Podcast: 1911 Galvez Hotel, The Queen of the Gulf

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"Good enough for everybody and not too good for anybody!" That was the tagline on the advertisement for the brand new Hotel Galvez in the Galveston Tribune on June 19th, 1911. Known as the Queen of the Gulf, the Galvez is perched along the coast and shielded by the Seawall between 21st and 19th Street.

The oldest historic beachfront hotel on the Texas coast and one of the finest hotels on Galveston Island, the Galvez Hotel has been hosting vacations, events, weddings, meetings, and exhibitions with iconic style for well over a century. It has even hosted presidents, beauty queens, military heroes, gamblers, movie stars, and entertainers from around the world. Upon opening in the summer of 1911, the hotel boasted that it was built at a cost of over $1 million, which is over $30 million today. In the mid to late 1800s, decades before the Galvez Hotel was constructed, Galveston was known as a port and the economic hub of Texas, not so much a beach tourism destination.

High-class resorts and hotels began being constructed along the beachfront in the 1880s. Visitors from around the country came to enjoy the Gulf of Mexico's gulf breezes and warm waters. Before the Seawall was built, hotels and bathhouses where you could rent a bathing suit supported Galveston's beach tourism. In September 1900, the 1900 storm devastated Galveston Island, severely damaging the city and the economy. Much of the port infrastructure took decades to rebuild, and many business operations relocated to nearby Houston. Galveston began to plan a three-mile-long seawall right along the beachfront, protecting Galveston's urbanized portion of the island.

Galvestonians needed to find another way to boost their economy. The natural decision was to lean into tourism and utilize Galveston's beachfront. The planning for the grandest hotel on the Gulf Coast began!

Confident local businessmen and investors began putting up the money to construct the grandest hotel as close to the beach as possible. In 1911, right behind the brand new Galveston seawall, the Galvez Hotel was open for business.

Upon opening, the hotel featured an ice cream and soda fountain room that was declared the finest in the city. The exterior pink color was initially achieved by mixing pink granite into stucco, which reflected sunlight and illuminated the hotel during sunrise.

In 1920, the Hotel Galvez began hosting the Pageant of Pulchritude, a new annual beauty contest open to women from around the world. It was the first true international swimsuit competition and later evolved into the Miss Universe Pageant. Although on a smaller scale, the tradition of holding a beauty pageant in front of the Galvez Hotel lives on.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt came to Galveston in 1937 and spent 10 days in the Galvez Hotel, which was transformed into a temporary White House for those 10 days. All the while, FDR enjoyed the abundant fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. Secret service men, secretaries, and other executive officials commandeered the entire 5th floor, and all official communications were conducted through the hotel. The Galvez was also the preferred lodging for President Eisenhower, Nixon, and Johnson. When they visited the island for official presidential business or just a fishing trip.

In the mid-20th century, Galveston was a gambling haven. You could hit one of the many gaming spots along the Galveston seawall and around the island, but none more famous than the Balinese Room, right across the Seawall from the Galvez Hotel. The entrance to the Balinese Room was right at 21st Street and Seawall, and the structure extended 600 feet over the Gulf of Mexico. The Balinese Room was Galveston's premier nightlife and gambling venue, and its proximity made the Galvez Hotel the perfect location for the high rollers and entertainers.

For two years during World War II, the United States Coast Guard commandeered the hotel, using it as a wartime headquarters and living space for staff. Drill practices were held on the front lawn, where a boxing ring was also set up for the soldiers.

The names Galvez and Galveston sound a lot alike. Where does the name Galvez come from? Bernardo De Galvez was governor of Spanish Louisiana in the late 1700s. Bernardo de Galvez is one of the unsung heroes of the American Revolution. He led Spanish forces to defeat the British military along the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to Florida. One of his right-hand men, Jose De Evia, was tasked with mapping the Gulf Coast in 1785, and when Evia arrived at the Bay just north of this island, he named the Bay in honor of Bernardo de Galvez "Bahia De Galvez-Town." The name of the hotel pays homage to Bernardo de Galvez, where you'll see a few of his portraits as you roam around the lobby of the hotel.

Over the past century, the hotel has undergone quite a few renovations. In 2021, the property was purchased by new owners and renamed the Grand Galvez. The interior has been meticulously refreshed to allow modern luxury while remaining respectful of its opulent history. As of 2024, the newly renovated hotel features 220 guest rooms, a 10,000-square-foot spa area, numerous event spaces, and a bar overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.

Today, the Grand Galvez Hotel attracts lovers of history and modern luxury alike. Visitors should take a moment to pay their respects to its legacy. The Galvez Hotel brought life and luxury back to Galveston Island after the 1900 storm, the 1911 Galvez hotel.

Good enough for everybody and not too good for anybody.

Long Live the Queen of the Gulf.

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J.R. Shaw Creator & Host of Galveston Unscripted

J.R. Shaw is the creator and host of Galveston Unscripted Podcast & audio tour. Shaw recognizes that history is nuanced and learning it can be powerful. He's made it his mission to reduce the friction between true history and anyone who is willing to listen! J.R. Shaw focuses on telling the full story through podcasting and social media with the goal of making learning accurate history easy and entertaining for all who seek it.

J.R. grew up along the Texas Gulf Coast, where he learned to love talking with anyone about anything! He started Galveston Unscripted after he realized how much he loved talking to people about their stories related to Galveston Island and Texas History. "So much of our history is lost when we don't have the opportunity to hear from those who lived it or have second-hand knowledge."