Matagorda County Historical Marker Narrative

S Bay Boulevard & 4th Street                     28°41'54.41"N      96°12'54.71"W

Palacios Pavilion Photos

 


PALACIOS PAVILIONS

By Mary Griffith

 

The town of Palacios, Texas, is located in the southwestern portion of Matagorda County on Tres Palacios Bay, (sometimes spelled Trespalacios) an inlet of Matagorda Bay off the Gulf of Mexico. It is on the Coastal Plain of Texas on the “Hug-the-Coast:” Highway Texas 35, halfway between Houston, Texas, and Corpus Christi, Texas.

           
The name Palacios comes from the bay on which it is situated, Tres Palacios Bay, Spanish for “Three Palaces”. It has always been pronounced to rhyme with “splashes”, although the Spanish pronunciation should be “pah lah see ose”.

           
There is a legend that a Spanish ship sailing into the Gulf of Mexico was carried into Matagorda Bay and wrecked. The sailors thought they saw palaces on the shoreline in the distance and so swam toward the shore. As they neared the shore, the “palaces” disappeared. They named the bay “Tres Palacios”. In any case, this legend has been told from generation to generation, even though research has revealed that the bay and nearby creek may have been named Trespalacios for Jose Felix Trespalacios, Spanish governor of Texas during the years of 1822 and 1823.

           
In 1901 a large tract of land known as “The Bull Pasture”, north and west of Tres Palacios Bay, was offered for sale by the estate of A. H.  “Shanghai” Pierce. W. C. Moore, a Houston, Texas, business man, obtained an option on the land. He, with a group of men from Louisiana, formed the Texas Rice Development Company (TROC), purchased the land and subdivided it into 160 acre tracts.

           
The mile-square tract on Tres Palacios Bay at Hamilton Point under the name “Trespalacios”, was sold by a subsidiary of the Texas Rice Development Company, The Palacios Township Company.

           
The townsite was surveyed into lots in September and October of 1902 by J. F. Hervey, out of the Lewis Goodwin Grant No. 10 and T. D. Dasher Grant No. 11, and filed for record in September, 1904.

           
The town, “Trespalacios”, was surveyed in 1902. There was a post office a few miles up the Trespalacios Creek named Trespalacios, which made it necessary to change the name of the town, so the “Tres” was dropped and the town became known as “Palacios”. The area around the one-mile square tract of Palacios was divided into five-acre tracts to be sold to people moving into the area from the northern states and other parts of Texas.

           
Perhaps the one thing that decided whether or not Palacios would ever develop as a town was the railroad. The Palacios Townsite Company paid a bonus to the Southern Pacific Railroad to extend its line to Palacios. The first train arrived June 29, 1903. Trains enabled excursions to bring would-be settlers from the midwestern states and some of the visitors stayed to become homeowners of Palacios.

           
One of the first buildings to be constructed was the Bay View Hotel which faced East Bay. Building materials were brought from Louisiana and consisted of long-leaf yellow pine for the frame and cypress for the siding. Eighteen-inch cypress shingles were used for the roof. Mr. D. D. Rittenhouse of Victoria, Texas, was the contractor-builder. The new Bay View Hotel allowed the settlers and the promoters to move out of the tents which had been their homes.

           
In the original plans for the City of Palacios, a strip of land along the coastline was set aside for a “reserve”, which assured that the coastline would have no private piers to detract from the beauty of the coastline on South Bay and part of the East Bay.

           
The Palacios Townsite Company began erecting a pavilion on South Bay midway of the reserve. It was located at the end of the street now called Fourth Street, but at that time it became known as “Pavilion Street”.

           
The new “Pleasure Pavilion” was begun on June 22, 1904, with Mr. Jules Leffland of Victoria, Texas, as architect and constructed under the supervision of contractors, Hatchet and White of Bay City, Texas, on a pier extending from a high bluff on shore to 400 feet into the bay. Its style of construction was Victorian.

           
The open-air pavilion had a double deck, and a roof covered the entire building. The lower deck was open to the cool bay breeze and was used for dancing, skating, and for playing basketball games. A walkway, where the public could sit on benches and look out over the bay or watch swimmers in the water, circled the dance floor. This walkway was about twenty feet wide with a balustrade to keep persons from falling into the bay. Mothers would visit and watch their youngsters in the water.

           

Early photographs of the “Pleasure Pavilion” shows flags flying, banners or bunting draped, bands marching on the pier, women in long white dresses and huge white hats, and gentlemen in dark suits and bowler-type hats.

           
Dressing rooms were erected east and west from the pier, and a catwalk was on each end of the dressing rooms. Swimmers wore wool suits which could be rented from the management of the pavilion. Women’s suits had a ruffled skirt and a mob cap and most women wore shoes.

