Tree restaurant. How very Texas.

The Menil Collection

On the morning of July 11, Ann and I drove into the heart of greater Houston, starting near Hobby Airport and stopping en route at a doughnut shop (Shipley, which has good doughnuts and is genuinely regional), post office, and Half Price Books, all located previously by using that marvel of the age, Google maps. But not, I want to say, using any GPS gizmo or other cheaters’ device in the car, since we had none. Later generations — people alive now, probably — might marvel at that, since they won’t know how to get from point A to B, C, or D without a machine telling them how.

As an adult visitor, I’ve more-or-less bypassed Houston over the years. It could have easily been a much more familiar city if, say, I’d gone to Rice. Or if family or old friends lived there instead of San Antonio, Austin and Dallas. So driving through was both new and oddly familiar. The neighborhoods and the houses and shops feel like Texas, but the greenery’s different, so I’d find myself walking along noticing bushes I couldn’t quite place or drooping leaves that didn’t look quite right or flowers new to my eye. Something like wandering around in Australia, but not quite as weird.

Around 11, as the sun was high and hot, we arrived at The Menil Collection. Perfect time to spend in an air conditioned building looking at art-stuff. I wanted to see one of Houston’s renowned museums, but not an overwhelmingly large one, since I had other plans for the afternoon. The museum also had a locational advantage, with easy access to the highway I wanted to take out of town. It also has a large collection of surrealists.

Nothing like some surrealists to brighten your day. I’m impressed by the raw weirdness of them. How did they think of that? John and Dominique de Menil, the oil millionaires who founded the museum, seem to have an early and abiding interest in the likes of Giorgio de Chirico, Max Ernst, René Magritte, Man Ray, and Yves Tanguy. Plus a few Dalis and Miros, among others. Oddly enough, but fitting, there’s also a room devoted to objects that various surrealists owned that reportedly inspired the artists. Exotic curiosities, that is. I didn’t make any notes, but I’m pretty sure I saw a shrunken head or two and a spiny suit of pseudo-armor.

According to the museum literature, the de Menils were also taken with Cubism and neoplastic abstraction, but we must have missed most of those. Or maybe most of them were off display, since I understand that the museum rotates its 17,000 objects with some vigor. We did happen on a nice collection of ancient Greek and Roman objects and afterward some African art, housing in a gallery looking out on an enclosed and inaccessible (to us) garden.

The museum itself is a spacious, light-filled space, except for some of the intentionally darkened galleries. Renzo Piano designed the structure. Seems like he gets all sorts of plum jobs. This one dates from the mid-1980s. The Texas State Historical Association describes it well: “The main museum building is on a tract of nine city blocks purchased by the Menils in the Montrose section of Houston. In accord with Mrs. Menil’s desire for a building that was ‘small on the outside and big on the inside…’ At forty feet by 142 feet and a maximum height of forty-five feet, the building dominates the neighborhood without overwhelming it, due in large part to its grey wood siding, white trim, and black canvas awnings.

“Renzo Piano, perhaps best known for his high-tech Pompidou Center project in Paris, produced an equally innovative if less visually startling technical miracle for the Menil Collection. Working with engineer Peter Rice he achieved an interior illuminated by natural light that passes through glass and is deflected by a series of 300 ferro-cement ‘leaves,’ thus protecting the works of art from direct sunlight. A series of glass-enclosed interior gardens enhances the natural ambiance of the galleries.” Some good images of the place are here.

Next, we walked over to the Rothko Chapel, which is part of the Menil Collection as well. It’s a short distance to the east, tucked in among the houses and trees of an otherwise well-established middle-class neighborhood. You expect certain things from a chapel, and the Rothko Chapel, with its enormous black Rothkos staring back at you from all around the interior walls, is a marvel at contradicting your expectations. Even so, its form is still clearly that of chapel, without overt religious symbols. But you can also imagine that these big black shapes are fragments of the Void, or something just as unnerving, staring right back at you. Quite a thing for the artist to pull off.

Ann, being 12, wasn’t quite so impressed. She appreciated the air conditioning. The Rothkos, not so much.

Here’s an example of art-speak. Whoever wrote the Wiki description of the Rothko Chapel said this: “The Chapel is the culmination of six years of Rothko’s life and represents his gradually growing concern for the transcendent. For some, to witness these paintings is to submit one’s self to a spiritual experience, which, through its transcendence of subject matter, approximates that of consciousness itself. It forces one to approach the limits of experience and awakens one to the awareness of one’s own existence. For others, the Chapel houses fourteen large paintings whose dark, nearly impenetrable surfaces represent hermeticism and contemplation.”

