Friday, October 03, 2008

USS Flagship Hotel - Pleasure Pier

The earliest roller coaster near the future site of Pleasure Pier seems to be one built in the 1880's. News reports talk about complaints made because it frightened horses pulling carriages with ladies and children. 6000 feet of lumber, one ton of railroad iron, 200 lbs 6 and 7 inch bolts, and four cars all in working order was mentioned in an advertisement when it went up for sale. The final report, the City Railroad company removed the roller coaster because it was never a success and was always an eyesore.

I think this link is an old postcard from the early 1900's showing the roller coaster that I think is Mountain Speedway. It was said to be " lit up at night like a city blazing in the darkness." Here are two other links to a different postcards of the Mountain Speedway and the Galveston seawall.

I found still another roller coaster photo supposedly from 1909.

Back in 1912, forward thinking city promoters dreamed of an amusement pier similar to the one in Atlantic City. Time passed by, but in 1931, plans were drawn up for a 700 foot pier with an auditorium. Construction did not start until right before World War II.

Pleasure Pier
The Reconstruction Finance Corporation was started by Herbert Hoover in 1932 (think shades of today's financial chaos.) From 1932 until 1941 it disbursed $9.465 billion. I can't imagine what that dollar amount would be in today's currency. The RFC loaned $1,100,000 that was combined with $350,000 from the city that began construction. World War II caused another delay. By 1944, the pier was almost completed, but it did not fully open until after the war in 1948. The new pier was four blocks long with a ballroom, an outdoor theater, a snack bar, and a T-head fishing area. This post card of Pleasure Pier ca 1945 gives us a glimpse of how grand it was.

Unfortunately, it was not profitable and Galveston defaulted on its payments earning the name: "Galveston's White Elephant."

Hurricane Carla damaged the buildings but not the structure of the pier in 1961.

Houston businessman James E. Lyon negotiated for the pier in 1963, paying the government $179,000 for the defaulted bonds (amazing with the accumulated interest these bonds had a face value of $2,300,000.) I don't quite understand the financing here, but Galveston gave Lyon $2,000,000 in new bonds in exchange for those old bonds and issued another $1,800,000 bonds to Lyon. Lyon agreed to pay Galveston $185,000 annual rent for forty years which would pay off the bonds. When the bonds were paid off, Galveston would own the hotel. With these funds, the Flagship Hotel was built. (Information from "Galveston A History" by David G. McComb)

Each room had an ocean view with great sunrise and sunset vistas . . .

The hotel has fallen on some hard times. In 2004, the operator of the hotel, Daniel Yeh filed for bankruptcy. He has been convicted for fraud with regard to lodging for Hurricane Katrina victims. The more recent reviews are not that favorable siting the hotel as dated and in need of renovation. But even so, many reviewers enjoyed their stay in spite of the poor conditions because of the great views and the pleasure of being over the ocean.

The damage to the Flagship from Hurricane Ike was worse on the eastern side. It is quite possible that when the Balinese Room, Murdoch's and Hooters were demolished that there was a lot of flying debris - or that the structures or large parts of them were airborne and hit the Flagship. Note the damage to the front facade and the entire first floor. To my laymen's eyes, the pier structure still looks sound and the damage seems to be to the facades of the hotels rather than the internal supporting walls.

The auto ramps were completely washed out. I am guessing that the wave action hitting against the seawall and bouncing back would be more damaging than just the incoming waves. Hopefully the pilings under the hotel are still structurally sound. I believe that one of the other hurricanes also damaged these ramps.

While there is damage to the sidewalk area of the seawall here and the rip rap, (the large boulders used to protect vertical walls like Galveston's seawall from being undermined by wave action) most of the seawall itself is intact. (There was damage to the seawall on the far west end of the island from the storm surge. That has happened in other hurricanes and is repairable.)

Tilman Fertitta bought the Flagship Hotel and pier from the City of Galveston. Before Hurricane Ike, the plan was to restore the hotel and the pier. Planned improvements included a wooden roller coaster and a Ferris wheel. The transition of management of the Flagship Hotel from Daniel Yeh to Landry's should happen shortly if it has not already.

