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Victor Lang Remembers 

Splish Splash
 April 24, 2005 
  


Listen to Victor and Jim Guidry talk about 
the 2200 Block of Seawall Boulevard  

"Splish Splash"

The above are actually the first two words of a pop song title.  It’s the “splash” part that’s been running through my head the past few days.  I’ve finally realized why—we are coming up on what used to be a most important commercial weekend in Galveston---Splash Day. 

When I was growing up in Galveston there was a very brief observance of Mardi Gras with a small parade.  Not only was this a very modest local celebration with some private dances but it came to a halt with the beginning of World War II.  Dickens on The Strand had not been remotely envisioned and there was no Beach Party Weekend, Bike Rally Weekend, Spring Break or anything else of that sort. 

Splash Day occurred around the first weekend in May and was supposed to be the official start of the “summer season” on the Island.  As one might expect, the action was all on Seawall Boulevard.  People from elsewhere in the state came to Galveston that weekend and if the weather was fine, the Boulevard was a real madhouse.  I think I remember parallel parking being legal on both sides of the Seawall which did not leave a hell of a lot of room for moving traffic. 

There was a Bathing Beauty contest, lots of pedestrian traffic along the Gulf side of the Seawall and people were taking the first “splash” of the season in the Gulf of Mexico. 

Beachfront hotels, far fewer then, were jammed.  The Galvez and the Buccaneer were the premier locations.  The Galvez is still there, the Buccaneer is gone, now part of the Edgewater senior operation at 23rd and Boulevard.  There were some “tourist courts” along the Boulevard, most notably the Coronado Courts and the Miramar Courts.  Little cabins they were and you parked your car right alongside the one in which you were staying.  Some of them had small kitchen facilities and this was a more economical way of spending a weekend in Galveston than staying at the grand hotels.  There were other places to stay at the time.  One was built in the shape of a boat toward the east end and the building still stands.  I believe it was called the S. S. Snort.  Gaido’s had a small “motor hotel” and there was the Seawall Hotel at 17th and Boulevard.  Among the other “tourist courts” on the Boulevard were the Blue Bonnet, Boulevard Courts, Catherine Courts, Edgewater Cabanas, Esenel, Galbashores, Gulf View, Hawkins Cottages, Orange Court, Queen’s, Rogers, S. S. Galveston, Shell Camp, Treasure Island Tourists’ Camp and the Warwick Courts.  There may have been others along the Seawall but I am centering more or less on 1949 to give an approximate date to all of this. 

You may be sure that all the available quarters on the Seawall were jammed for the weekend and other lodgings off the Boulevard were crowded as well.  As much as we welcome tourists coming to Galveston to spend money I can still hear my parents saying “Don’t even think about driving on the Boulevard on Splash Day weekend that’s for the tourists.”  And there was a certain amount of irritation present in the tone of that remark so far as the tourists’ presence was concerned.

There were a good many public activities that were organized by the Greater Galveston Beach Association in addition to the Bathing Beauty contest.  However, the real mastermind of Splash Day was Sam Maceo.  Sam was always referred to as “Mr. Outside” and his brother, Rosario or Rose, as “Mr. Inside.”  What people meant was that Sam Maceo was a crackerjack at dealing with the public.  The Maceos owned and operated the big nightspots in Galveston at the time which featured gambling rooms and illegal sale of liquor by the drink.  These wonderful nightspots were always represented as being “members only” for in that fashion, “guest” cards could be issued to tourists free or at a modest charge and that made the serving of alcoholic drinks “legal” for the patrons.  The gambling part of these clubs was never legal under any definition.

