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May 16, 2014 / philosophermouseofthehedge

Right amount of naughty?

Heat torches up scandal? Then adding salt water brings it to a boil.

Before there was Vegas, there was Galveston.

There was the “International Pageant of Pulchritude

Lock up the wives and daughters!

1920. Potomac Tidal Basin (National Photo Co. LIB/US PD/

Don’t tell Mom! (1920.Nat.Photo/LOC/US PD/

After the 1900 Storm, Galveston needed tourist money.

Splash Day celebrations lured the rich, the famous, and the rowdy.

Scandalous parties.

Galveston became the place to be and be seen.

Before the 1900 storm. in Galveston, TX (Islandof Rosenburg Library)

Proper ladies swooned in public. In private, they made reservations.

The island’s population swarmed to more than three times normal size.

International bathing beauties flaunted convention and strutted in the predecessor to the Miss Universe Pageant.

Just the right amount of naughty?

Galveston seawall 1900's. Rosenburg Library/Statesman

Everyone blamed the gambling, the booze, or the Balinese Room in the 40’s.

Plenty of performers wanted to play the Balinese Room. Ellington, Sinatra, Dorsey, Marx Brothers, Burns,Tormé…

Plenty of celebrities. Marilyn Monroe, Jane Mansfield with their entourages in tow. Hope, Benny, Astaire…

Plenty of high rollers. Diamond Jim Walker, Glen McCarthy, mob bosses….

Plenty of pushing the social boundaries.

Postcard of the Balinese Room (Rosenberg Library, Galveston, TX)

Postcard of the Balinese Room (Rosenberg Library, Galveston, TX)

The risk of getting busted for gambling – or anything else – was slim and none.

Legend says law enforcement raided the Balinese on 64 consecutive nights and never made one arrest.

It was a long way down that 600 foot pier to the back rooms. Buzzers signaled the guests and dealers.

Trap doors in the floor dumped incriminating evidence in a flash. Gaming tables folded like Murphy Beds into the walls. Suitcases of chips went into the ovens.

And patrons rose to sing “The eyes of Texas” as the Texas Rangers finally arrived.

Balinese Room pier in 2008. Hurricane Ike totally demolished it. (Texasbubba/Flickr/

Balinese Room Pleasure Pier (2008) before Hurricane Ike destroyed it. (Texasbubba/Flickr/

Relive those exciting days of yesteryear this weekend at the“Galveston Island Beach Revue”

A family affair now. Info for all the frivolities here.

Might get a glimpse of Ester William type pin-ups during the vintage beauty pageant.

Catch a glimpse of Elvis. Really. “Girl Happy”, the 1965 classic beach film with Annette, a freebie showing at Beach Central. (Movie promo Video)

Vintage bathing beauties - winners!

Vintage beauties’ winning smiles are always classic.(

Beach blanket bingo! (Just a bit naughty – it’s Annette!)

Bring your parasol.

And patience. The traffic…well, you’d be better off on a horse.

Nothing like a tropical climate to heat things up.

Phil, the Philosopher Mouse of the Hedge

Read a bit more?

“Remembering the Balinese Room”. By one of the Maceo family. 2008.Texas Monthly.

Group behind Balinese Room revival gets a boost from GalvestonPlans in the works.

Vintage swim suit. Bessie at Bay St. Louis.1914. (Alexander Allison/US

Let’s see. They said the ocean may rise 12-14 feet? We’re good. Woo-hoo! Ocean front property! (“Bessie”1914.Alexander Allison/US




  1. Debra / May 16 2014 12:31 am

    I am in awe of the first picture. Those women were fearless.


    • philosophermouseofthehedge / May 16 2014 5:45 pm

      That was a pretty brave bunch considering the era. Some had bobbed hair even. Wonder if this was a secret Spring Break trip? Thanks for floating over to chat


  2. Carrie Rubin / May 16 2014 12:35 am

    If we still wore swimsuits like that woman in the last photo, I’d have no need for self-tanner…


    • philosophermouseofthehedge / May 16 2014 2:23 pm

      I’ve never seen a doctor with a tan – most wish they had the time, but…
      I know they way wool breathes, but just the thought of a long woolen bathing suit makes me itch. Thanks for diving in with a comment


  3. Paul / May 16 2014 2:20 am

    That’s amazing. I didn’t know anything about the Balinese Room. Ha! Too funny that cops raided 64 nights in a row without a single arrest. You’d think they’d’ve given up before that. Glad you were just bit naughty Phil and gambled on posting this when the chips were down.


    • philosophermouseofthehedge / May 16 2014 2:29 pm

      The original restaurant there served Chinese food…don’t know if they offered take out. Investors are getting organized to rebuild the pier (shorter this time) as a concert/restaurant/entertainment venue….maybe if they legalize gambling a casino. Could be a hot time in the old town once again? Thanks for spinning the comment wheel


  4. lizabetsy1947 / May 16 2014 12:29 pm

    I really love this piece. You completely evoke the bygone days of a place I have never been to. I feel now as if I have. Thank you.


