Work that’s underway to restore and improve the historic Gibbs Cottages will result in a rebirth of the business hopefully within the next couple of years, according to one of the main people involved in the effort.
The 83-year-old property, located at 340 N. Alister St., is home to nine cottages and a two-story home with an office. The Gibbs Cottages are among the oldest accommodations in Port Aransas.
The cottages’ owner, Gilbert Gibbs, has longtime friend, Plano resident Wendy Prince Plagens, leading the restoration effort.
Wendy’s grandparents were best friends of Gilbert’s parents, Frank and Betty Ann Gibbs, who built the cottages so many years ago.
Wendy said she has spent most of her life in Plano, with Gibbs Cottages her home away from home during vacations.
The cottages have hosted generations of other vacationers, many of them fishermen who appreciated the no-nonsense look and functionality of the simply built and furnished cabins.
The little wood-frame structures have somehow made it through every hurricane that has roared through Mustang Island over the years.
“The cottages did not have insulation in the walls,” Wendy said. “So, after the hurricanes, they just had to be opened up to dry them out, cleaned up and they were ready to be rented again.”
But, by fall 2016, restoration was needed, and rentals ceased so the project could take place.
Then came Hurricane Harvey’s 2017 strike on Port Aransas. Harvey put two feet of water in the cottages.
After the hurricane, FEMA wanted the cottages torn down, according to Gilbert. He refused to demolish them. Instead, he and Wendy resumed their project to elevate and restore each cottage.
“We are trying to bring each cottage back to how they were originally, with improvements, of course,” Wendy said. “We have taken the Hardie board siding off and are replacing it with cypress, which will be painted.”
According to Wendy, each cottage will be painted white with blue trim to match the original look of the cottages.
“We are saving and reusing all the wood that was on the floors and in the walls,” she said. “They will be restored to look like the original structures, only better.”
Each cottage will have an updated bathroom and kitchenette. Original iron bed frames will be refurbished.
The cottages never have had TVs, and they still won’t after the restoration is finished.
“Folks can bring their own TVs if they want, but a lot of them come down here to fish and relax and don’t need a TV,” Gilbert said.
But here’s a modern touch that will be added: Each cottage will have high-speed internet so that guests can access the internet for work, school or entertainment, Wendy said.
Each cottage also will be furnished with a basket of games and books, she said.
Cottage No. 2 is close to complete. Wendy said they took the ceiling out and vaulted it. It will get new lighting and fixtures, but the walls and floors will have original wood.
“We are going to keep going on the renovations,” she said. “Gil can retire and take time in Yorktown, where he has property.”
“I’m hoping for another 80 years for Gibbs Cottages,” Wendy said. “They will be simple, nice, with some modern amenities, but still historic.”
They could be rented short-term, just like they always have been. Or a different business plan could develop.
“We may need to go to long- term rentals or reimagine them to ‘The Shops at Gibbs Cottages,’ ” Wendy said. “But we will always be Gibbs Cottages.”
Frank Gibbs was born in 1900 in Michigan. He worked for the forestry service for 10 years in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. There, he met Betty Ann, a teacher, and they got engaged.
Frank and a couple of buddies, Lance Compton and George Hale, visited Port Aransas on a fishing trip in 1936. The men stayed in Port Aransas for several months. Then Frank asked Betty Ann to come down to visit and look over the place. She visited and then returned to Oklahoma City to teach.
It was at a sheriff ’s auction that Frank bought the property where he eventually would build cottages. He returned to Oklahoma, where he married Betty Ann, and they moved back to Port Aransas in June 1937.
Frank built the cottages gradually. He began piecing cottage No. 1 together in the northeast corner of the property. He and Betty Ann stayed at a hotel in Aransas Pass until he finished the roof and put down the wood floor of the cabin. They moved into the cottage while he completed building it and then began cottage No. 2.
In the fall, Betty Ann returned to Oklahoma to teach for another year and save more money. While she taught in Oklahoma, Frank built another cabin with the help of one worker.
Betty Ann returned in June 1938, and the Gibbs opened the two finished cottages for rentals. The fourth cabin was under construction when she returned.
“Dad built the cottages by hand, using hand tools,” Gilbert said. “There were no electric saws and equipment for him to use.”