           
On the east side of the pavilion both high and low diving boards were constructed. Early pictures show a slide built into the water which was very popular.

           
A low pier was constructed on the east side of the pavilion for the use of boats to dock. Sailing was popular at that time, to provide pleasure and transportation. Coast-wise vessels were able to dock at Palacios Point, a few miles south of Palacios, where smaller sailing vessels docking at the pavilion, met passengers and brought them to the town of Palacios. After the completion of the Intercoastal Waterway to Matagorda Bay, the Palacios Townsite Company advertised the availability of docking at the Palacios Pavilion. A few years later, the bathing facilities on the west side were made into a restaurant.

           
On September 3, 1904, the Daily Tribune, Bay City, Texas, featured an advertisement stating that the Palacios Townsite Company had arranged with the Southern Pacific Railroad for special excursion rates on Saturday and Sunday to visit the new pavilion, “The Finest on the Texas Coast”, which would be opened on August 3.

           
The Pleasure Pavilion quickly became the center of community social life, and it has continued through the years to be a meeting place, a community center, to meet friends, to visit, or just keep cool in the summer and sip soft drinks.

           
With the completion of the pavilion, the town’s tourist trade began to prosper. In 1905 the Bay View Hotel was moved from the East Bay site to a new location facing South Bay. The building was sectioned into three parts and pulled over log rollers by many mule teams to its new site on the edge of the “reserve” near the new Pleasure Pavilion. Additional wings and its famous front porch, said to be the longest front porch (400 feet) in Texas, were added to the structure. The hotel became known as the Palacios Hotel and was the pride of the town.

           
During this time the hotel retained a permanent orchestra, which provided music during lunch and dinner hours. Concerts were given on the Pleasure Pavilion. Since the early days, the hotel has provided a pleasant home base for hunters and fishermen. The hotel, now known as the Luther Hotel, was renowned for its excellent food and could accommodate 200 diners and dancers at the time. The hotel became a recorded Texas Historic Landmark in 1965.

           
In 1906 thirteen acres of land on Hamilton Point, just three blocks from the pavilion pier, were deeded to the Baptist Young Peoples Union of the Texas Baptist Convention for a permanent encampment. These were the only camp facilities in the state and were supported by Baptist churches throughout Texas. In 1917 the enrollment was recorded at 3,000 persons with 17 states represented.

           
The coastline of Texas has been threatened by several Gulf storms. In 1915 a hurricane removed the back pier and back landing from the pavilion, but it was replaced almost immediately. Schooners and other boats carrying passengers and goods docked and sailed from the pavilion. Summer visitors at the Baptist Encampment or in town would go sailing to the Gulf or Hurd’s Landing up the Tres Palacios River.

           
In 1919 another hurricane removed the floors of the pavilion and some of the pier leading to the shore. The pavilion and pier were soon renovated.

           
During the 1920s, the pavilion managers usually hired an orchestra for the summer. The orchestra played at the Palacios Hotel during the day and at the pavilion at night. Many persons who were interviewed stated that one of their fondest childhood memories was lying on benches or pallets (quilts) listening to the orchestra and the sound of waves below the Pleasure Pavilion.

           
In 1932 local business men purchased the pavilion from Mayhew Lumber Company, the mortgage holder. The bathing booths on the west side were removed to make room for a restaurant and soda fountain.

           
In 1934 a hurricane destroyed the back pier, diving chute and several feet of the pier near the shore. The Pleasure Pavilion was more than 30 years old and needed renovating.

           
The Women’s Chamber of Commerce and the club women of the city urged the building of a community center on the city Park. Ordinances of the city and the railroad prevented it. The cost of the two structures was so high that they had to be satisfied with one building.

           
A Seawall Commission was formed, consisting of Carlton Crawford, Dr. J. R. Wagner, and George L. Harrison, County Commissioner, to supervise the building of both seawall and a new pavilion.

           
The Palacios Bay Development Co. was low bidder on razing and removing the old Pleasure Pavilion and pier.

           
The Seawall Commission and their architect, Homer Trimble, drew up plans for the seawall and the new pavilion. It became known as “The Roundhouse”.

           
Construction of the new pavilion was financed by remission of Texas State Advalorum Taxes by a Special Session of the Texas State Legislature, plus $30,000 bonus from the Federal Government. Labor was furnished by local workmen as approved by the Public Works Administration, Docket No. 4835 of Fort Worth, Texas, and Washington, D.C. The loan and grant which amounted to $148,000 enabled construction to begin on the new pavilion, “The Roundhouse”, as well as the seawall.

