Hotel Galvez serves up more than 100 years of Galveston history

05/23/2014 12:00 AM

05/21/2014 11:44 AM

Back when Bobby Lee Hilton started working at the Hotel Galvez, a cup of coffee cost about a nickel and Harry Truman lived in the White House.

Things have changed at the grand old hotel since then. Hilton, now 80, is the hotel’s guest ambassador and revels in giving visitors a glimpse of the building’s storied past.

Walking through the Hall of History with him is a little like watching Gone with the Wind with Vivien Leigh at your elbow. He points at old black and white photos of the hotel and tells you what it was like when he was there.

He remembers the time Gen. Dwight Eisenhower stayed at the Galvez and reminisces about the glamorous crowds that once strolled the seawall. He even admits the place is haunted — by a young bride who hanged herself after her husband didn’t return from sea.

The Hotel Galvez opened on June 10, 1911, a little more than a decade after Galveston was decimated by the great hurricane of 1900. It served as the hub of social life in the port city, hosting politicians and entertainers from all over the country.

In the early days, it had its own candy factory, barber shop, soda fountain and doctor’s office. During World War II, it served as a military barracks for the U.S. Coast Guard.

A clandestine gambling room and nightclub called the Balinese Room on a pier across the street featured entertainment by Frank Sinatra, Guy Lombardo and Fred Astaire, who frequented the Galvez. Other notable hotel visitors have included Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, Franklin Roosevelt and Richard Nixon, business magnate Howard Hughes and entertainers Sammy Davis Jr. and Jerry Lewis.

The entire hotel was renovated in 2011, and the lobby and restaurant were modernized in 2013.

Today it’s fun to sit at the lobby bar, with a polished wooden backdrop salvaged from an old Galveston speakeasy, and daydream about the glory days. If you do settle in there, order up a punchy pink cocktail called the Galvez Sling, or a citrus-y vodka drink called the Ghost Bride.

•  Hotel Galvez & Spa: 2024 Seawall Blvd., Galveston; 409-765-7721; Rates vary; we paid about $125 for a standard room with a city view.

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