The cottages were basic, $5 per night with no air conditioning. They had camp stoves with cast iron pans for cooking.
“Anyone who came here then wanted to fish,” Gilbert said. “ They usually had boats with them or would go wade fishing.”
He said that his parents rented to fishermen, the Coast Guard and Navy, drifters and retired people.
Cottages 5 and 6 were completed in 1939, with 7 and 8 done in 1940.
World War II halted cottage construction for a while.
The last cottage to be built was No. 9, completed in 1954. Twice the size of the other cottages, it was built to rent to a big family.
Frank also built a two-story family home with a downstairs office on the southwest part of the property, where there was a concrete shuffleboard court. He built it with reclaimed wood.
“Dad came across an old barge that had run aground on San Jose Island,” Gilbert said. “He took some tools over there, pried the boards apart and floated them back to Port Aransas with a skiff with a single engine outboard motor.”
He then dragged them to the property, where he set them in position by himself.
“He drew the diagrams for the cottages and the family home, he cut the wood and built it by himself,” Gilbert said.
The house was finished in 1953.
Frank also built furniture for the cottages and the family home, some of it made out of driftwood.
Frank, nicknamed Spanny, was an avid fisherman and photographer. He also was the first justice of the peace in Port Aransas, Gilbert said. Cottage No. 4 was the first justice of the peace office here, he said.
Frank took photos of the folks who stayed at the cottages and their catches. He also took many photographs of old Port Aransas, according to Gilbert.
Gilbert and Ann
The Gibbs had two children. In addition to Gilbert, who was born in 1944, they had a daughter, Ann, who was born in 1940. Both grew up taking care of the cabins.
As an adult, Ann became a respected nuclear scientist. She worked for years at a facility known as the Savannah River Site in Aiken, South Carolina. The Savannah River Site was built in the early 1950s to produce the basic materials used in the fabrication of nuclear weapons, mainly tritium and plutonium-239, in support of the country’s defense systems, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Ann served stints as chair of the American Nuclear Society’s Professional Women’s Committee and chair of the organization’s Honors and Awards Committee. The American Nuclear Society is a not-for-profit, international scientific and educational group. She won a number of professional awards during her career.
Ann died at the age of 76 in 2016.
When he was 18, Gilbert joined the Airforce and soon was stationed in Oregon. He returned to Port Aransas in 1967 and helped run the cottages.
He also was an emergency medical technician, served with the volunteer fire department and worked as a research assistant for Bill Behrens, a scientist at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute.
And he found a variety of other work in Port Aransas.
“There wasn’t a lot to do for work on the island, so I did all kinds of jobs,” he said.
After Frank’s death in 1982, Gilbert and Betty Ann kept the business operating.
Betty Ann died in 2004.
Once the cottages are restored, Gilbert expects to retire and live on property he owns in Yorktown, while Wendy and her family will continue the Gibbs family business, she said.
Wendy said extending the cottages’ lives has been a labor of love.
“Since I was born, Port Aransas and Gibbs Cottages have been my vacation place,” she said. “I spent most of my life in Plano and at Gibbs Cottages. I believe in roots and history. I love this place. It is part of my history.”
I stayed there a couple of times back in the 1980s, and also at the Anglers Court cottages, run by Ethel caylor and her son, Tiddle.
BOTH had so much history and soul, nothing fancy, but everything you needed to have a comfortable and good time.
Port Aransas 40 years ago… wish it was still like that, before the golf cart rentals, giant diesel pick-up trucks everywhere, and you could still enjoy a smoke and a cup of coffee at the Island Cafe, inside mind you, and listen to the old salty fishermen talk about yesterday’s catch, and how today would be even better.
Yes, good times, and when these cottages are rebuilt, I’ll bring my grandkids and stay for a week, so book my reservation.
I loved Gibb’s Cottages. I met Ann and Gil in 2005. A year later I returned to Gibb’s with my wife, Alina. Ann and Gil loved chatting with us. They also fed us dinner in their home on the second floor for my 40th birthday (March of2009). Very special people. I was sad to learn of Ann’s passing. I used to call Ann on my birthday every year. I miss them both. I really look forward to staying at the cottages again. I wish Wendy the best of luck. Wish I could help with the project.