           
As soon as the Pleasure Pavilion wad demolished in May, 1935, and the seawall construction on the shoreline had been partially completed, construction on the Roundhouse began. Over a thousand feet of seawall was constructed at that time.

           
The Austin Bridge Company under contractor J. G. Nash began construction of the pier, which was 24 feet by 600 feet and terminated in a 75-foot T-head. It had a catwalk on each side for fishing and mooring boats. The pier leading to the pavilion and the T-head were finished with reinforced concrete. Automobiles could be driven on the pier and the T-head was used for parking or turning around. There were ornamental railings and lamp posts at intervals along the pier and T-head.

           
The pavilion was 360 feet out in the South Bay from the seawall. The floor of the pavilion was about two feet above the pier, and it was on a level with the street. The main pavilion was built on 132 pieces of heavy creosoted pilings 26 feet long. The main floor was 100 feet in diameter with a seating capacity for 600 persons. The bleachers were on the east and west sides which left an area of 60 by 80 feet for basketball, dancing, banquets, and public meetings. The main pavilion was built in a huge dome supported by steel girders with no center supports. The bath houses were built on the south side of the pavilion with showers and toilet facilities.

           
The walls of the pavilion had 120 casement windows and folding doors. The orchestra and speaker’s platform were on coasters so as to be moved to various positions. Basketball goals were also built on coasters. The pavilion was equipped with loud speakers and floodlights.

           
To the south was a two-story building which was connected to the pavilion by a hallway and stairs; lockers and restrooms were on the first floor. On the upper floor was a seafood café called the “Pier Cafe”.

           
The Roundhouse was open every afternoon and night. Private parties came to play the nickelodeon and dance, and fisherman stopped for refreshment. When the pavilion was not open, it was closed by an ornamental-iron gate.

           
The pavilion was used as a community hall, for Y.W.C.A. business sessions, P.T.A. meetings, recreational evenings, picnic lunches, and political and social banquets.

           
The Gardner Brothers, Steve and Fred of Austin, Texas, with a large combined orchestra, leased the Roundhouse for five years. They were well known and it was said that people all over South Texas came to hear the Gardner Orchestra.

           
In October 1935, the Palacios Seawall, South Bay Pier, Roundhouse, and accessories were deeded to the City of Palacios.

           
The pier was open to the public at all times. The Roundhouse itself was not open as a “loafing” place, but it was always open for public meetings of every nature. Birthday parties, basketball games and tournaments were held there, also.

           
On Saturday night, October 12, the Palacios Chamber of Commerce and the Seawall Commission held a gala opening of the pavilion with a dance following a reception at the Hotel Palacios. Over 1,500 persons attended the dedication of the pavilion and pier on November 7, 1935, as reported by the Palacios Beacon.

           
In 1925, a group of citizens formed the Palacios Campsite Association to serve as the Training Camp of the Thirty-sixth Division of the National Guard. It was named Camp Palacios. In September 1930, Camp Palacios was renamed Camp Hulen in honor of General John A. Hulen.

           
Camp Hulen was leased by the Federal Government in 1940 for Coast Artillery, Anti-Aircraft Training. Many soldiers arriving to Camp Hulen sought living quarters for families in Palacios and nearby towns. The population of Palacios swelled by the hundreds after World War II was declared. The U. S. O. built a structure in the next block east of the pavilion which led to the popularity of the Roundhouse.

           
The 1940s found the pavilion in its “hey-day”. The Roundhouse continued to attract people from the surrounding areas. Many popular bands such as Tie Tieman, Tex Beneke, Harry James, Bob Crosby, and Artie Shaw played there during the 1940s and the 1950s.

           
On September 11, 1961, Hurricane Carla destroyed the Roundhouse Pavilion. It left the great dome looking like a punctured umbrella and the concrete pier in chunks. A Palacios Landmark was gone. Though there were many “ups and downs” throughout its history, the Roundhouse and the Pleasure Pavilions were always a source of pride to the citizens of Palacios and surrounding areas.

           
A former resident of Palacios wrote about the Roundhouse: “It is really hard to write so factually while being inundated with great waves of nostalgia. What fun I had as a child swimming there with Mother watching from the pier to make sure we didn’t drown! I took a Red Cross Life-saving Course off the catwalks and in later years probably danced 100,000 miles there. It was so hard to realize that it was gone after 1961 and I guess there are lots of us who might get a little teary remembering the fun and days of our youth with the Pavilion as a backdrop.”

           
Eventually the floor of the old Roundhouse Pavilion was replaced on the round area, and the pier received new wooden planking. Open-air dances were resumed, but the pier was not open to public automobile traffic.

