Hotel Galvez 1911

A photo of the Hotel Galvez shortly after it opened in 1911. Courtesy Rosenberg Library, Galveston.

The Hotel Galvez cuts a dashing figure on the Galveston coastline, its Spanish Colonial-style façade turned to the Gulf of Mexico. This striking visual impression is no accident. After the 1900 Storm—which still stands as the deadliest natural disaster in American history—a group of businessmen built the hotel to send a signal—Galveston was back.

My latest book, A History of the Hotel Galvez, shares the story of this 110-year-old beauty and some of the people who have walked through her halls. Since it was built in 1911 the “Queen of the Gulf,” as its nicknamed, has hosted presidents, beauty queens, military heroes, gamblers, movie stars, entertainers, and more than its share of ghost sightings.

Like any grand lady, the Galvez has her secrets. Here are a few I uncovered while doing the research for the book:

  1. The U.S. Coast Guard commandeered the Hotel Galvez for use as its wartime headquarters from 1942 until the building was “honorably discharged” in 1944. With the hotel closed to guests, even the finest suites were converted into barracks and military situation rooms. Drill practices were held on the front lawn, where a boxing ring was also erected for sparring, and taps was played each day.
  2. The beautiful hand-carved bar in the lobby of the hotel used to serve revelers at the Old Galveston Club, known as the last speakeasy on the island. If it could only talk! The hotel purchased the bar after the club closed and installed it in the mid-1990s.
  3. The Hotel Galvez was once served as a temporary White House. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt embarked on a 10-day offshore fishing trip in May 1937, the White House staff maintained their headquarters at the Galvez. Secretarial pools, Secret Service men, and other officials occupied the entire fifth floor. All official communications to and from the president during those days was conducted through the hotel, including the composition of Roosevelt’s telegram of congratulations to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth upon their coronation.
  4. The Galvez used to be pink. The original color was created by mixing ground pink granite into the stucco finish, giving the building a glowing appearance when illuminated by the rising sun. Hotel directors decided to repaint the building its trademark during a later renovation.
  5. The Pageant of Pulchritude, an annual beauty contest that began in 1920 and ended during the Great Depression, was held in front of the Hotel Galvez. Several movie stars, including Joan Blondell, were discovered during their appearances in the event. It was the first true swimsuit competition that included contestants from around the world, and later evolved into the Miss Universe pageant. The contest has been revived locally as the Galveston Island Beach Revue, a summer event in which participants wear vintage beachwear and bathing suits.

Galveston-based author Kathleen Maca is the author of Ghosts of Galveston and the “Tales From Texas” travel blog. Her new book, A History of the Hotel Galvez, was released Feb. 1.

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