By Alice Melott

My name is Rebekah Boyle. I was born March 3, 1918, and my family moved to Galveston, Texas, when I was just five years old. My father left us soon after, and my mother found work as an upstairs maid for a prominent Galveston family. As it seemed she would be quite busy with her duties, it was arranged for me and my younger brother, Jamie, to stay at the Lasker Home for Homeless Children. My older half-brother, George, went to live with his father’s grandparents. I never saw him again and have always wondered what became of him.

Jamie and I were picked up from our mother and brought to the Lasker Home by a stern but kindly lady named Mrs. Frenkel and a strange looking gentleman with a long beard, funny hat, dressed all in black called Rabbi Cohen. It was Thanksgiving Day in 1923, and before we could even unpack our small grips, the home became the scene of a wonderful dinner with turkey and all the trimmings, the likes of which Jamie and I had never seen. The meal was followed by a musical fairy playlet that betokened much thought and care and was played with great charm by the children, who seemed happy, and who we would come to know as our friends and siblings. The costumes, made of paper in the pastel and autumn shades, were unusually beautiful. They were designed by the matron, and made by the older girls. There were about a hundred people present that night, all having a festive spirit about them and treating us children like members of an especially large family, and I did think that maybe this place would not be at all an unpleasant place to be for a while.

We became part of a family of more than forty children that night, Jamie and I, ranging from tiny tots up to youngsters in their teens. There were three dormitory rooms on the second floor of the home, one each for the boys, the girls, and the small babies. The atmosphere and surroundings were pleasant and homelike. We ate our meals together in the large dining room overlooking the garden on the Avenue K side of the grounds, and play in the yard under the massive live oaks occupied an important place on the daily schedule. Our mother came to visit us on her occasional day off, and although she was not able to read our school work, Jamie and I loved to show her the pictures we’d drawn or tell her stories of what we had learned since seeing her last, especially about all the fun and fancy visitors that were often there to meet with the matron or visit with Mrs. Frenkel, who I learned was in charge of the very important Lady Board of Managers. As the home was unendowed and depended largely upon an allotment from the community chest each year for its upkeep, there were frequent charitable events—concerts and minstrel shows and holiday celebrations. But apart from the fun we had, we children didn’t know what the gatherings were truly about until we grew older and learned the special importance of making a good impression on the kindly guests in our home, at whose mercy we were for absolutely everything in our young lives.

Mostly we thrived in blissful ignorance of our tenuous lot in life. When I was nine years old, we were taken for a two and a half hour ride over the city on the new streetcars that were added to the equipment of the Galveston Electric Company. The four new cars were impressive, especially since both the front and rear exit could be used, the rear one operating by an automatic safety treadle door. Whenever the streetcar came to rest, we ran back and forth through the front and back doors, laughing wildly and plopping our bottoms hard on the padded Spanish leather seats, which were softer than anything I had ever felt. And if that were not enough, that same day it was announced that Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s Circus was coming to town the following month. It was a marvelous day and we collapsed from the excitement of it all when we returned home.

Those of us who were of age attended the public school and were uniformly proficient in our studies. I walked with the other girls every day the four blocks to San Jacinto School at Twentieth and K where six of us bragged of being one hundred percent perfect in our final music memory contest, and were named in the Galveston Daily News as the “Lasker Home girls.” It was sad at times to think of being without our parents every day, especially when the other children mocked us as “Lasker Home girls,” as children are wont to do. But there was also a sense of pride, of being part of such a lucky group of children, as Mrs. Frenkel and the matron often reminded us.

Like every family, we had our traditions. Each December, the Lasker Home was beautifully decorated for its Christmas party, where Santa Claus distributed lovely gifts from a huge electrically-lighted tree. I remember my friends Elsie and Mary attired as angels, singing “O Holy Night,” and my brother Jamie dressed as an old wise man, cotton pasted to his face with just his tiny nose peaking out above. I laughed ‘til tears wetted my cheeks, then sang carols with all my friends, our girlish sopranos tink-tink-tinking like snowflakes on glass. It was magical.

