One of Galveston’s most prominent historical buildings could soon change hands in a move that might pave the way for more renovation of the 19th century structure.
City officials are hoping to transfer ownership of Ashton Villa, 24th Street and Broadway, to the Galveston Historical Foundation, a nonprofit that manages the building.
Ashton Villa needs up to $300,000 in repairs, and the foundation can’t apply for many grants if it doesn’t own the building, said Dwayne Jones, the foundation’s executive director.
“We have earned the money and managed the building over the years, but it’s not fully enough to run the building,” Jones said. “You can’t really raise money for a building you don’t own.”
Ashton Villa was built by James Moreau Brown in 1859 and was home to his daughters, Bettie and Mathilda Brown, who were well-known personalities about town. The building is touted for its Italian-influenced architecture.
The El Mina Shriners bought the home in the 1920s, and the city bought it nearly 50 years later. The city then contracted with the park board of trustees to manage the property, and the park board subsequently contracted with the Galveston Historical Foundation to manage the property.
The foundation has kept up the building since 1970, and the villa is now mostly used for event rentals.
The foundation has taken on most of the costs of the villa, including the city’s purchase of the building in 1970, Jones said. The foundation granted the city $125,000 to buy Ashton Villa, and has taken on all the upkeep costs for the building since then, he said.
The historical foundation has owned the building “by all accounts other than on paper,” City Manager Brian Maxwell said.
“This paperwork simply makes it official and allows them to ask for the funding they deserve to continue to maintain this beautiful piece of the city’s history,” Maxwell said.
The only condition of the change in ownership is that the foundation gives the city a small strip of land behind the parking lot of the Star State Company firehouse on 28th and Market streets, Maxwell said. The firehouse was given to the Historical Foundation in January, although the city owns the parking lot behind that building.
The city needs the strip of land to access the parking lot from 29th Street, Maxwell said.
The foundation is willing to give up the land in order to get the villa, Jones said.
“We would just like to complete this thing,” Jones said. “It works out for both parties.”
Galveston City Council will vote on the property exchange in the coming months, Maxwell said.
Park board Chairwoman Joyce Calver McLean said she also supports the transfer of ownership, which would cut the board out of the villa management.
The foundation’s mission “positions it well to preserve this historic landmark,” McLean said.
Jones isn’t entirely sure what the villa will be used for in the future, but the foundation would keep the building available for public use, he said.
“The building is really important to the landscape of Broadway and it’s very important for the visitors who come to town,” Jones said. “We’re all interested in getting it in the right place after 50 years.”