Historic Galveston house for sale

January 15, 2008 6:13:18 PM PST
A piece of Galveston history may be sold to the highest bidder. The Bishop's Palace is 115 old. Sold to the Galveston-Houston Archdiocese in the 1920's, the mansion was home to the bishop until the 1950's. Now open to the public, the mansion is entering another phase in its history.

Victorian in design, the mansion towers three stories with nine chimneys and turrets jutting skyward. It is the number one historic tourist attraction on the island. Every day, all year round, tourists are here.

"I passed it on the road a few times when I've been in Galveston," said tourist Aine Fitzgerald. "I always wanted to come see it."

The mansion is massive. It's over 13,000 square feet with eight bedrooms. That's a lot of house to take care of and that's one of the reasons why the Galveston Historical Foundation wants to take control of the property.

"The church is not in the business of interpreting the history of Galveston Island," said Dwayne Jones who is the executive director of the Galveston Historical Foundation. "That is not their mission. It is ours."

Just last month, the foundation reached an agreement with the archdiocese to maintain and become the administrator of the property. However, the foundation wants to own it out-right. Something they are negotiating now with the archdiocese. Neither side will say how much the asking price is.

In a written statement, the Galveston-Houston Archdioceses says, "If those monies are not raised, that opens the opportunity for another entity to consider the purchase of the building."

And it's at the top of the house where Jones says the biggest problems exist.

"You get a view with some of the issues with the roof and the complexity of the roof," Jones said.

The tiles have been falling off. They are original tiles and many were handmade. They must all be removed to repair the aging and in some parts, leaking roof. Intricate designs such as a griffin are deteriorating.

The original owners, John and Josephine Gresham filled the house with seven children. Their likeness said to be the inspiration for the cherubs Mrs. Gresham painted in a mural on the dining room ceiling. The Gresham heirs sold the house for $40,000 to the archdiocese in 1923. A far cry from the estimated $5 million it will cost to repair and renovate the house. Money the foundation is raising now.

"We feel like by owning it eventually and raising funds to restore it we can keep it in shape," Jones said.

An estimated 80,000 people buy tickets to tour the Bishop's Palace each year. Tourists the Galveston Historical Foundation wants to keep attracting.

The Galveston Historical Foundation says it has five years to negotiate a selling price with the archdiocese.

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