And in February each year, we paid tribute to the memory of our benefactor, Mr. Morris Lasker, by celebration of his birthday. Mr. Lasker had given money to renovate the home before I was born, and we were always told that if it had not been for his generosity, the Lasker Home would not have survived. So for the festivities in his honor, the home was always splendidly decorated in red, white and blue, in keeping with the George Washington motif that he preferred. A delicious dinner was served and a program presented, including the singing of the Lasker Day song. Rabbi Cohen would usually tell the story of Mr. Lasker’s life, which many of us older children could pretty nearly recite by heart. Some of the naughtier boys would even mouth the words along with the Rabbi. Not wanting to ever learn first-hand about the punishment closet at the top of the back stairway where the bad little children were sequestered, I always tried to maintain my decorum and stifled my giggles.
We had many carefree days and big dreams, but it was hard not to be aware that each child who came to stay at the Lasker Home, be it for a month or for several years, did so because of some insufficiency in our parents’ situation, many of them poignant. I remember one November when it was quite cold outdoors, a very small girl wrapped in blankets was brought to the Lasker Home late at night. Having broken a cardinal rule and secreted to the kitchen for a sip of water, I overheard Mrs. Frenkel discussing the situation with the matron. She said, “Here is a mother suffering mental derangement, a child, aged four, a baby, a father. When discovered the two tots were near starvation through the neglect of the mother, although the father provided ample food. The mother was removed to a sanitarium, the baby died of malnutrition. The child, Anna, has been brought to us.”
Anna became strong and happy at the Lasker Home, and we teased her as if she were our little sister. Her father spent long hours with her on every possible occasion, and every time that I saw him, I wondered why he had not fed Anna and the baby when her mother did not.

Sadly, in December 1934, Mrs. Frenkel fell ill and died at her family residence at 2424 L. Rabbi Cohen paid a beautiful tribute to her for her interest in the Lasker home and its children, and told of her many activities in our behalf. During her thirty-year affiliation with the home she had mothered several hundred children, he said, many of whom had been a credit to the institution and to her untiring work. She had been president of the Lady Board of Managers since 1904 and was elected president for life just a year before she died.
I chose to leave the Lasker Home shortly after Mrs. Frenkel died. I was 16, and became an au pair for a family in Galveston. If I had remained at the home until I was 18, I would have been given a business college course to fit me to make my own way. Yet, I continued my studies and graduated from Ball High in June of 1936, then married my high school sweetheart at the First Baptist Church of Galveston.
Growing up at the Lasker Home instilled in me a fine work ethic, so that after many years of working as a bank teller and church secretary, eventually I was able to open a home-based printing business. I began with just one mimeograph machine, but soon my business was so successful that my husband retired early from the newspaper to work for me. It was not until December 2006, after Hurricane Rita, that I finally closed the business and retired to Las Vegas to live out my days with my daughter and son-in-law. I was 88.

I remember the Lasker Home with fondness, and although I would certainly have loved to have had two parents who could dote and tend to me unconditionally as I grew, I have many times wondered if my experience might have been preferable to the practice today of putting children in temporary and unstable foster homes where they are too often further abused and neglected. At the Lasker Home for Homeless Children, I had stability and safety, love and companionship.
The day I arrived at the home back in 1923, Star Drug took an ad in the Daily News with the headline Mrs. Hinckley Nervous Wreck. It was the story of a poor run-down woman who couldn’t sweep a room without resting, but had been restored to perfect health by Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound. We joked throughout my ten-year stay at Lasker, all my growing up years, that but for Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound, none of us might ever have found one another in the enormity of the Lasker Home, the heart of which was as big as its foyer.
Just three months before Hurricane Ike bore down on Galveston, an obituary ran in the Galveston Daily News about an 89-year old woman who had grown up in the Lasker Home for Homeless Children. Borrowing from what that obituary told me about her life and pulling true articles from the archives of the Galveston newspapers of the time, and using my imagination to fill in the blanks, Rebekah Boyle (not her real name) was able to tell her story.

Alice Melott is a Galveston essayist, among lots of other things. Join her online at alicemelottproperties.com or facebook.com/alicethewriter, or call/text her at 713-443-5432. If you have a great house with an even greater story, or if you spent time in the Lasker Home, please email alice@alicemelott.com.

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Apache Mexican Restaurant Turns 50

Story & Photos By Shannon Rowan Hall

On November 22, Apache Mexican Restaurant will turn 50. Miguel Lopez wants to give credit to his father-in-law and mother-in-law for what they have done over they years – created a Mexican restaurant where all the recipes are made fresh daily with the philosophy of being consistent.

Ildefonso and Frances Ochoa founded Apache Mexican Restaurant in downtown Galveston. They came to the states from the little town of Morelos in Coahuila, Mexico in 1947. Ildefonso decided to join his brother in Galveston where they started a buisiness together on 35th Street and Avenue H called Apache Tortilla and Tamale Factory.

“They made homemade tortillas and tamales,” said Lopez.

