Monthly Archives: November 2012

Galveston Island Railroad Museum: A Grand Re-Opening of a Window to the Past

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{Originally written for and published by The Island Guide, November 1, 2012}

The railroad system of the United States is one of this country’s truest and most steadfast innovations. Thousands of passengers board airplanes and fly around the world on a daily basis; the cell phone in your pocket will be out of date in less than a year. But the railroad has remained a staunch and irreplaceable moving fortress in American transportation and commerce, unwavering amid the folds of the rapid acceleration of advanced technology.

Galveston’s prominence during her first century as a city was ultimately a product of the railroad, and at a time when most rail lines only included two stops, perhaps three, the hub of commercial activity here also made it one of the few cities in the nation from whence a traveler could take a train to anywhere in the country. At the height of Galveston’s reign as one of the top producing domestic ports, thirty-five sets of tracks connected the wharf along the harbor to the rail yard between 25th and 29th streets. There was a seemingly endless flow of freight from the merchant docks to the yard as the railcars busily transferred goods to and from the ships. Those thirty five sets of tracks are now Harborside Drive, the wharf is Fisherman’s Wharf, and the rail yard is now Shearn Moody Plaza, home of the Galveston Railroad Museum.

Morris Gould, Director of Operations of the Museum, has been working for the museum since it opened in 1983. He began as a volunteer, and then served on the Board of Directors for twenty years before he accepted his current role in 2007. Sandi Cobb, Marketing and Advertising Director, is deemed by Gould as a faithful counterpart certainly integral to the restoration and revival of the Railroad Museum. For three years the two worked out of a mobile office in the parking lot of the museum, and side by side they made the uphill climb over the mountain of devastation left by Ike.

The sights and scenes of the museum the morning after the storm were a tragedy of Shakespearean dimensions. Seven feet of water invaded the first floor of the Plaza where the museum is housed, whose ground level is already elevated several feet above the street. Exhibits were trashed, their displays overturned and demolished. The iconic white statues were waterlogged and muddy. The benches, the doors, the windows, the floors, the walls, the offices, the gift shop and all of its contents: destroyed. Outside the storm surge seems to have well exceeded the height it reached inside, as there were large items it managed to lift and deposit on the opposite side of an eight foot fence.

It took the passionate dedication of Morris Gould and Sandi Cobb two and a half years from that day in September to reopen the doors of the Railroad Museum, time that was spent in near agonizing attempts to secure the funding and the means to restore the ill-fated archives. They had been pledged two one hundred thousand dollar grants, but both required matching funds as a stipulation and limited time to procure them. Only a few months was remaining until the grants expired, and Morris received a phone call. It was Sandi, she was in tears. She had just been told that the Houston Endowment had granted them $250,000 with no strings attached. But the grants alone are not the reason the museum is now open; added to them was the power of an overwhelming community spirit and an outpouring of generosity from hundreds of private donors. Even the art students of a Houston high school lent their assistance by restoring the Ghosts of Travelers Past, the life-sized statues that depict scenes from the museum’s days as a passenger train station. All of the funds raised were used to repair the damage and resume operations, which was finally accomplished on March 15th of 2011. Currently and on into the future, the Museum depends greatly on the generosity of its visitors and members.

On November 10th, the hard work, dedication, and generosity of the people involved in the survival of the Railroad Museum will be celebrated. That is the official day of the museum’s Grand Re-Opening, and it is also the day Galveston will welcome two F7A Super Chief War Bonnet locomotives that have been completely and grandly restored. Benefactors of the museum will take a ride from Houston to Galveston aboard these locomotives, but what began as an event to thank the friends of the museum evolved into an opportunity to also raise funds for the continuation of the museum’s efforts. They will be joined by five additional cars full of patrons who have showed their support to the museum by purchasing tickets for this historic journey. Upon the arrival of the locomotives in Galveston, the cars will be dedicated and the celebration will continue with live music and refreshments. This event is open to the public.

The vintage locomotives set to arrive on November 10th were originally constructed in 1951-52. One is a 64-seat dining car named The City of Galveston in honor of her people. With another car the Board of Directors appropriately decided to honor Morris Gould and his service to the museum that spans over three decades. It will be named after Morris’ father, George H. Gould. The project of restoring all of the vintage rail cars set to arrive has taken almost two years to complete, but the results are stunning. The refurbished locomotives look as though they just rolled off the assembly line; every last authentic detail has been carefully attended to.

With the addition of these railcars the Museum is making its very own history, and they are but few of the upcoming additions and upgrades. The technology that has surpassed yet not usurped the great locomotive will be an integral part of the Railroad Museum’s future endeavors. Discussions are only now in the initial stages, but the museum hopes to soon construct a Locomotive Simulator, an exhibit of virtual reality where visitors will have the opportunity to experience a journey to Galveston through the eyes of a railway engineer. Another major project on the horizon is the restoration of the Glenfee, the sole surviving 1947 American Freedom Train which once carried Dwight D. Eisenhower and Harry S. Truman. Galveston was one of many original stops along the Freedom Train’s line, and now the Island is a fitting end for that line, for this is a place that not only preserves history, it creates it.

