GALVESTON, Texas – Along the rolling waves of Texas gulf coast, sitting on the Galveston seawall, you’ll find the Hotel Galvez. Named after Bernardo de Galvez, the Spaniard who surveyed the area in 1786, the Galvez is the only historic beachfront hotel on the Texas coast.
Christine Hopkins was born on the island, known as B-O-I in these parts and she has worked at the hotel since 2008.
“It’s just a wonderful place to feel like you’re going into a bygone era,” Christine said. “When this hotel opened in 1911 we had 275 rooms, but eventually every room needs to have a bathroom. So now we have 224 rooms.”
Everything is done with elegance, from the well-stocked bar to a brunch that’ll beckon your taste buds before you get your first bite. There is also another staple here that personifies this hotel’s exquisite characteristics, Mr. Bobby Lee Hilton.
“We have a history of hospitality and a future of distinction,” Mr. Hilton informed us while speaking of the Hotel Galvez.
Mr. Hilton was born on the island back in 1933 and got his first job at this hotel back in 1949.
“We had to work, because you didn’t have all the money in the world,” Mr. Hiltons says. “Like one guy said, poor folks was talking about us we were so poor.”
Mr. Hilton worked here till 1953 but those four short years had a major impact on his life.
“Around the 1940s and 1950s you could make pretty good money around here,” Mr. Hilton explained. “I went home with so much money in my pocket one night, my dad had to call the manager out here and find out, ‘What did that boy doin? Was he out there?’ He said, ‘Yeah, he came to work.’ I had ninety-something dollars in my pocket, and his salary was like $50 a week. I made that in one day. I made $90.”
In those days, Galveston was a gathering place for the stars and Mr. Hilton was there for it.
“Oh man, I’ve seen all kinds of people come through here,” Mr. Hilton said. “You name them. The Rat Pack, they was through, Dean Martin and all of them. You see all kind of people, all kind of stars, but back in my day, in 49, that’s when all of the movie stars were just walking the beach and in our hotel and the Buccaneer that used to sit down there before Mr. Moody tore it down. They’d just piled up here because there was no Las Vegas ‘til the mid-50s, so man the money was here.”
Hearing Mr. Hilton tell these stories can make the hours fly as fast as the past few decades have for him. After a long career all over the country, Bobby returned to the Galvez in the mid-90’s and has been the hotel’s ambassador ever since.
“He’s so charismatic and guests love him,” Christine says.
So we headed to one of Bobby’s favorite parts of the hotel, something he had a lot to do with.
“Here’s our hall of history here,” Mr. Hilton said as we entered the area. “Mr. Mitchel had this put in after the Ike Storm, 2008.”
With stories of famed Galveston gangster Sam Maceo, the rebuilding of the Hotel by Cynthia and George Mitchell, and how it all got started, you can find whole lot of history down here.
“We had a potato peeling machine, and an icemaker, dishwasher, ice-cream maker, wine cellar, printing press,” Mr. Hilton said. “The company made rolling chairs that we parked outside, so the guys rolled the ladies up and down the boulevard.”
But there is one part of the hotel everyone loves to hear about, the hauntings.
“We have sightings from our guests and from our staff we get reports of things out of the ordinary happening,” Mr. Hilton said. “We had people with a cake sitting in the restaurant, a big old iced cake with big candles on it. And all of a sudden everybody said, ‘Look at the candles.’ It looked like somebody was standing over them blowing them out one at a time.”
Guests aren’t the only folks at the hotel getting in on the haunting action. Mr. Hilton had a run in with the ghosts, too.
“The only thing I had is with glass flying off the table back there at four o’clock or about 2:30 in the morning.” Mr. Hilton explained. “We had a security guard. We were cleaning up and setting up for breakfast back there, and he asked, ‘If there’s ghosts in here, do something and let us know you’re with us.’ He turned out the lights, and all of a sudden one of them glasses broke. I broke right out the door down the hall.”
Now a lot of the ghostly energy here is focused in room 501 and for some reason, we couldn’t get Mr. Hilton to take us up there.
“That’s the most rented room we’ve got in the hotel,” Mr. Hilton said. “Oh, man. You can’t get in there. You can’t get reservations hardly in there.”
So who is this ghost, and why are they haunting such an amazing hotel?
“According to local folk lore her name was Audra,” Christine informed us. “She resided in room 501 as she waited for her fiancé to come back from sea. She was told that his ship was lost at sea. In her grief she went up to the west turret and hung herself. There’ve been reports of kind of a feeling of a presence in that room, the smell of flowers in that room. People have seen kind of a woman, and just throughout the hotel there’s just interesting stories that guests and staff have experienced and shared with us.”
While the hotel seems to be a hot spot for haunting, the real treasure here is its connection to Texas history and a man named Bobby Hilton. Together, they make this hotel well worth a stop on The Texas Bucket List.
“The Galvez was the big hotel that started the city on this move towards greatness, because it was put here for that as a survival of the Great Storm,” Mr. Hilton said. “I just think this icon should last for a long, long time to come.”