The dawn of this new decade carried
with it the momentum of the one prior, as Galveston’s
ever-expanding population continued its vicarious love affair with the vices of
its frequent visitors and all of the prosperity it afforded. The fog of
economic depression had at last lifted from the rest of the country, but since
it had not greatly impacted the Island in the
first place, the city merely continued along its upward trend of growth and
expansion. As the nation was content to breathe a sigh of relief at the return
to normalcy, the Seawall verifiably boomed.
The Sui Jen remained a priority destination, and the hotel industry
flourished by way of the gamblers and thrill seekers. By the end of 1940, Galveston boasted twenty-seven hotels, and massive
developments along the Seawall such as the Buccaneer Hotel (1939) and the Jack
Tar Motor Inn (1940) were unabashed proclamations of Galveston’s adventurous reputation.
The city’s sense of invincibility even carried over into its officials,
as they were stubbornly steadfast in their attempt to let residents pick up the
tab for the raising of the East End Flats. In May of 1941, ten years after the
initial filling of the swamp land at the far eastern end of the Seawall, yet
another bond proposal was put to the population for a vote. This time, the city
wanted $350,000, and Mayor Brantly Harris (1939-1942) did his best to sell
voters on the fact that it would allow eastward expansion and the ability to
develop new neighborhoods. The proposal was rejected outright.
That summer, city commissioners once again made headlines when they
revived the notion of installing parking meters and voted to implement paid
parking on July 10, 1941. But the wall technically belongs to Galveston County,
and county officials were staunchly opposed to the city using it to generate
revenue. They obtained a restraining order against both the city and the
company hired for the meters’ installation, and an appellate court upheld the
political maneuver until the City of Galveston
Meanwhile, Sam and Rose Maceo decided to reinvent their restaurant on
the water into a full scale dinner and dance club, with plans to make it
outshine even the Hollywood Dinner Club. The pier of the Sui Jen was extended
to a remarkable 600 feet out into the Gulf, and the Maceo brothers slated their
grand re-opening for December of 1941. However the world had other plans.
On December 7th, the Japanese attacked Pearl
Harbor. In one day, the United States went from sentimental
supporter to country at war, and suddenly the Sui Jen’s Asian motif went from
exotic and enticing to entirely anti-American.
As the brothers pushed back their opening and hastened to fully redesign
the club’s interior, the two military outposts on Galveston’s Seawall were undergoing
modifications of their own. Previously dormant, and with no developments since
the 1920s, Fort Crockett
and Fort San Jacinto were instantly on active
duty, and visitors were prohibited for the duration of the war.
Fort Crockett was fortified with 100 foot
watch towers, searchlights, ten- and twelve-foot gunneries, anti-aircraft
batteries, and equipment for monitoring marine traffic.
Aside from the slight delay for a change in theme, the Maceos were undeterred
in their quest to reopen their new dinner club. They decided on a South Seas motif that incorporated golden palm trees, a
large aquarium, and elaborate hand-painted murals that depicted native dancing
girls and tropical beach scenes.
The designer, Virgil Quadri, recommended that the club be renamed in
accordance with its transformation, and the name he suggested was one that
still today echoes through time as a hallmark of Galveston’s past. The Balinese Room opened on
January 17, 1942. Despite numerous efforts by the Texas Rangers to raid the
club, it would remain untouched and unrivaled for the next fifteen years.
Mayor Harris was in the final year of his service to the city and
despite his unsuccessful attempt to develop the East End Flats, in 1942 he
launched other visionary ideas that did indeed take hold. The first was the
creation of Stewart Beach, where his ideas of a full-service beach arena and
entertainment area were fully realized. It debuted the following year, and
included areas for surf-bathing, skating, tennis, surfboarding, dancing, and
Harris was also the mastermind behind the original Pleasure Pier. In
July of 1942 he announced his vision of a pier that extended far into the Gulf,
where young people could go dancing and find other modern amusements.
Construction began almost immediately.
Even though Islanders were busy with their war-time lives that included
price controls, gas and sugar rations, and scrap driving, they wholeheartedly
embraced the continuation of Galveston’s
commercial development. In fact, they saw it almost necessary, as the Island
became a refuge and retreat for the military stationed in and around Galveston.
Between 1942 and 1943, German U-Boats sunk 116 ships in the Gulf of Mexico,
but this very real threat to the Texas
coast did not deflate the city’s progress. Shockingly, neither did the
establishment of Fort
Crockett as a prisoner of
war camp. In November of 1943, Galveston
received its first detainees, 165 German troops from a North African conflict.
At its peak, Fort
Crockett housed 650
Construction on the Pleasure Pier at 25th Street and Seawall was
briefly interrupted for use as an air depot during the war, but at last it was
presented to the public on June 15, 1944. Unfortunately, the hot, windowless,
metal ballroom “drew little more than flies.” It was closed at the end of the
summer, but its final fate was yet to be determined.
The next year, the Hurricane of 1945 struck the Texas
coast on August 28th and left behind major destruction between Galveston and Port
Lavaca. Although it was directly hit, however, the Island
city sustained only minor damage.
Five days later, World War II ended, and the collective rejoicing over
the conflict’s termination yet again invigorated the city’s commercial and
As the city tried and failed one last time to pass a bond proposal for
the East End Flats in January of 1946, it was also trying to decide what to do
with the Pleasure Pier that had been vacant for nearly two years. A group of
local businessmen stepped forward. W.L. Moody, Sam Maceo, and H.S. Autrey
formed the Galveston Pier Corporation, and signed a ten year lease on the
The Galveston Pier Company executed nearly $200,000 in improvements such
as air conditioning and new carpet, drapes, and tables. When completed, the
1130 foot pier included a large aquarium, museum, fishing pier, an outdoor
movie theater that could seat 1500 people, and a 36,000 square foot exhibition
hall that included a ballroom and convention hall. The Pleasure Pier reopened
on May 29, 1948, six years after the onset of its construction, and Galveston residents were
more than pleased that the extraordinary vision was fulfilled.
As the 1940s drew to a close, the raising of the East End Flats was
finally completed with funds from the private landowners, the long defunct Crystal Palace was demolished to make way for
new development, and parallel parking was permanently implemented along the
Seawall which greatly eased traffic congestion on the boulevard.