Where Sam Maceo excelled was in public relations.  The area of Murdoch’s Bathouse just across from the Buccaneer Hotel was the center of much of the big Splash Day entertainment.  What Sam Maceo did was be sure that whatever big names were performing at the Balinese Room or the Studio Lounge in downtown Galveston were on hand to entertain the public for free on Splash Day.  The boardwalk area of Murdoch’s became a giant stage for this and the crowds overflowed the sidewalks onto the Boulevard and across the street onto the sidewalk in front of the Buccaneer Hotel.  Many people were never able to understand how they could stand on the Boulevard and hear people such as Peggy Lee singing for them at no charge.  One may be sure that there were handsome additions from Sam Maceo to the fees of people like Miss Lee for appearing on Splash Day.

On the subject of Sam Maceo and  his skills in public relations it should be mentioned that when the horrible disaster took place in Texas City in April of 1947, Sam Maceo did a wonderful thing for our area.  While fires were still burning in Texas City from the explosions, Sam Maceo called some of the top names in show business.  Many of these people had been booked in Sam’s clubs in Galveston but many had never seen our Island let alone Texas City.  Sam Maceo brought a gathering of stars to the old City Auditorium in Galveston to do a benefit for victims and survivors of the Texas City Disaster.  I remember that Frank Sinatra was one of the bigger names, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Phil Harris and Alice Faye and perhaps Bob Hope though I am not certain about the latter.  There were more big names.  A great deal of money was raised  and the Maceo interests realized no financial gain from the benefit.  On the contrary, the Maceo interests made a substantial contribution to the relief fund themselves.

On one Splash Day, Johnny Weismuller appeared in Galveston and I am almost certain he came at the request of Sam Maceo.  Weismuller had quite a movie career playing the part of “Tarzan of the Apes.”  Johnny was also quite a swimmer and on this particular occasion in Galveston he participated in a swimming race out in the Gulf which I feel sure he won.  Galveston went wild over that one.

The Buccaneer Hotel had Jimmie Powledge as Manager in those days.  Jimmie was a great friend of my parents, a real “southern boy” and never met a stranger.  He was also a scratch golfer and a great business getter for the Island.  Jimmie Powledge traveled constantly and brought many conventions to Galveston.  He also organized a golf tournament for the Splash Day weekend that was very popular.

As the years went on, I would come home from school for Splash Day and so did most of my friends.  We would have never admitted that Splash Day had anything to do with coming home that weekend.  Nor would we have ever mingled with “tourists” in Galveston.  We prowled the Island by both day and night having a grand time on that particular weekend.  One of my oddest recollections is I don’t think my toe or any of the toes of my friends ever went into the Gulf of Mexico on Splash Day weekend. The biggest splash  we heard was that of ice cubes plopping into the drinks we were buying while underage in all the local hotspots.  My, did we think we were sophisticated.  My, we were not!

The best Splash Days for me were the ones when Tooee and Bill Vogler lived in the Buccaneer Hotel in what had been the apartment of Mr. and Mrs. Sam Maceo.  Mr. Vogler was Chairman of the Board of American National Insurance Company and I think having an apartment in one of the Moody hotels was one of the “perks” that went with his job.  When the Voglers moved into the former Maceo apartment they decided to keep a very swanky leather door covering.  It was dark brown and handtooled  with a large “M” worked into the middle of the design.  The apartment was situated on the Gulf side of the hotel and had a large terrace where we partied and watched all the activity down on the Boulevard.  I got in on all this splendor since Mike Guttersen was the son of Tooee Vogler and Mike came home from school in Dallas.  Mike also was dating Penny Quinn.  Both Penny and Mike were and are friends of mine.  Later these two married, had three sons and continue to live in Colorado where Mike is a rancher of some note.

I cannot help but reflect on “Splash Day” weekend.  I think much money was spent on the Island by both tourists and locals.  I don’t recall it being a particularly noisy time except around Murdoch’s.  Progress while driving on the Boulevard might have been slow and especially so around 23rd  Street and Seawall.  While my parents and others may have spoken about “avoiding the Boulevard on during Splash Day” I think it was more something to talk about than actually do.  Many people had great fun on the Island at those times and I hope recalling it all brings some happy memories to those of you who do remember “Splishing and Splashing.” 

   

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