This diverse barrier-island city has faced serious storms, both figurative and literal. But it's weathered them all.

By Rod Davis
March 11, 2004

Every six weeks or so in the Strand National Historic District,this city holds ArtWalk. Residents, tourists, art patrons, andpeople just looking for a good time gather on the steps ofbuildings dating to a 19th-century heyday. Back then, Galveston wasthe "Wall Street of the South" and the most populous city inTexas.

That prosperity shattered when this narrow barrier islandsuffered the worst natural disaster in American history: the stormflood of 1900, with a death toll of more than 6,000.

But ArtWalk gives the feeling that Galveston's residents havecome to peace, perhaps not with the past but at least with thepresent. There's a camaraderie that allows visitors to drop in onan exhibit and strike up conversations as readily as if they livedhere in this enclave of Victorian houses, up-and-comingrestaurants, and gardens thick with oleanders.

"Galveston actually is a better place to live than to visit,"says Austin communications executive Marsha Canright, who lived onthe island for 10 years. During that time, she met her husband,David (who was helping restore the tall ship Elissa), and gavebirth to their daughter, Lindsay.

"The town's diverse enough that it's common to know people ofall ethnicities and nationalities, which makes life richer, Ithink," says Marsha. "It's a slower pace, and yet there's alwaysplenty to do. There's a true sense of community in Galveston.People care about this place."

Although the 2000 census showed a slight dip in population,recent projects have brought a decided sense of upturn. MoodyGardens, a new entertainment complex and hotel, is geared towardconventions and family vacations at the island's growing westernend.

Though community pride prevails, the town does have itsproblems. Like many cities its size, some schools are poor, andcrime, drugs, and poverty riddle certain areas. Still, Galvestonhas a way of getting into the blood, generation after generation.Being "BOI"―born on the island―brings a badge of honor,especially among older residents. Even 16-year-old Amy Hunley feelsloyalty to her hometown. Like many her age, Amy calls it"Galvatraz," but she says that if she moved away, "I wouldn't begone long, because of the water. I'd miss it."

Sally Laney, formerly a physician's assistant, and her husband,Jim, a psychologist, moved to Galveston in the early 1990s. Atfirst, they commuted to jobs in Houston, an hour's drive. But in1997, they bought a 12,000-square-foot historic mansion andconverted it into a bed-and-breakfast. The Mermaid & theDolphin has done "leaps and bounds beyond what we expected," Sallysays. "I'm a Yankee from Wisconsin, and I really love it here," sheadds.

For Tom Curtis, director of research communications at theUniversity of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston is pleasantly full ofcontradictions, pride, character, and characters: "If Galvestondidn't exist, Tennessee Williams would have had to invent it."

(published 2002)