Submit one’s self to a spiritual experience, eh? Approximates that of consciousness itself? Abstract expressionism is notorious for evoking the kind of reaction Ann had: Why is this rectangle of color art? Why is it hanging here? Is this a joke? I don’t feel that way. The colors are interesting, especially when you start to eye the texture. You know, color is the subject. Look closely and it’s more than a Pantone monocolor; there’s more than one shade. I’m glad people paint this way. But I don’t see the need to discuss the genre with the artistic equivalent of technobabble.

Further away, but not too far, is the Byzantine Fresco Chapel, also part of the Menil (now, I’ve read, simply called the BFC). Sad to say, there’s no Byzantine fresco there. After some years in place, it’s been returned to its home in Cyprus. Now the building will house temporary installations. The one occupying the space now is “The Infinity Machine.” A pretentious title, maybe, but it was intriguing. That made up for missing the fresco.

The installation was a rotating mobile about two stories high, going all the way up to the high ceiling (the room is large: about 116,000 cubic feet). It consisted of dozens of antique mirrors hanging by cords of varying lengths. Some mirrors were hanging high, some low. Some were large, some hand-held mirrors. A mechanism turned the mobile so that the mirrors rotated around the room about twice a minute. The was room was mostly dim, but changing lights from the side illuminated the whirling mirrors in endlessly alternating patterns.

You sat on a bench along the wall and watched. You could, in theory, go over to the mirrors and maybe be hit by some as they passed by, since there was nothing to separate you from them except an admonition from the sole guard in the room not to do that.

There’s an audio component as well: sound files made by converting data gathered by various spacecraft as they’ve explored the outer planets and their moons. Don’t ask me how that’s done, it’s beyond my understanding. Something NASA calls Spooky Sounds, but that’s not quite right. Anyway, together with the motion of the mirrors and the dance of the light, the installation is quite a show. The artists are a married couple from British Columbia, Janet Cardiff and George Bures. More about it here, include a video that’s better than nothing, but hardly does it justice.

Honolulu 1979

Something I spotted at one of the large strip centers near us: a new barber shop, Mad Men Barbershop. I’m not quite sure what they’re suggesting. Come here to look like Don Draper? He was the only male character whose hairstyle didn’t change much during the internal chronology of the show from 1960 to 1970. If short and oily for men is coming back, I want no part of oily. I’m glad that died off in the 1960s and has stayed dead. Grease is not the word.

Slides are an inconvenient medium in our time. I wonder how many billions of slide images are languishing in boxes, never to be seen. Ah, well. I’m doing my little part to bring a few of those to a wider audience here (four or five readers, at least).

Thirty-six years ago this month I visited five of the Hawaiian islands. I had a 35mm camera with me, one that belonged to my brother Jay. I took good care of it and came home with four boxes of images. Many are of lovely, picturesque Hawaii. Green hills, waterfalls, flowers, ocean vistas, volcanoes, lava tubes, black sand beaches, that kind of thing.

But not the following pics. They are urban Hawaii. Views of Honolulu in 1979, that is.
The first one is arguably picturesque. It’s Diamond Head, after all. But hotels and other development seem to be creeping up on it. Not that I object to development of that kind per se. I took this shot from a hotel room balcony. One of the higher floors of the Sheraton Waikiki.
HonoluluDiamondHeadFun fact about that hotel, developed in the early ’70s, I think: it had no 13th floor. Or none with that number. If they’d known how inundated the islands would soon be with Japanese tourists — and there must have been a fair number even 40 years ago — they probably would have not used the number 4 in their floors.

Speaking of hotels, this one only looks a little like the Ilikai, famed in one of the best TV intros ever. I’m not sure what property it is, and while there’s probably an app to find out, never mind. The image comes complete with ugly breakwater in the foreground.
Honolulu79.2Another balcony view, this time of Waikiki Beach. Two young lovers strolling the sands of Waikiki couldn’t be lost in each other’s charms for long without stepping on another beachgoer.
Honolulu79Finally, Honolulu at night.
HonoluluatnightA little fuzzy, but representative of the way the lights — which is to say, development — attached itself to the foothills near Honolulu, looking for every square foot. Even then, Honolulu was the most expensive real estate market in the country.

