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South Padre Island, a barrier island on the Texas Gulf Coast, offers a plethora of activities. Whether you are a tourist or local, South Padre Island offers something fun for everyone and lots of attractions for people of all ages.  For those who love the beach, there are banana-boat rides, parasailing, surfing, kite surfing, snorkeling, surf fishing, offshore fishing, scuba diving, sailing, speedboats, leisure boats and many other types of beach-related activities. On the shore there is horseback riding, bicycling, volleyball, football, Frisbee, all kinds of photography and painting opportunities due to the spectacular beauty of the scenery. You can even go shell-collecting and make unique jewelry or shell art from your finds. Using metal-detectors is also a popular hobby that produces rare treasures. Our Beachcomber Museum offers real maps to real treasures that were lost among sea-faring ships on their journeys. South Padre Island is rich in history and offers historical sites and statues that tell exciting stories of treasure, some found already and some waiting to be discovered yet.
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Thanks to Sam and his blog known as the
SPI History Channel

South Padre, 1946-1947


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.


Barge Moves Historic House


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.


More Pics from Ann


Many thanks to Ann with the Historical Committee for these pictures. The above picture is not so notable other than when it was built in 1960 it cost $1,500, and taxes were about $30 per year. Hey can we bring back those days?

Here's one of the few A-frames on the Island.

The Red Parrot (above) is well known as a stilt house.

According to the legend, this is the house where the rock band ZZ Top used to record when on the Island. As Ann noted, the new house behind it looks like it sprouted on top of it. Thanks again for the pictures, Ann!


The Round House


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.


A Few More from Downtown


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.


The Old Brick House



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.


Still At It


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.

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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 interesting concept.