If the walls of the Hotel Galvez & Spa could talk — and given that the historic hotel is rumored to be haunted, many people believe they do talk — oh, the stories they could tell.
Built in 1911 for the then-exorbitant cost of $1 million, the hotel located at 2024 Seawall Blvd. has been intertwined in the island’s history for generations. It was added to the list of Historic Hotels of America in 1994 and remains an elegant, vibrant destination for travelers from around the world. As one of America’s great, classic hotels, the Galvez has an abundance of stories to tell. Christine Hopkins, the hotel’s Director of Communications, provides some details on some of the more unusual facts about the “Queen of the Gulf.”
The Galvez Namesake
The hotel and the city of Galveston are both named for American Revolutionary War hero Bernardo de Galvez. Galvez, who lived from 1746 to 1786, was a Spanish military figure and colonial government administrator, led Spanish forces against Britain in the war and is one of just eight people to be awarded honorary U.S. citizenship. Curiously, though, he never actually visited the island.
Party Like It’s 1915
While the 1900 hurricane remains the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history, claiming the lives of an estimated 6,000 to 12,000 people, researchers say the storm that battered Galveston in 1915 was actually more powerful. Projects to build the seawall and other coastal improvements in the wake of the 1900 storm helped to mitigate the storm’s impact, but it still was responsible for 275 deaths. Legend has it that as the storm closed in on the island, hotel guests drank champagne and danced the night away in what surely must be one of the first hurricane parties in recorded history.
Elegant Command Center
After the hotel was purchased by W.L. Moody, Jr. in 1940, it would serve as a five-star living and working facility of the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II. Following a two-year period during which rooms were not rented to tourists, the hotel re-emerged as a hub for the nascent gambling industry that flourished on the island in the 1940s through the mid ‘50s.
The list of celebrities and prominent public figures who have stayed at the Galvez includes several U.S. presidents. Franklin Roosevelt stayed there in 1937; Dwight Eisenhower visited while he was still a general in 1949; Richard Nixon stayed there while serving as vice president in 1955 and Lyndon Johnson visited as a U.S. Senator in 1959.
A Legendary Bar
The beautiful mahogany bar in the hotel lobby was originally housed in the Old Galveston Club, known as Galveston’s last speakeasy from the days of prohibition. The purveyor of Old Galveston Club Santos Cruz is noted to have created the margarita during his time at The Balinese Room in the late 1940s. The bar was moved to the Galvez in the mid-1990s and remains one of the coolest places to enjoy adult beverages.