The Astrodome Still Stands

When I was small, maybe six or seven, I saw the Astrodome. Even better, I went inside the Astrodome on a tour. We were visiting Houston in the late ’60s and in those days the domed stadium was a wonder of the world, or so it was called. Arguably so, since represented a modern innovation on an ancient structure.

I was especially impressed by how high the highest seats seemed to be. The stadium was empty during our tour, and I imagined that the people in the highest seats would need to hold on to their arm rests or they’d tumble out toward the field below. That’s the kind of thing a six-year-old might imagine, but my brother Jay, who was in his teens at the time, says the sheer size of the place was impressive even if you weren’t small.

For the record: The Astrodome stands 18 stories tall, covering 9.5 acres. The dome is 710 feet in diameter and the ceiling is 208 feet above the playing surface, which itself sits 25 feet below street level.

Flying into Houston’s Hobby Airport earlier this month, I looked down and saw NRG Stadium. I knew it was NRG Stadium because those three letters, which belong to a three-initial energy company, are emblazoned on the structure in a very visible way. It has a blocky shape. Then I noticed another, rounded stadium not far away.

Could it be — ? Yes, it was the Astrodome. Not used for anything now, but still standing after 50 years. Wankers may yet destroy it, as wankers are known to do (e.g., Penn Station), but I hope it’ll be repurposed here in the 21st century.

The East End Historic District, Galveston

The East End Historic District covers over 50 city blocks in Galveston. In July the time to take a stroll in such a place is early in the morning — not something we did — or late in the afternoon, which we did. It’s a delightful mix of housing styles, or as the East End Historic District Association puts it, offers views of “a towering pillar, shadowed silhouettes of ornate carvings, a splash of stained glass in a window, welcoming porches or a bit of wrought iron fencing.”

It also has trees large enough to move the sidewalks from underneath with their roots. Ann asked about the malformed sidewalks, and I explained that the roots did it slowly over the years.

The Julius Ruhl Residence, at the corner of Sealy and 15th and dating from the 1870s, has a widow’s walk. That’s just not something you see in suburban Chicago.
Galveston, July 2015Many houses sport fine porches. A good thing to have in pre-air conditioned times. Or even after air conditioning was invented.
Galveston, July 2015This is the J.C. Trube Castle.
Galveston, July 2015It dates from the 1890s. Its web site — the place is a commercial enterprise now, available for weddings and other events — says the building is “constructed of bricks covered by stucco mixed with Belgium cement creating a rusticated stone effect. The mansard slate roof with seven gables and the battlement tower give the historic home a castle distinction. The observation deck on the top of the tower offers a view of both the gulf and the harbor.”

The building is also one of the few remaining designs of architect Alfred Muller.  Nicholas J. Clayton didn’t design everything in 19th-century Galveston. The Prussian-born Muller also had the relative good fortune to die a few years before the 1900 hurricane.

More pretty houses.
Galveston July 2015Galveston July 2015Note the plaques to the left of the door on this house.
Galveston July 2015Galveston July 2015The upper one’s a little hard to read, but it says 1900 Storm Survivor. Hurricanes are serious business around here. Lest we forget, Ike slapped Galveston as furiously as Katrina hit New Orleans.

The Strand, Galveston

I can’t pin down the last time I went to Galveston. It was sometime in the early 1970s, probably as an appendix to a visit to Houston from San Antonio. Little memory remains, and for whatever reason we didn’t return when I was older. My brothers remember visits in the 1950s, during the time when my parents lived in Houston, but that’s before my time.

I suspect we never went to the Strand on any family visits to the city, because the area, which is a part of the city near Galveston Bay, didn’t begin its revival until the 1970s. The always-informative Handbook of Texas Online tells me that the Strand — formally called Avenue B in Galveston — was included in the original plat of the city in the late 1830s, with the origins of Avenue B’s nickname unknown.

“While the avenue extends throughout Galveston, the Strand has usually referred to the five-block business district situated between Twentieth and Twenty-fifth streets,” it says. “Throughout the nineteenth century, the area was known as the ‘Wall Street of the Southwest,’ serving as a major commercial center for the region.”

Some of the 19th-century buildings still stand on Avenue B, the Strand. With a 20th-century tower to the south.
The Strand, GalvestonThe Strand, GalvestonThe Strand, GalvestonNaturally, the Hurricane of 1900 put the kibosh on the Strand’s career as the Wall Street of the Southwest. I’ll bet after the storm a common enough sentiment among businessmen was, To hell with this, we’re going to Houston. Galveston didn’t have the space to grow into a megalopolis anyway.