Until then, visitors can still greatly appreciate and enjoy the routine museum services that are at last normal again after four long years. “Artifacts of the golden age of travel” are on display, as are the model train theatre and an interactive displays featuring genuine engineering equipment. Walk in the People’s Gallery, the very site of the Santa Fe Station waiting room, and view the exhibits of railway dining ware, china, and silver. Most Saturdays of every month the Railroad Museum offers train rides, and visitors can take a fifteen minute round trip on a vintage Mopac 13895. The museum also offers meeting and banquet facilities, and is excited to welcome Santa Claus himself, who arrives above the Harborside Express train on December 15th. Meet Santa, see the Christmas lights, and stroll through the Garden of Steam.

The Galveston Island Railroad Museum is located at 2602 Santa Fe Place, with an additional entrance at the intersection of 25th and The Strand. For more information about the Grand Re-Opening festivities, museum operations, or to book an event, contact the museum at 409.765.5700 or galvrrmuseum@sbcglobal.net, or visit http://www.GalvestonRRMuseum.com.

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The Strand Pizzeria: A UniquePerspective on the Perfection of Pizza

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{Originally Written for and Published by The Island Guide, November 1, 2012}

The concept for The Strand Pizzeria was dreamed up many years ago by Michael Malone, who has lived on the Island since 1996 and has spent a lot of that time, appropriately, around pizza. He learned the basics of this Italian-turned-American delicacy in the ten years he spent running Nina’s Bourbon Street West and O’Connely’s, which were both in the current location of Murphy’s Pub. For the next six and a half years he worked at The Lounge, and often looked over The Strand to the For Sale signs in the windows of the storefronts across the street.

Michael’s dream was made a reality when he partnered with Chef John Nalle and Jesse Flores in late 2011, and The Strand Pizzeria opened on February 4, 2012. Now Michael’s view looks out to the opposite side of the street, from behind the very window into which he once stared and out to the place he used to work. The three proprietors combined their efforts to develop Michael’s unique concept into a much-needed addition to the repertoire of locally owned Galveston restaurants. Together they created what is certainly a one-of-a-kind establishment. There are many other places that offer pizza, but the atmosphere, location, hours, and superb quality of the product truly set it apart.

Rapidly gaining the reputation for the best pizza on the Island, a glimpse into the kitchen of The Strand Pizzeria reveals the foundation of their menu and their success: dough and sauce that are both made from scratch in house. Chef Nalle has developed a rich, trademark sauce that is made without sugar and brings forth the rich nuances of the pizza’s ingredients as opposed to disguising it with sweetness. Pizzas are available in three sizes, the largest of which boasts a diameter of twenty-four inches. Their gargantuan efforts do not cease there as they also offer the “Strandboli,“ a twenty-four inch Stromboli that weighs five pounds, to which they have attached the Texas-sized disclaimer that if you can eat it all in forty-five minutes, it’s free.

The pizza and Stromboli are met with an assortment of appetizers including a wings, breadsticks, and perhaps the hidden darling of the menu, the Roseboli. Their homemade dough is wrapped around an oozing delight of mozzarella and feta cheeses, sausage, and pepperoni, and finished with a garlic and parmesan topping. A meal in itself, the Roseboli is nothing short of divine. Specialty pizzas bring together a vast assortment of ingredients for the more adventurous pizza lover, and Create Your Own Calzones complete the fare. Stop by on Fridays and Saturdays between the hours of 11am-1pm, 5-7pm, and 12am-4am for $5 Pizza by the Slice.

With three 110” televisions, this is the perfect place to enjoy sporting events. They also offer a full bar and a wide selection of wines and beer. Mixed drinks start at $3.50, bottled beers are $2.50 and drafts are $2. Along with the outstanding value found on their menu, at The Strand Pizzeria, every hour is happy hour, and the span of those hours is indeed generous.

Michael’s career in the bar and nightclub industry prompted him to be thoughtful of industry employees when designing his concept, because two a.m. is the bartender’s equivalent of five p.m. to the rest of the working world. Thus the Pizzeria is open until four a.m. Wednesday through Saturday nights, giving industry employees a great spot to frequent when they get off of work. Of course it also welcomes the people that they served all night to continue their indulgence with the chance to feed a late-night craving. During the day the Strand Pizzeria is family friendly with a bright and cheerful ambiance, which lends the business a great deal of balance and allows a broad range of clientele to savor a pizza that is all too appealing with its bold and vibrant flavors.

The Strand Pizzeria was Michael Malone’s pizza pie in the sky for many years before it came to fruition, but the wait was well worth it, both for him and the ones to whom pizza is an event, not simply a meal. This establishment filled an empty niche on The Strand and in Galveston that was aching to be filled, and perhaps that is why the Pizzeria seems already to have an air of a long-established business. Its presence is woven seamlessly into the fabric of the identity of this eclectic downtown, in part because of its unique personality, but also because it offers a standard of product that takes many restaurants years to accomplish.

The Strand Pizzeria is located at 2413 Strand. Hours of operation are Sunday-Tuesday 11am to midnight, Wednesday through Saturday 11am to 4am. For more information you can find them on Facebook or call 409.771.0433. Carry-out orders are welcome.