The business was successful until Hurricane Carla. The brothers parted from their business venture together, but Ildefonso kept the Apache name and found a new location.

The Ochoas managed to keep their business going and growing while raising a family of five children. As their kids grew up, they helped with the family business. “They managed to send all their children to college,” said Lopez. “They all have careers now and came out of this place with a great work ethic.”

Lopez said the business really grew in the 70s. Meals were served cafeteria style for quick turn around. It was during that time that Apache’s “Surprise Burrito” came about. “People would come in and say ‘Just surprise me!’,” said Lopez, who added that they would take what ever was already made in the restaurant and make a burrito with those ingredients.

Lopez, who took over in 2001, said that it took him a while to get the business down. “They were very tough teachers,” added Lopez. “I learned by watching them, and no matter what, they always used exactly the same amount of the same thing in all their recipes.”

After Ike, Lopez had his doubts about recovering, but he stated his father-in-law was his biggest supporter. Together they worked to get Apache back up and running while he worked at Fish Tales on the Seawall.
Apache has been recognized over the years by The Houston Chronicle, Home & Garden, and most recently after Ike, Texas Monthly.

Lopez invites everyone to come join in the celebration of 50 years during the week of Apache’s Birthday. Call for details! 409-765-5646.

Apache Mexican Restaurant is located at 511 20th Street.
Open since 1960, this family owned and operated business must be doing something right!

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The Old J. Michaelis Ranch House

Story By Shannon Hall
Photo By Jennifer Heylmun

If there is one thing I like about Galveston, it is the history, from the east end to the west end. This Island is rich in history. Jennifer Heylmun submitted a photograph of the Old J. Michaelis Ranch house on FM 3005, which she can view directly across the street from her west Galveston home.

Her message to me was that she wanted to capture its character before it was completely deteriorated. That inspired me to feature it in The Islander Magazine, since it is a structure I pass on many occasions.
In Roberta Marie Christensen’s book, Pioneers of West Galveston Island, the old Michaelis Ranch house is featured.
According to the book, Henry and Fredrica Ostermayer were from Germany and lived in this house. The records described this account featured in the book:
“Ostermayer, just back of the sand hills along the beach, Lot #3. Henry and Fredrica Ostermayer did not survive the 1900 hurricane. They were drowned. According to weather reports, the center of the 1900 storm apparently passed west of Galveston Island, between eight and nine o’clock p.m. By then, the wind was estimated to be about 120 MPH and the storm tide on the Gulf side of the island at 7:30 was reported to have risen to a possible ten or fifteen feet with twenty-five foot high breakers. At 16 Mile Post the Osterymeyers did not have a chance.
Henry and Fredrica drowned but their foster child Florence survived. I was given this startling information in 1990 by Johnny Sullivan Enterprises, Galveston. He said that his grandmother was the Ostermayer foster child, who was born in 1886 and was saved because she clung high in the salt cedar branches of a tree, along with a oppssum and a snake.”
There is a black and white photo in the book written by Christensen showing the roof in tact, the structure on the back of the house has a second story, and the chimney appears to look in the same condition.
After discussing this structure with Heylmun, we both agreed it was pretty amazing that it had survived the 1900 storm as well as Hurricane Ike although dilapidated and it should be recognized. She also added that since she sees this house she often wonders what life was like for the people who had inhabited it over the years.
If anyone has any other pictures of historical information on the Old J. Michaelis Ranch, please feel free to send it to shannon@theislandermagazine.com or call 409-370-6768.

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An Interview with Ida

by Alice Melott
 
Sitting stately for the past century and a half on the corner of Market and 15th streets, The Austin House, with its double galleries and dual entries, pays homage to the at-one-time-equally important thoroughfares it faces. It is one of those iconic structures where tourists and residents alike stop to point and shoot every day. The home was already over 30 years old when Ida Smith Austin came to live in it and became its loving steward through the turn of the century and the Great Depression.


 
The Islander: Good afternoon Mrs. Austin. Thank you so much for meeting with me today. I’d like to start by asking you about your background. How did you come to Galveston?
Ida Smith Austin: I was born in 1858 in Lexington, Virginia, and educated at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton. At 33, I came to Texas and began teaching Sunday school at First Presbyterian Church. Four years later, I married Valery E. Austin, a prominent real estate dealer and city commissioner.
 
The Islander: I take it you were quite a successful Sunday school teacher?
Mrs. Austin: I began Ida Austin Bible Class with five girls, and when the boys asked to join, there was some opposition in the minds of our church fathers as to the propriety of allowing the goats and the sheep to graze in the same spiritual pastures together. I took a firm stand in my quest for independence, realizing that if un-presbyterian, it was not unspiritual to do so.
 
