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”The Open Gates”

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1891, McKim, Mead and White; 1892 stable, N. J. Clayton and Company. 2424 Broadway

In the nineteenth century, Texan elites rarely went out of state for architectural expertise. The most spectacular exception involved this house, which Magnolia Willis and George Sealy commissioned from McKim, Mead and White in 1886, the year that Sealy negotiated the sale of the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway to the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe. Magnolia Willis Sealy seems to have been more involved than her husband in the design process, based on references in the office records of Clayton, the supervising architect. The Sealy House differed from the grand houses designed by Clayton and his Galveston contemporaries in its restraint. Architectur ally exploiting the ruddy coloration of thin Roman brick, tawny limestone, red terra-cotta roof tiles, and cream terra-cotta sculptural ornament caused the design to cohere in a more consistent, and understated, way than was then characteristic of high-style Galveston architecture. The warm coloration of the house works especially well with the palm trees, oleanders, and other exotic semitropical vegetation with which Magnolia Sealy's English horticulturist planted the walled park where the house is set. Just east of the house is a substantial brick, stone, and tile stable and carriage house built to Clayton's design in 1892.

In 1979, the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), to whom the Sealy family presented the house and its contents, took possession. Sixteen years later UTMB had the house remodeled as a conference and tele-conference center. Because the teleconference studio was inserted in the attic, a second stair was brought down inside the house and rooms on the first and second floors that were completely intact were reconfigured. Nonetheless, the Sealy House survives with much of its original furniture to mark the epoch when Galveston reigned as “Queen of the Mexican Gulf.”

Writing Credits

Gerald Moorhead et al.


What's Nearby


Gerald Moorhead et al., "”The Open Gates”", [Galveston, Texas], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of Texas

Buildings of Texas: Central, South, and Gulf Coast, Gerald Moorhead and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2013, 418-418.

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