July 28, 2005

Preserving History

The city of Galveston is looking to ensure the preservation of one of the few structures to make it through the 1900 hurricane. The city will begin a fundraising effort toraise $5 million to purchase the "Bishop's Palace" from the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and refurbish the structure. In the process, it will also make possible the renovation of one of the island's other historical structures, St. Mary's Cathedral Basilica, which was built in 1847.


As mayor of Galveston, Lyda Ann Thomas will spearhead a $5 million fund-raising campaign for the city to purchase and refurbish the 112-year-old Chateauesque home, which towers above Broadway, the island's main street. The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston has owned the historical home since 1923 and operated it as a museum since 1963.

Thomas and Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza have agreed in principle to the sale of the structure to the city, they said Wednesday.

"Historically, it is one of the most important buildings in the country," Thomas said. "It attracts more visitors than any of our other house museums on the island."

The city and the archdiocese have not yet agreed on a sale price for the building, which is in need of repairs, including work to stop a leaking roof. No tax money will be used for the purchase or restoration, the mayor said.

"We can see from the street the deterioration that has been occurring," Thomas said. "I just decided to go up and talk to the archbishop and see if the archdiocese would be willing to let the citizens begin to raise money to restore the building, since the church was struggling with it."

Fiorenza conceded that the Bishop's Palace is a financial burden on the archdiocese, adding that running a museum is "not particularly our mission." He said he thinks the city can do a better job of maintaining it.

"The city has great experience in managing historical homes and museums," Fiorenza said. "We feel under the direction of the Galveston Historical Foundation that beautiful architectural gem will be better preserved as a great tourist attraction for the city of Galveston."

Although the foundation operates several Galveston attractions, including three home museums, it has not been determined whether it will run the Bishop's Palace.

"That is a possibility down the road," said Marsh Davis, head of the historical foundation. "It's going to take some time to gauge the feasibility of it all. But the foundation will be part of the planning process."

The foundation wants to ensure covenants attached to the deed in perpetuity "protect every square inch inside and out" of the structure, Davis said.

The Friends of the Palace campaign, announced at a news conference Wednesday, intends to raise approximately $5 million during the next five years.

"Initially, we will be looking for around $3 million, part of which will be for the purchase," Thomas said. "Part of that $3 million will be used for immediate repairs."

The Bishop's Palace began its life as a private home, and was given as a gift to Bishop Christopher Byrne in 1923. Besides Byrne, no other Bishop ever lived in the structure.

According to Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza, proceeds from the sale of the Bishop's palace will be used to aid in the renovation of St. Mar's Cathedral Basilica, the oldest Cathedral in the state of Texas and the oldest church building on Galveston Island.

All in all, this sounds like a win for everyone.

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