    • philosophermouseofthehedge / May 16 2014 2:36 pm

      Every place has a history and stories. This is a comparatively “young” country compared to Europe and others, but it also means there possibly more photos and images tracing back to “early” days. Easy time travel? Glad you enjoyed the trip. Thanks for strolling along


  5. Ally Bean / May 16 2014 2:10 pm

    What a delightfully risqué slice of history! Love Bessie’s look. What a fashion forward girl she was.


    • philosophermouseofthehedge / May 16 2014 2:42 pm

      Everyone thinks of cowboys and Indians with Texas – few think of an early “Sin City” and Ellis Island. That beauty pageant was probaby quite a shocker for those times. (Do you think the original Chinese restaurant offered take-out?)
      Bessie is really from St Louis – but was just to wonderful to ignore. Thanks for joining the splash


  6. tedstrutz / May 16 2014 3:01 pm

    What a fantastic post, I love this type of essay. My knowledge of Galveston was limited to Larson’s Isaac’s Storm. Would have loved to have seen the Balinese Room, thanks for the links. If I had to choose, I’d take the one on the far left in the first photo.


    • tedstrutz / May 16 2014 3:04 pm

      p.s. could you imagine calling a beauty show a Pageant of Pulchritude now?


    • philosophermouseofthehedge / May 16 2014 3:30 pm

      She looks like a keeper. Glad you found something that tickled your brain. Few think early “Sin City” and gambling night life about Texas. As kids vacationing along the seawall, we all had to walk really really fast past the Balinese doors…like bad people would reach out and grab you. What a hoot.
      People treasure that “Born on Island” family tag. The place has quite a history.
      Thanks for rolling the dice and stopping by


  7. jannatwrites / May 16 2014 8:39 pm

    Quite educational! I love the secrecy of the Balinese room and the image of evidence disappearing and the room transformation as the cops arrived. Those officers must’ve been so confused, “I know there’s something going on here, I just know it!” and then they’re greeted by a choir of sorts, haha!


    • philosophermouseofthehedge / May 17 2014 12:39 am

      The Rangers knew the game, but just couldn’t run fast enough. Crowds would step out and try to shake their hands and thank them for enforcing the law..etc… They didn’t think it was funny, but couldn’t do anything about it. People were playing dominoes and bridge by the time they arrived. The town had quite a reputation for night life. Supposedly the Margarita drink was invented here. Thanks for exploring the island history


  8. reneejohnsonwrites / May 18 2014 1:29 am

    The Margarita was invented here? There had better a monument! My favorite summer drink is watermelon margarita…yummy.

    These women must have been fearless. Wow.


    • philosophermouseofthehedge / May 19 2014 9:43 pm

      Supposedly one of the Balinese Room bartenders created for it in 1948 for singer Peggy (Margaret) Lee – it’s the Spanish version of her middle name. Ole!


  9. shoreacres / May 19 2014 1:39 am

    And what delicious irony that a Maceo ended up in charge of the Beach Patrol! Oh, my. One of my friends had stories to tell about Redfish Island, too. Galveston and Galveston Bay were wide open. And people forgot how many immigrants had — shall we say — experience in certain ways of doing business before they even got here.

    Even after I hit the area, there were interesting evenings in places like Maribelle’s. Have you heard the story of the night they found the dead guy in the restroom over there? And then there was the Miss Wharf Rat contest. The Balinese Room was one thing — the upper Bay was quite another! Wonderful post!


    • philosophermouseofthehedge / May 19 2014 10:37 pm

      Few even think high rollers and night clubs in early Galveston. Mob didn’t just mean big group of people. That old island has lots of stories she smugly hide. Someday her time will come again – soon and classier, we hope. The corps and the Galveston city council are working on plans. Could be very cool if done right (Parking is a big sticking point…valet? But where are they going to park?)
      Maribelle’s (so not going in there) Miss Warf Rat! Friends in low places….oh, it’s quite a scene around here. Thanks for slinking around


  10. EllaDee / May 19 2014 4:39 am

    Just classic. I love the old photos anyou’ve used. The really set the scene to your words. If I could travel back in time, I’d love to visit the Balinese Room in its heyday. Although I might need sunglasses – the decor is really very OTT.


    • philosophermouseofthehedge / May 19 2014 10:19 pm

      Nobody ever expects stuff like the Balinese in Texas. After a previous restaurant (Chop Suey)/club was raided for gambling and liquor violations was remodeled with an Oriental style and called the Sui Jen cafe. After Pearl harbor it became the Balinese Room. All sounds very smokey and risque. Thanks for rollin the dice and stopping by


  11. Abby Boid / May 19 2014 5:36 pm

    I keep going back to this picture. Love it, Oh for a time machine: fun, thrills and bikinis that might actually manage to flatter my figure.


    • philosophermouseofthehedge / May 20 2014 2:21 pm

      Galveston is so laid back it’s easy to trick yourself into believing it exists where time stands still. Thanks for strolling along


  12. jmmcdowell / May 21 2014 7:51 pm

    Oh, the stories that places like the Balinese Room could tell! The “old days” weren’t quite as straight-laced as some folks might think! 🙂


    • philosophermouseofthehedge / May 21 2014 8:47 pm

      All that Bible waving was a reaction to something? “Old Days” also enforced a public face and a private face existence…you know, family matters and some things kept quiet….like gambling parlors and moonshine! It was called the wild west for a reason. (giggles) Thanks for rolling the dive and stopping by


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