 The Islander: Perhaps we should call you an early feminist. How long did you teach?
Mrs. Austin: For 53 years I taught ministers and missionaries, deacons and elders, as many as 5,000 students altogether, and outlasted seven pastors. I also served as president of the YWCA and president of the United Daughters for the Confederacy.
 
The Islander: It sounds as if you had an impressive influence on your church, despite being a woman amidst a patriarchy. What can you tell us about The Austin House? 
Mrs. Austin: The home, which we called Oak Lawn because of the many live oaks on the property, was built by D. Moffat for my husband’s ancestor, Edward Tailor Austin, who was a cousin of Stephen F. Austin. It incorporated an older home that some say dates back to 1859, and was completed September 5, 1868. It has been written that the home reflects the architectural meeting place of Greek revival and jigsaw, and the birth of Victorian scrolls.
 
Ida Smith Austin House The Islander: The home was built around the time of the Civil War. How were such extravagances afforded?
Mrs. Austin: When it was built, the Civil War was a new and savage memory. The South was broke, but cotton was worth a dollar a pound. It was the beginning of Galveston’s greatness as a port, and the incoming wealth is certainly reflected in its houses. Practically all the building materials used in my home were shipped from Maine – white pine, and imported mahogany and walnut. The walls of the drawing room were frescoed with classic scenes and painted cornices broke the ceiling angle after the Pompeian manner. It has always been a rich and hospitable home.
 
The Islander: In fact, you had guests at your home on the evening of September 7, 1900, isn’t that right?
Mrs. Austin: Yes it is. A storm had been predicted for Friday night the Seventh of September, but so little impression did it make on my mind that a most beautiful and well attended moonlight fete was given at our home Oak Lawn that night.
 
The Islander: When did you realize a storm really was coming?
Mrs. Austin: I was busy about my domestic affairs Saturday, rearranging my house, when I heard a man who ran up the street, exclaim, “My God! The waters of the bay and gulf have met on 15th Street.” I went on the gallery to realize that what he said was only too true.
 
The Islander: Where you frightened?
Mrs. Austin: No, I felt no uneasiness and remarked to my niece, “We have nothing to fear, the water has never been over our place,” and I just felt that it could not come. In a few minutes we heard the lapping of the salt water against the side-walk, and then it slowly crept into the yard.
 
The Islander: When did you understand how severe the situation was?
Mrs. Austin: In an incredibly short time the water surged over the gallery driven by a furiously blowing wind. Trees began to fall, slate shingles, planks and debris of every imaginable kind were being hurled through the air. We brought our cow on the gallery to save her life, but soon had to take her in the dining room where she spent the night. Ten very large trees were soon uprooted and fell crashing, banging and scraping against our house. We opened all downstairs windows and let the water flow through. Soon it stood three feet in all the rooms.
 
The Islander: Did it stop there, with just three feet on the ground floor?
Mrs. Austin: The wind seemed to grow more furious, reaching the incredible velocity of 120 miles an hour. Blinds were torn off windows, frames, sash and all blown in, and the rain water stood an inch and a half on upstairs floors. Then slowly dripped through, taking paper and plastering from ceilings in the rooms below.
 
The Islander: What were your impressions when the storm had passed? 
Mrs. Austin: Galveston! The beautiful island city was hardly recognizable the next day. Yet, with God everything, without God nothing.
 
The Islander: Thank you for sharing your memories.
Mrs. Austin: It has been my pleasure.


One hundred and eight years later, on September 13, 2008, Hurricane Ike washed another four feet of water through The Austin House’s frescoed dining room. The plaster walls and Maine white pine floors dried and remain today.
Mrs. Austin died in 1936.
 
 
  This interview is a fictional conversation with Ida Smith Austin, but most of the words are hers, as captured in her own story, written November 6, 1900, and published in Through a Night of Horrors, edited by Casey Edward Greene & Shelly Henley Kelly; and Women, culture, and community: religion and reform in Galveston, 1880-1920 by Elizabeth Hayes Turner. Details about the construction and architecture of the house were taken from Library of Congress records.
 
Alice Melott is a Galveston essayist, real estate broker and trainer and a social media consultant. You can read her musings on real estate, island politics, and other sundry fodder at http://amelott.wordpress.com or call/text her at 713.443.5432. If you have a great house with an even greater story, please e-mail alice@alicemelott.com to be considered for this column.
 

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