           
The “Open-air Pavilion” rises at its center nearly 27 feet above the dance floor with a line of rafters and beginning approximately 12½ feet above the floor. The covering looks circular although in actuality it is a 20-sided figure with each side being 17 feet long. The roof is designed to relieve wind-induced stress on the structure. The plywood sheathing may be blown away, but the basic frame should remain intact.

           
The center pole rests on a massive wooden cradle built beneath the deck, but it is above the high-water mark. All perimeter upright supports are tied to existing pilings of the Roundhouse.

           
The pavilion roof was part of the $217,000 South Bay Park improvement project approved in 1983 by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Park Division for a 50-50 matching improvement project.

           
The Seawall Commission was re-activated for the purpose of raising the existing seawall of 1935. A splash walk with railings around the seawall is enjoyed by many citizens who take exercise in the bay breezes or fish over the railings.

           
The Palacios Pavilions have always been an attraction to our “Winter Visitors” and surrounding communities as well as to those who have grown up in Palacios.

 

           
The dedication of the Texas Historical Marker for the Palacios Pavilions was held September 7, 1991, at the Pavilion Park on South Bay Boulevard, Palacios, Texas.

 

PALACIOS PAVILIONS

            IN 1903 THE PALACIOS TOWNSITE COMPANY ARRANGED WITH THE SOUTHERN PACIFIC RAILROAD TO EXTEND ITS LINE TO THE NEW CITY. THE FIRST TRAIN ARRIVED ON JUNE 29, BRINGING PROSPECTIVE SETTLERS FROM MIDWESTERN STATES. THE COMPANY BEGAN CONSTRUCTION OF A PAVILION ON THE SOUTH BAY IN JUNE 1904. DESIGNED BY VICTORIA ARCHITECT JULES LEFFLAND, IT WAS BUILT ON A PIER EXTENDING 400 FEET INTO THE BAY. CALLED THE PLEASURE PAVILION, IT CONSISTED OF A CENTRAL ROUND TWO-STORY OPEN-AIR PAVILION WITH BOAT DOCKS AND BATHERS’ DRESSING ROOMS EXTENDING ALONG THE PIER. IT QUICKLY BECAME THE SOCIAL CENTER OF THE TOWN, OFFERING SUCH ACTIVITIES AS SWIMMING, BOATING, DANCING, SKATING, AND BASKETBALL GAMES.

            THE PLEASURE PAVILION SUSTAINED HURRICANE DAMAGE IN 1915, 1919, AND 1934. UNDER THE DIRECTION OF A LOCAL SEAWALL COMMISSION AND WITH FUNDING FROM THE FEDERAL PUBLIC WORKS ADMINISTRATION, IT WAS RAZED IN 1935 AND REPLACED WITH A NEW PAVILION, CALLED THE ROUNDHOUSE. THE ROUNDHOUSE PAVILION CONTINUED TO BE THE FOCAL POINT OF COMMUNITY ACTIVITIES, ESPECIALLY DURING THE WAR YEARS OF THE 1940s AND THE EARLY 1950s. IT WAS DESTORYED BY HURRICANE CARLA IN 1961, AND EVENTUALLY THE CITY ERECTED A SMALLER OPEN-AIR PAVILION IT ITS PLACE.                          (1991)

 


TRES PALACIOS CONTRACTS.
They Have Been Let for Bathhouse And Dancing Pavilion.
 

SPECIAL TO THE NEWS.

Houston, Tex., April 23.—Bids were opened today by the Texas Rice Development Company for the construction of a fine bath and dancing pavilion at Palacios City, the terminus of the New York, Texas & Mexican Railway in Matagorda County, Tex. on Tres Palaclos Bay. Total cost of the pavilion will be $7,000. Messrs. Hatchett & Large of Bay City were awarded the contract for the construction work, and the Kirby Lumber Company will furnish the material. The pavilion will have fifty bath houses for men and twenty-five for women. It will be up to date and one of the most beautiful structures ever put up on the Texas Gulf Coast for bathing and dancing. The selection and location of Palacios City for sailing, bathing, fishing and other sports is ideal. The bay has a hard sand bottom, no under-tow, and the scenery and the general surroundings are conceded to be the most beautiful on the Gulf Coast. It will be one of the excursion points on the Gulf Coast and will be included in the places to be handled by the Southern Pacific Railroad. The Company is also adding to their hotel twenty-five rooms, and is contemplating also the erection of another hotel to cost $25,000. They have a landscape gardener who is laying out and beautifying several parks and have just planted several hundred dollars' worth of flowers, shrubs, trees, etc. W. C. Moore is one of the organizers and is vice president of the company.

Galveston Daily News, April 24, 1904
 

 

Copyright 2009 - Present by Carol Sue Gibbs
All rights reserved

Created
Mar. 5, 2009
Updated
Mar. 5, 2009
   

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