Bulwark against the Bay: The People of Corpus Christi and Their Seawall

Bulwark against the Bay: The People of Corpus Christi and Their Seawall

Bulwark against the Bay: The People of Corpus Christi and Their Seawall

Bulwark against the Bay: The People of Corpus Christi and Their Seawall


After a devastating hurricane in 1919, the people of Corpus Christi faced the stark reality of their vulnerability. It was clear that something had to be done, but the mere will to take precautionary measures did not necessarily lead the way. Instead, two decades would pass before an effective solution was in place. Mary Jo O’Rear, author of Storm over the Bay, returns to tell the story of a city’s long and often frustrating path to protecting itself.

Bulwark Against the Bay reveals the struggle to construct a seawall was not merely an engineering challenge; it was also bound up with the growing popularity of the Ku Klux Klan, local aversion to Roman Catholicism, the emergence of the League of United Latin American Citizens, new efforts on behalf of African American equality, the impact of the Great Depression, support for Franklin Roosevelt, and reactions to the New Deal.

A case study of a community wrestling with itself even as it races with the clock, Bulwark Against the Bay adds to our understanding of urban history, boardroom and backroom politics, and the often harsh realities of geography and climate.


The Corpus Christi Chamber of Commerce could not have picked a more blustery day to showcase its city than September 21, 2013. Twelve hundred cyclists were gathered at Whataburger Field downtown, preparing to participate in the Tenth Annual Conquer the Coast Classic. Six days of steady rain had just slacked off, but the season’s first cold front had blown in, and riders were already debating the wisdom of trying the sixty-five-mile route in the face of such gusts. Others were simply excited, coasting between cars in the lot like sprites on gliders. Decisions finally made, they began to gather in the starting lane, divided into waves depending on their goal, the sixty-five milers first, the twenty-five and ten-mile riders after. As the master of ceremonies began his last-minute chatter, spouses hugged one more time, teens snapped an additional picture, and loved ones moved to the sidelines. Following the singing of the national anthem and the naming of the event’s leader, an air of expectancy settled over all; then the announcer’s terse countdown began. Joining him, the assemblage yelled out, “three, two, one, zero!” and took off, headed straight into a wild northwest wind.

Heading up the coast and then east across six waterways to return west from the barrier islands, sixty-five-mile cyclists were doing more than beginning a grueling ride around Corpus Christi Bay. They were commemorating, as they passed, three of the most significant man-made structures in the city.

First was the port, easily glimpsed from the side as riders pumped their way up the steel arch bridge. Bracketed by a turning basin on the west side and a deep water channel on the east, the port was a testament to a select few in the 1920s. These men, powered by ranching profits and land investments, had taken on city, county, state, and federal governments to secure an international harbor. Strengthened by boss-controlled politics, they had persuaded voters to create a navigation district with which to run . . .

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