Cynthia and George Mitchell were strong advocates of historic preservation and served as leaders in the transformation of Galveston’s once neglected downtown area into the nationally acclaimed Strand National Historic Landmark District. The Cynthia and George Mitchell family own more than 18 buildings in the historic district and Pier 21, as well as, the famed Hotel Galvez & Spa on Seawall Boulevard, The Tremont House in the downtown area, and The Harbor House Hotel & Marina located at Pier 21.
A native of Galveston, George Mitchell often brought his family to the Island. He recalled that every time they passed the downtown area, his wife, Cynthia, would say, “Someone should really do something about preserving those beautiful buildings. It would be such a shame to see them torn down.”
Mr. Mitchell saw some of the buildings fall to the wrecking ball and considered it to be a sad fate for once stunning examples of Victorian architecture. The Mitchells recognized that the people who lived and worked downtown were unable to do the needed restorations on their own. In their opinion, Galveston had the best Victorian architecture in the Southwest and it deserved to be protected.
On a 1972 visit to Savannah, Mr. Mitchell learned about an innovative preservation program that had been established which included a revolving fund for buying and reselling endangered properties. After seeing the merits of this program, Mr. Mitchell quickly dispatched six members of the Galveston Historical Foundation to study Savannah’s achievements and adapt them to Texas. Contributions from local foundations helped establish a revolving fund for Galveston that to date has saved over 30 buildings.
Mr. Mitchell also helped recruit Peter Brink, now with the National Trust, to lead the Galveston Historical Foundation and The Strand revitalization. It was Brink who persuaded Cynthia and George Mitchell to purchase the 1871 Thomas Jefferson League Building on the Strand in 1976, and convert it into shops, offices and a fashionable restaurant. This led to a plan that resulted in the purchase and restoration of more buildings, which thankfully encouraged others to participate in a very successful restoration of the Strand area into the historic landmark district that it is today.
The Mitchells were also involved in the restoration of the 1877 Tall Ship ELISSA. The ship was originally purchased by the City of San Francisco, but Mr. Mitchell and other community leaders were able to strike a deal that eventually brought the ship to Galveston. They started with a budget of $50,000 and the total project ended up costing close to $6 million. The ELISSA, docked at The Texas Seaport Museum, makes a striking addition to the Galveston Harbor and now enjoys the distinction of being one of three National Historic Landmarks in Galveston.
In addition to historic preservation, Mr. Mitchell was pivotal in developing west end subdivisions: Pirates Beach, Pirates Cove and Lafitte’s Cove, as well as, championing Galveston as a year-round tourism destination by building the San Luis Hotel, opening The Tremont House hotel, restoring Hotel Galvez and adding a spa, and resurrecting Galveston’s Mardi Gras celebration. He has also made significant contributions to Texas A&M University at Galveston, University of Texas Medical Branch and affordable housing.