“In the rebuilding process, businesses moved off the Strand and away from the wharfs,” the Handbook continues. “The area became a warehouse district. In the 1960s amidst widespread deterioration of the Strand, the Junior League of Galveston County restored two buildings sparking interest in the area. In 1973 the Galveston Historical Foundation initiated the Strand Revolving Fund, a catalyst in subsequent years for dramatic restoration and adaptive use in the Strand Historic District.”

These days, the Strand is a Galveston tourist zone, populated by ordinary visitors, and when a cruise ship’s docked near the zone, probably even more people, though I didn’t see any ships nearby when we were there. As a tourist zone, it has two distinct advantages. One, the sidewalks are covered, so that strolling along in mid-summer doesn’t mean walking under a hot and copper sky. Also, the clothiers, geegaw shops and other venues are universally air conditioned.

Ann and I did our share of ducking in and out of shops, eventually buying a single key ring and a few postcards. I can report as a matter of historical interest — that is, for future historians of 21st-century minutiae — that Confederate battle flag-themed merchandise hasn’t died out in the souvenir shops of Galveston as of the summer of 2015, though I can’t say its presence was overpowering.

Sad to say, the eccentric Col. Bubbie’s Strand Surplus Senter has closed. The sign is still there.
The Strand“Col. Bubbie’s was the longest-running, single-owner business on the Strand,” the Houston Chronicle reported last December after the shop closed. “Since 1972, it sold military equipment — gas masks, camouflage pants, canteens, mess kits, medals and insignias, you name it — encompassing 60 countries and conflicts from the Civil War to Iraq.

“The shop helped outfit the TV show MASH and war films as diverse as Saving Private Ryan and 1941, among others. Until a few months ago it was the go-to spot for local theater productions to get period uniforms, but that stock has dwindled.”

We also stopped in at La King’s Confectionery on Avenue B. We were glad we did. The place makes excellent ice cream. Ann’s pistachio was particularly good. Ice cream jockeys and soda jerks in white were on hand to serve whatever you wanted.

La King'sA neon sign says Purity Ice Cream, and I thought that meant a product of Tennessee’s Purity Dairies, but no. According to the Austin Chronicle, “Ice cream on an industrial scale arrived in Texas in 1889 when the Purity Ice Cream Company opened in Galveston.” The ice cream that La King’s serves is a direct culinary descendant of that ice cream, and La King’s is the only place it’s served.

In the back, you can watch a fellow making taffy, which the store also sells.

La King'sOne other thing I spied on the Strand: a public chess set.
Ann on the StrandIt was a little too hot to play, but still. That’s what parks need more of, public chess sets.

The Bishop’s Palace, Galveston

Late last year, Congress passed a joint resolution along these lines: “Whereas the United States has conferred honorary citizenship on 7 other occasions during its history, and honorary citizenship is and should remain an extraordinary honor not lightly conferred nor frequently granted;

[In case you’re wondering, I’ll save you a trip to Wiki. The others are Winston Churchill, Raoul Wallenberg, William and Hannah Penn, Mother Teresa, Casimir Pulaski and Lafayette.]

“Whereas Bernardo de Gaalvez y Madrid, Viscount of Galveston and Count of Gaalvez, was a hero of the Revolutionary War who risked his life for the freedom of the United States people and provided supplies, intelligence, and strong military support to the war effort…

“Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That Bernardo de Gaalvez y Madrid, Viscount of Galveston and Count of Gaalvez, is proclaimed posthumously to be an honorary citizen of the United States.”

I didn’t know about that resolution until after Ann and I went to Galveston earlier this month, and I looked up Bernardo de Gaalvez y Madrid, Viceroy of New Spain, to add to my vague knowledge of the man for whom Galveston is named.

To my way of thinking, the first place to go in Galveston (after lunch, if you happen to arrive at lunchtime), is the Bishop’s Palace. That’s just what we did.

Ann, Galveston, July 10, 2015The name is a spot of Texas hyperbole. Palace, it isn’t. But it is a excellent example of a large (19,000 SF) Victorian mansion, built in the 1890s for a successful attorney and his wife, Walter and Josephine Gresham, who tapped local architect Nicholas J. Clayton to design it. (Clayton seems to have been very busy in the pre-1900 heyday of Galveston, but things were never the same after that.)
Bishop's Palace July 2015The Handbook of Texas Online describes Clayton’s work as “exuberant in shape, color, texture, and detail. He excelled at decorative brick and iron work… What made Clayton’s architecture so distinctive in late nineteenth-century Texas was the underlying compositional and proportional order with which he structured the display of picturesque shapes and rich ornament.”

