League City City Council approves turning historic Ghirardi House into Italian Heritage Museum

Ghirardi House, Italian Heritage Museum, Butler Longhorn Museum
League City in August 2019 began repairing the Ghirardi House, a 1918 home of one of the original 12 Italian families who settled in the city. (Courtesy city of League City)

League City in August 2019 began repairing the Ghirardi House, a 1918 home of one of the original 12 Italian families who settled in the city. (Courtesy city of League City)

After a lengthy discussion and an outpouring of public support, League City City Council voted 5-3 on Aug. 11 to approve turning the historic Ghirardi House into the Italian Heritage Museum and including it under Butler Longhorn Museum's operations.

The Ghirardi House at 1220 Coryell St., League City, at Heritage Park dates back to 1918 when it was built by one of the 12 original Italian families who settled in League City.

In August 2019, League City crews began restoring the two-bedroom, 1,100-square-foot home. All that is left is to paint the exterior and other miscellaneous tasks totaling about $30,000, City Manager John Baumgartner said.

So far, about $68,000 has been invested into repair the house, according to city documents.

Dozens of residents spoke Aug. 11 in favor of a resolution that would allow the nearby Butler Longhorn Museum to operate the Ghirardi House as the Italian Heritage Museum and fill it with historic artifacts related to the dozen original Italian farming families who settled in League City. The museum originally requested to take over the Ghirardi House in 2015, museum Executive Director Monica Hughes wrote to the council.

Despite many voicing support of promoting League City's history and heritage by operating the house as a tourable museum, some wondered how the city could afford it.

A League City Convention & Visitors Bureau Advisory Board member said COVID-19 has hit the tourism industry hard. The bureau promotes tourism with hotel occupancy tax funds, which are taxes taken from hotel and motel stay.

But HOT funds are down this year due to the pandemic, the board member said. The board has concerns about how the bureau can support not only the Butler Longhorn Museum but a new Italian Heritage Museum at this time with HOT funds.

Council Member Nick Long expressed similar concerns.

"Spending HOT tax money is not a solution," he said.

The Butler Longhorn Museum sees only 4,000 visitors a year, or 12 per day, so the museum is not adding a lot of value to local restaurants and hotels that benefit from tourism. Adding a new museum only makes the problem worse, Long said.

"I think [promoting] history is worthy," he said. "However, I don’t think it’s worth continually throwing money into the wind on.”

The city's operating agreement with the Butler Longhorn Museum expires in September 2021, which is when the council can reexamine both museums. Mayor Pat Hallisey said the museum has just over a year to prove operating both museums can work.

"Make it work. That’s the deal," he said.
By Jake Magee

Editor, Bay Area & Pearland/Friendswood

Jake has been a print journalist for several years, covering numerous beats including city government, education, business and more. Starting off at a daily newspaper in southern Wisconsin, Magee covered two small cities before being promoted to covering city government in the heart of newspaper's coverage area. He moved to Houston in mid-2018 to be the editor for and launch the Bay Area edition of Community Impact Newspaper. Today, he covers everything from aerospace to transportation to flood mitigation.