South Padre History
Thanks to Michael Leahy of San Antonio for finding a few
old pictures from the late 1940's on Flicker. I downloaded three because
they looked neat. The first one is entitled "Lee's Cafe" which was reported
to be the only cafe on the Island back in 1946. In fact, the legend says it
was the only building on South Padre
Island! We do know there may have been some coastal patrol stuff but it sure
does look stark. Apparently everything was washed away by the Great
Hurricane of 1933.
Below is a picture of the south jetty at Brazos Santiagos Pass. I still
can't figure out if the wooden structures are railroad trestles or what. All
that is left of the structure are some square concrete blocks used to
support the wood.
This is my favorite in the collection. How did you get to Padre Island in
1946? Well there were ferries at times, but the most fun was Mrs. Dyke's
Taxi, shown here in Port Isabel. It looks amphibious - not sure if the old
causeway was open but there were no roads on SPI back then.
If you want to learn more such as about the Gulf Coast Causeway Company the
National Park Service has a
great website here. Apparently, the Causeway company formed in 1925
wanted to build a roadway from Port Isabel all the way to Corpus Christi,
110 miles away. The idea was based on the Florida Keys, which had a railroad
and highway. A sports arena, gambling, and giant park were planned, along
with cottage and motor court developments. If the Depression and Hurricane
of 1933 hadn't happened, we might see more of what they accomplished.
On Tuesday April 18, 2007 the historic "whale-back" house
on Tarpon Street was moved in order to make room to a 48-unit condo. Since
the house couldn't be trucked across Queen Isabella Causeway, Marine
Services was hired with their tugboat and barge, shown below.
During the first attempt, a truck on the barge pulled and a tractor pushed
from the rear. The tractor at the back used a little bit too much power, so
the house and barge shifted, no longer lined up on the ramps. The uniquely
Texas term "kattywampus" comes to mind. However, these salvagers and house
movers, acting more like a circus carny group, would not let such a small
thing get in the way ...
The above picture is an early shot of re-aligning the house, boat, wheels,
and creation of new ramps. The big tractor was used to pull the barge back
in line, which was a feat because of the fast out-going tide. Meanwhle the
tugboat was pushing at almost full throttle and fearless men scrambled
underheath the house with heavy pipes, dunnage, winches, and tackle.
At last all was prepared and Ray of A-1 moving tried once to pull the house
with his souped-up truck, which nearly came on board but the house setlled
backwards. Smoke was everywhere - exhaust, burning clutches, burning tires,
hydraulic oil, and not to mention most of the workers smoked like stoves. I
tried to help out from the peanut callery, as it was getting close to 7:00
p.m. "How about that stinky old tractor to just push a little?"
Finally, with what has to be the oldest and strinkiest backhoe I ever
witnessed, the house rolled up and over the dunnage with a great scream of
the truck and a sigh from the house ... and honking of horns and applause.
You never saw such a happier crew, which had been working since nearly dawn.
The house-on-a-barge stayed overnight, to be moved the next day on the high
tide. If you have any subsequent pictures of the barge moving down to Port
Isabel please let me know and I'll be more than to post some up here.
I don't know the history of the Round House, although I do know a little
about the people who stayed there. Willie Nelson was perhaps the most
famous, and used to jam on guitars there with the likes of Waylon Jennings.
Scarlet and George Colley fell in love there, and went on to become our
Island's foremost dolphin experts. Nancy Marsden lived there for a while
too, and subsequently met her new husband Mike. It must be some kind of
powerful love-shack, if you ask me, as everyone still is together.
It still looks good now, all painted up and with some new stairs at the
bottom. It is a true architectural wonder, right here on South Padre Island.
Today I braved the horrendous downtown traffic (hah, nothing like Austin!)
and checked out the Miramar, which according to some was originally named
'Sandy Retreat.' It was the first commercial hotel within town limits of
what today is South Padre Island. I looked ahead, which had the signs, to
the right which had some nondescript construction, and on the left were
these cute little A-frame bungalows. They certainly looked old, anyway.
The orange building there is of course Uncle Buggies, a fairly famous dune
buggy rental outfit in what looked like an old gas station. I was looking
for the article about the owner who recently passed away, since he sounded
like a very interesting person. With all the new regulations, dune buggies
are now off limits in the dunes but you can ride along the beach in the
northern county parts.
And this would be Jake's, reportedly another old jail, cop-shop, and town
center. I shot the backside because the palms and sun looked better. Inside
there is a very nice courtyard, almost Spanish style.
Photo credit: Laurie Gaudi
Here's another Island curiosity located near Gulf and I think Amberjack St.,
the "old brick house." Thanks to several of y'all for reminding me about
this one. Again, we see some influences that could be considered "modernist"
or just plain funky old beach house. The use of flying angles is impressive
- a 45 degree side angle with a 3:12 roof pitch - no mere cubism here! The
large chimney is also curious, though it adds much to its overall charm.
Indeed, there are quite a few houses built on the Island that were designed
"outside the box." There are hexagon houses, five-sided houses, an A-frame
or two, and at least three geodesic domes. Even the rounded roof is evident
today in some brand new construction, a rarity these days.
Over the years there has been quite a discussion of which roof types are
best in high winds of hurricane strength (> 74 MPH). One thought is that
steeper roofs would not act as an airplane wing and thus incur less damage,
although I can no evidence of this after a few tropical storms (knock on
wood, none of true hurricane strength in the last few decades). You will
note, however, that many put thought into angling the house aspect so the
northeast side is the strongest, since that seems to be the prevailing
direction during many tropical storms.
In the abaove picture, the northeast is on the right-hand side of the
picture. As such, the roof angle would be downwind and not scoop as much
wind. Below, an asymmetrical house of five sides, facing towards the
northeast. It is brick downstairs and stucco upstairs.
I appreciate all the phone calls and emails about the
historical house theme we have going here. This is a resource not just to my
credit but for a whole bunch of people, most of whom know a bazillion times
more local history than I. I am still having some difficulty getting around
the "downtown" area because not only is the median being redone; the side
street drainage is also. But I did manage to find four beauties today.
The Sears house called the 'Seventh Day' was built in 1973 and is still
popular as a Gulfside beach house, being very well maintained.
Steve Hathcock referred this house to me as possibly as real old timer on
Sunny Isle St. He wasn't sure of the exact history and the owners weren't
exactly sure if they wanted me to shoot a picture of their house. I do see
some similarities with the old Coast Guard House.
Above, the Palmetto Inn is included, along with its curved front aspect,
which is highly unusual anywhere. The sign says "since 1945" but according
to local knowledge, that is when the family first started their restaurant
business. The present building was built in the mid to late 1950's, still
impressive. It is a true cultural landmark.
Here is the last "surfer" trailer left on
the Island, due to squatter's right's one would suppose. From an aerial
view you can see how a bubble-top 1950's travel trailer was joined up to
other partitions. This is the last stand for a mobile trailer park of
about six permanent trailers.
* * *
Is my job done yet? Absolutly not. There are more cool
houses of historical interest locked away in places all over the Island. I
need to verify the location of John L. Tompkins office, for example, and
shoot one or two bayside boat houses which have those funky Tiki roof-lines.
One Island friend has volunteered to help find old telephone books from the
1950's through 1970's so as to see if the old house is still there, an