“ALL NEIGHBORHOODS, AND POSSIBLY ENTIRE COASTAL COMMUNITIES, WILL BE INUNDATED,” warned the National Weather Service. “The storm surge with this [hurricane] is considerably higher than a storm of this magnitude should produce. This is a dangerous and a potentially life threatening weather event. Please heed all recommendations from local emergency management officials.”
On Thursday, September 11, 2008, the people of Galveston, Texas, received the above warning about Hurricane Ike. By Saturday, the island was more than inundated; it was destroyed. The 15-foot storm surge heaved ships ashore and swept houses asea.
Although the surge may have spared some structures, Weingarten’s Broadway Shopping Center was not one of them. Unlike Galveston Place, where Weingarten had helped Randalls heroically reopen within nine days of the storm, Broadway’s Big Lots wouldn’t reopen for more than seven months.
According to Weingarten associates who inspected the property, Broadway Shopping Center was devastated. The entire center needed a rebuild, including an exterior build back and new masonry. The storm surge flooded the center with as much as eight feet of water, blowing out walls and destroying the roof. The damage report read:
Heavy storm debris throughout parking lot and buildings. Structural steel damage. Storefronts all blown in. Everything at the center is damaged. Forty two inches minimum standing water inside. Ceiling tile and grid, batt insulation, wiring, and telecom lines down. Demising walls between tenant spaces thrusted several feet into adjacent tenant spaces. Big Lots entire back wall blown out, leaving the store in total shambles. Power poles, lines and transformers down throughout rear of center. No power, no water, no utilities whatsoever.
Property Management’s Disaster Management Team started demolition work right away—as soon as Bill Strother negotiated access to the closed island for our contractors.
Piece by piece, the crew cleared the building of broken furniture; drenched cash registers, card readers, and televisions; musty merchandise; drowned manikin heads and twisted wigs; spoiled food; unidentifiable slush; soggy drywall and ceiling tiles; sodden insulation, and snakes and rodents hidden among the debris. The stores were gutted down to their bones.
Big Lots’ entire store front and vestibule were demolished, leaving just the framework of the inner doors and wall. Hidden within the side walls of the vestibule, the Disaster Management Team discovered two former entryways, above which were two giant panes of etched glass—perfectly intact. A construction manager snapped a photo of the panes and sent it to the Houston office, where some very excited executives confirmed one very significant origin.
The panes were each three feet long, three feet tall, and each displayed a giant etching of the letter W. They were relics from our company’s supermarket predecessor, Weingarten’s, which Harris and Joe Weingarten started in 1901. Built in 1955, Broadway Shopping Center was anchored by a Weingarten’s grocery store. After the supermarket chain was sold in 1983, the space was leased to several different retailers, many of which made renovations to the façade. At some point the side entrances were closed off. New walls were constructed on both sides of the entryways. The W etchings were buried deeper with each remodel.
To preserve the etchings, Weingarten hired a glass specialist to remove them. Unfortunately, a nine-square-foot, half-century-old piece of glass is exactly as fragile as it sounds, and the first etching shattered.
Not willing to risk the second etching, Weingarten recruited their construction crew to extract the remaining pane. And so, among the filth of broken glass, rotting food, disoriented snakes and wet wigs; surrounded by rubble, debris, fallen buildings and trees, stranded ships, and drenched earth, this one perfect, glimmering, nostalgic piece of hope emerged from the darkness.
Nothing else was salvaged.
Drew Alexander had the etched glass framed and displayed in the plaza boardroom of the Houston office. It is a reminder not only of our company’s humble beginnings, but also of our perseverance. Hurricane Ike destroyed our center and devastated our tenants and their employees, but it could never diminish the Weingarten spirit.
Uncovering the Weingarten emblem brought so much hope to the reconstruction of our shopping center. It allowed us a glimmer of excitement in the midst of such widespread tragedy. It enabled us to focus on our potential instead of dwell on our losses.
The Weingarten insignia is a symbol of all that we have endured and all that we shall overcome—together.
Special thanks to Bill Strother, John Ward, and Steve Wise for helping with this two-part story, and to Bill Goeke for sparking the idea.
Click through the slides below to see Weingarten’s legendary logo throughout history