connection I ever made with the famous Balinese Room in Galveston
was a glimpse of Mel Torme on the beach. "The Velvet Fog," as he was
called, was catching some rays, trying to relax a little before his
gig that night at the Balinese.
However, when fans recognized him on Stewart Beach, there was no rest
for the weary singer. His fun in the sun interrupted, he got up and
left - even before I had a chance to join his sandy circle of admirers
and gush over his velvet-smooth, pitch-perfect vocalizing.
Besides being a wonderful singer, Torme was a composer, arranger and
jazz musician. One of his best-known compositions is "The Christmas
Song," with those cozy lyrics, "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire
Anyway, I never had a chance to say "hi" to the versatile vocalist
and never saw him -- or anyone else -- perform at the Balinese Room,
the mysterious hall of glamour that reached out o'er the waves into
the Gulf of Mexico from Seawall
A whole lot of gambling went on at the Balinese (shhh… don't tell
the Texas Rangers) but the casino would not have interested me. Co-workers
used to chide me for refusing to drop a dollar in the weekly football
pot, and, to this day, I don't like to buy lottery or raffle tickets.
Not that's there is anything wrong with it. I just don't like to take
So, while gambling is not my thing, music is, and the Balinese offered
the best - entertainers like Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Duke Ellington
and a multitude of other celebrities including the singer I almost
met on the beach.
Laugh-makers Bob Hope, Phil Harris, George Burns and the Marx Brothers
performed at the Balinese, and so did dancer Fred Astaire.
And in case you didn't know, a Balinese Room bartender invented a
special drink for guest star Peggy Lee. In honor of her real first
name, Margaret, he called it the Margarita.
Aware of my interest in Galveston history, retired Lee College professor
John Britt shared a 2013 copy the Touchstone, a publication featuring
well-researched articles by college history students. This particular
issue contains stories about the Balinese Room, the ship
Elissa and the Galveston
Lee College student Cheryl Lauersdorf wrote the article, "Galveston's
Balinese Room Presents Bootleggers, Big Bands, High Rollers and Headliners."
Her grandfather, musician Vilio Lauersdorf, often played in bands
at the Balinese and shared fond memories of the place with his family.
Texas Rangers constantly tried to bust up the gambling activity at
the Balinese Room but were thwarted by a plan devised by owners Sam
(real name Salvatore) Maceo and his brother Rose (real name Rosario).
When on "Ranger Alert," Balinese staffers in 30 seconds could transform
the gambling venue into an innocent-looking recreation room. While
some patrons watched this disappearing act, others joined in to help
hide and disguise the gambling tools.
As the Rangers approached, the band would strike up "The Eyes of Texas,"
prompting all patriotic Texans to stand. This added more confusion
to the melee as the Rangers struggled to weed their way through the
With a group called the Night Riders, the Maceos strived to keep the
streets of Galveston
safe for locals and visitors alike. The vigilantes must have been
tough because they managed to block Al Capone's goons from invading
the island. Actually the Maceos had a business arrangement with Capone
during Prohibition, supplying liquor, but they banned Capone's gangsters
from treading on their territory. Don't mess with Galveston,
Planting undercover agents, the Rangers finally succeeded in raiding
and closing down the gambling room in 1957. In 2001 the Balinese Room
made a comeback, without the casino, and by 2006 had earned a spot
on the National Register of Historic Places list.
Hurricanes, however, have no respect for history. On Sept. 13, 2008,
Hurricane Ike buried the Balinese Room at sea, leaving only scattered
remnants on the shore line.
|What's left of
the Balinese Room after Hurricane Ike
Photo courtesy Julian A. Levy, Jr., Nov. 2008
|The photo shows
the Seawall looking east from 25th Street. The first pier...the big
wide one is Murdock's. It was the oldest one on the island, and it,
too, was totally destroyed by Ike. The second pier, the long one,
is the Balinese Room. In was across from the Galvez Hotel. This photo
is rather rare since it also has in it the famous Mountain Speedway
roller coaster. The Mountain Speedway was made totally of wood. It
was destroyed by Hurricane Carla in 1962.
Escapes, in its purpose to preserve historic, endangered
and vanishing Texas, asks that anyone wishing to share their local
history, stories, and vintage/historic photos, please contact