That’s a fitting description for the Bishop’s Palace, which was a sturdy mansion too. It survived the Hurricane of 1900, one of the few structures in the area to do so, and sheltered a lot of survivors. The bishop in the name is Bishop Christopher E. Byrne, who lived there in 20th century, after the Roman Catholic Diocese of Galveston bought the mansion in 1923. Only in 2013 did the Church sell the structure to the Galveston Historical Foundation.

The interior has more stained glass than most Victorian mansions I’ve seen. Many of those were added by the bishop, who insisted that one of the rooms be converted into a chapel, which it remains. For instance, a stained-glass St. Peter’s there to greet you.

Bishop's PalaceAs usual, a house like this has some interesting period detail, such as the fact that the lights were built for gas as well as for that new light source, electricity, in case it worked out. Or the bathtub in the main second-floor bathroom.
Bishop's PalaceNote the three faucets. Our guide, an informative woman whose main job is teaching Texas History — everyone in the state takes it in 7th grade, or at least used to — told us that one was for hot water, one for cold, and one for rainwater from a cistern. It was thought to be good for one’s hair.

The Greshams had the means to be international travelers in the days before Europe on $5 a Day, and that meant steamer trunks. I don’t think I’d ever seen trunks of the time plastered with luggage labels, but Bishop’s Palace had some on display.
Bishop's PalaceNext door to the Bishop’s Palace is Sacred Heart Catholic Church. This building dates from the early 1900s, because the 1900 hurricane knocked down the original.

Sacred Heart, GalvestonThe church wasn’t open for a look inside. But the next-door location must have been convenient for the bishop. You know, in case he ever needed to tune up his crosier or something.

Texas Summer ’15

July isn’t really the best time to visit South Texas, or the Texas Gulf coast for that matter, but no matter — off we went on July 9, returning earlier today. It was a two-pronged trip: first for a few days to Galveston and slices of the vastness that’s Houston, then San Antonio for the balance of the time.

I don’t know anyone in Galveston, or Houston, unless you count people I long ago lost touch with. Even so, I wanted to go. Earlier this year, I read Isaac’s Storm, a fine book about the 1900 hurricane that laid waste to bustling, prosperous Galveston. After that, most of the local bustle went to Houston. But it also occurred to me that I hadn’t been to Galveston in more than 40 years. As the Wolf Brand chili man says, that’s too long.

Ann came with me for the trip, arriving on Thursday the 9th and repairing to lodging near Hobby Airport. We spent most of the next day in Galveston, seeing things and dodging the heat, then returning to our motel in the evening. On Saturday the 11th, we drove from Houston to San Antonio, but not the most direct and least interesting way, which would have been I-10.

First, we plowed our way into Houston to see the Menil Collection, a mid-sized museum near the University of St. Thomas that sports (among other things), a sizable surrealist collection. Nearby is the Rothko Chapel, as well as the Byzantine Fresco Chapel. Unfortunately, the Byzantine fresco went back to Cyprus a few years ago, but the building does now house a work called the Infinity Machine — rotating array of suspended antique mirrors, which is more effective than it sounds.

Leaving Houston, we followed I-69 and then U.S. 59, through such towns as Sugar Land, Wharton, El Campo, Ganado, Edna and the outskits of Victoria, which would be worth a look at some point. Southwest of Victoria is Fannin, and near that small town is the Fannin Battleground State Historic Site, which we visited.

Down the road a little further is Goliad, where you can see the Mission Espiritu Santo and Presidio La Bahia. We arrived after closing time, but the exteriors were impressive. So was Goliad County’s courthouse; Texas has a lot of fine courthouses.

Ann pointed out to me after a visit to an HEB, which is a major regional grocery chain, that Texas, as a name and a concept, is involved in a lot of marketing in Texas. I probably knew that, but never gave it much thought. For one thing, she’d noticed a selection of cookie cutters in the shape of Texas. Other products available in the store, such as Texas Dipper brand corn chips and many, many others, carried on the theme, as do other ads and products in other places.

At the motel, you could make yourself waffles in the shape of Texas.

Houston, July 2015Ann noted that we probably wouldn’t be able to make an Illinois-shaped waffled at an Illinois motel. I’ll go along with that.