According to their website, the Flagship hotel hopes to reopen in January. I've been a property owner at the San Luis, one of Fertitta's properties in Galveston for about ten years. His demand for quality, high levels of customer service, and his history of success make me think that the Flagship Hotel will rise to new levels of greatness under his management. I look forward to seeing what he does with this amazing property.


Unknown said...

I was visiting the Flagship this weekend and can assure you the structure is sound, but the hotel is a wreck and not worth saving.

Anonymous said...

My first job, in the mid-1950s, was a kiddie ride boy on the Pleasure Pier. The Pier was re-developed by Howard Robbins (a former Army finance officer, who moved with his former Army wife, and 3 girls to Galveston from Maryland and lived in an apartment near the t-head). I earned $18/week, but would have worked for nothing (I didn't tell Mr. Robbins that).

The girls and I played under the Pier when I had time off. I married one of the girls under the Pier in June 2009.

I soon became more than "summer help" and worked virtually year-round until the exhibit hall and Marine Ballroom were destroyed by Hurricane Carla. We have two of the porthole windows and other artifacts from the Pleasure Pier.

The late Mr. and Mrs. Robbins went on to develop the 61st St. Fishing Pier, the Gulf Coast Fishing Pier at 90th St (both destroyed by Hurricane Ike) and the motel at the water slide at Moody Gardens in Galveston.

For his remaining years after the Pleasure Pier, Mr. Robbins frequently contacted me to describe the next dream on his horizon. He was an amazing person.

Mary Ann Melton said...

Thank you so much for sharing your memories! I'm hoping that Mr. Fertita's plans for this pier will bring a good memories to a new generation.

Anonymous said...

Is there any other way to find out which construction company will be working on this? My brother does hurricane restoration, and I think this could be one of the best attractions if done correctly. I love Galveston!

Laura said...

I was always in love with the Flagship Hotel and the history of it..and I have been there after ike and since its closing I had wondered what the inside looked like and if there where things inside So me and a freind jumped the gate and went through some doors that looked as if they used to be glass I didnt have a camera but I seen a room it still had things in it and everything So almost a year later I retured again with a freind this time with a phone for pictures execpt we went to late and it wuz dark on the way bck I fell of the pier above the beach by the gate and was badly injured and spent 15 days at UTMB. This was July 23 2010 although my experience there last was awfull. I still love that Galveston Landmark and also hope that they will one day restore it so that I will be able to see the inside without scaleing a ledge. I loved this topic and stumbled across it trying to find out how high the pleasure pier is frm the bottom beach. Thank you for this lovely blog god bless

Mary Ann Melton said...

To Anonymous: I have no way of knowing which contractors will be involved when they start renovating the Flagship. I think there have been legal difficulties in getting started, but if Mr Fertitta is in charge, it will be beautiful and wonderful when they finally get it finished.

Mary Ann Melton said...

Laura - you are more adventuresome than I - I wouldn't have even attempted to get over to the Flagship given the state of the ramps. So very sorry you got hurt - hope you recover quickly from your injuries with no permanent issues from them.

Anonymous said...

Laura, so how much did your little escapade cost the Ike Damaged cash strapped City of Galveston to rescue you from someplace that was closed because it was too dangerous?

Anonymous said...

Fizgig says the structure is sound, thats why for many years prior to Ike signs advised people not to walk under the structure because concrete from the structure were falling onto the beach.

Anonymous said...

The Pleasure Pier (Flagship) deck is now cleared (7-11).

The fishing 5-head for over 50 years will be closed, according to Fertitta management

Fertitta owns properties across the seawall and along 25th.

Some suggest parking on the seawall will eventually be banned and replaced with paid parking garages (owned by Fertitta).

As the original Pleasure Pier was constructed in the 1940's, the names "Fertitta" "Maceo" and others were connected with organized crime. Not to say that the current guys are in any way related. Google it.