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More of a visual learner? Read the transcript of this week's Galveston Unscripted podcast episode below:
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Nestled amidst the historical buildings of the Galveston Downtown Historic District are small shops and restaurants that beckon you to learn the stories of their rich past. One of these storied establishments can be found on Tremont Street between the aptly named Church and Postoffice streets. This business has been serving Galvestonians in one way or another for over a century. Step right on into the Star Drug Store, a Galveston gem that has served up satisfaction to its patrons since 1886. Star Drug Store stands as a reminder of the days before identical brand-name drug stores set up shop across the street from one another. The Scanlon family, prominent real estate developers on the island, purchased the property and built two buildings known as the Levy Building and the Star Drug Company Building. These fine buildings were a welcome sight in the booming city in the late 1880s. The Star Drug Company Building storefront was opened as a drug store to serve the growing Galveston community.
The front-facing facade was designed by the celebrated architect Nicholas Clayton, the Star Drug Store boasts a mesmerizing facade that captures your attention with a focus on the late-Victorian style. With an asymmetrical window grouping consisting of arches and elaborate decor, Clayton's design transports us to an era of architectural grandeur.
In 1906, Charles J. Michaelis, a local druggist, purchased the Star Drug Store, which initially had a wooden structure. As the downtown fire limits expanded to Church Street, the building was required to upgrade its structure to a more flame-resistant material. He enlisted the expertise of contractor J.W. Zempter to convert the building to brick without compromising Clayton's design. This $15,000 renovation, completed in 1909, transformed the store into a magnificent brick edifice, ensuring its longevity.
It was in 1917 that the Star Drug Store became a fully operational pharmacy and lunch counter. A horseshoe-shaped, tile soda fountain counter was added to the pharmacy during this time. This captivating addition served as a cherished gathering spot for locals, where their animated conversations became integral to the store's vibrant tapestry. As you enter the building, you can see the mezzanine level, once lined with cots and used as an observation area after administering prescriptions. The storefront of the Star Drug Store even offered valet parking services for its patrons.
The Star Drug Store was the first lunch counter to integrate in the late 1950s, making it the first in Galveston. Galveston was the second city in the state to integrate its lunch counters, right behind San Antonio. A few African American Galvestonians held sit-ins at various lunch counters on the island. Unlike other Texas cities where there were riots, the transition to integration in Galveston was mostly peaceful and led by the community's religious leaders of all denominations, African American business leaders like Thomas Armstrong, and a Central High School student, Kelton Sams. The Star Drug Store was one of the first in the state to open its lunch counter to all Galveston citizens.
Ownership of the Star Drug Store changed hands several times before a severe fire in 1998,which closed the store. However, in November 2001, the Tilts family purchased the building and began an ambitious five-year restoration project. This project encompassed the rebuilding and restoration of the facade, the creation of two loft apartments upstairs, and the careful preservation of the historical Coca-Cola neon porcelain sign, one of the oldest surviving signs of its kind, allowing visitors to truly immerse themselves in a bygone era.
On September 12, 2008, Hurricane Ike devastated Galveston, and the Star Drug Store was not spared. Over six and a half feet of water inundated the premises, causing significant damage to furniture and equipment. Yet, through the unwavering dedication of family, friends, and the resilient Galveston community, the Star Drug Store defied the storm's destruction. Just three months later, on December 17, it triumphantly reopened its doors, ready to serve its beloved patrons again.
The Star Drug Store stands as a living testament to Galveston's enduring spirit and the power of preservation. Today, as we marvel at the original horseshoe counter with its embedded red tile star, we pay homage to the store's resilience and its integral role in Galveston's vibrant history.