The Tremont House
(Leon H. Blum Building)
1879, 1882, Eugene T. Heiner
Rehabilitation and additions, 1985, Ford, Powell & Carson
Source: Galveston Architecture Guidebook by Ellen Beasley and Stephen Fox
Copyright© 1996 Galveston Historical Foundation
The cousins Leon and Hyman Blum, and Leon Blum’s brother Sylvain, were Alsatian Jews who immigrated to Texas in the 1850s. In 1865 they moved to Galveston to open the dry goods wholesale and mercantile house of Leon & H. Blum, which became of the largest wholesalers in Texas in the 1870s and 1880s. Following the loss of its building on the Strand in the fire of June 1877, the firm acquired the site and in 1879 had the Houston architect Eugene T. Heiner design a substantial three-story building of stucco-faced brick at the corner of 24th and Mechanic.
In 1882, the Blum firm recalled Heiner to expand the building farther east along Mechanic Street. Heiner cleverly turned what had been the east end bay of the 1879 building into the middle bay of the expanded building, emphasizing the center of the long Mechanic front with a pediment-crowned frontispiece that breaks through the long horizontal line of the bracketed galvanized iron cornice. An illustration published at the time of the 1882 expansion depicted the building with a mansard-roofed attic that was perhaps anticipated for a future phase of expansion, but was never built. The Leon & H. Blum Building had the most extensive street frontage of any downtown Galveston wholesale houses. However, as happened to a number of other important merchantile houses in the aftermath of the Panic of 1893, the firm went bankrupt in 1896. Increasing competition from Dallas, San Antonio, and a fast-rising Houston exposed the vulnerability of Galveston’s established wholesale business, which found themselves no longer at the maritime gateway to Texas but at the wrong end of the railroad network that connected Texas cities to Kansas City, St. Louis, and Chicago by the late 1880s.
In 1981 Cynthia and George Mitchell bought the Blum Building, which was in shabby condition but largely intact externally. Working with Ford, Powell & Carson’s Boone Powell and Carolyn Peterson and Chicago interior designer Ann Miller Gray, they restored the exterior of the building and transformed the interior into a 124-room hotel, the first major hotel in downtown Galveston in nearly sixty years. Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell named it after the Tremont Hotel, Galveston’s most famous Victorian hotel, which had opened in 1877 at Tremont and Church, and was demolished in 1928. In order to secure adequate space to make the hotel financially feasible and still qualify for federal tax credits for certified rehabilitation of a listed historic property, Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell won permission from the National Park Service to add a fourth floor to the building – in the form of the never-built mansard-roofed attic. The tranquil public spaces of the hotel are forecast by the quiet authority of the ranks of double-leaf wood-and-glass doors in the building’s sidewalk arcade. Street trees and muted gray flagstone paving of the sidewalk underscore the Tremont House’s urbanity. Preservation and rehabilitation have meant a radical change in the Blum Building’s use and its demeanor. Ford, Powell & Carson, and their clients, have effected these changes with tact and assurance.
Note: The Tremont House reflects an Italianate architecture.