|Photos by Katharine Shilcutt|
A newly reopened La King's on Galveston's Strand looks for all the world like the inside of Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour, the fanciful sweet shop from the Harry Potter novels. Wood floors moan softly underfoot while marble counters seem to glow from within and lights twinkle off the metal soda fountains and glass tumblers lining the walls.
Tables scattered throughout the store are covered with centerpieces exploding with candies, ribbons, streamers and toys -- gift baskets to make any child insanely happy -- while families stroll throughout the shop, grabbing up scoops of ice cream, parcels of fudge and giant glasses filled with shakes and malts. Towards the back, a jolly man in a white hat and apron twists a six-foot long piece of taffy on a long conveyor belt, much to the amusement of the gathered crowds of children.
La King's is back.
La King's Confectionery has a history dating to the 1920s, when James H. King began making candy in Houston, under the guidance and instruction of old-world candymakers at the St. Regis Confectionery. Eventually, he established his own candymaking company, which distributed and sold candy throughout the South.
Despite looking as though it's been there since the turn of the century, the sweet shop on the Strand was established in 1976 by King's son, Jack. The shop still creates candy the old-fashioned way, as well as mixing up shakes and malts by hand and serving Texas's oldest ice cream -- Purity, which has been made on Galveston Island since 1889.
|La King's in February of this year, during repairs|
La King's was heavily damaged during Hurricane Ike, as were most businesses along the Strand. The building was submerged in almost seven feet of water during and after the storm, and took nearly a year to reopen following massive repairs. But three weeks ago, people happily crowded back into the sweet shop once again.
On this past Saturday night, it was as if nothing had ever happened at all. The Strand was as busy as any summer night, while people flowed in and out of La King's with ice cream cones in hand. The pony rides at the back of the shop looked as if they'd never moved in 32 years, and the glowing, penny-operated machine at the front still told whether you were "Hot Stuff" or a "Pushover" by a mere handshake. The only noticeable difference was the floor -- gone was the smell of years of old wood and layers of varnish. A gleaming array of fresh new wood was in its place, and it had never looked better.