Register of Historic Places
The Luther Hotel is a Palacios institution that has its roots in the early development of the town. With the arrival of the railroad, the first decade of the 20th century was a time of new settlements across Matagorda County. Between 1901 and 1905, the small towns of Blessing, Buckeye, Markham, Van Vleck, Big Hill, Midfield, Cortes and Palacios sprang up on the prairie.
The Texas Rice Development Company reserved Block C, located between Cary and Duson Avenues, on East Trespalacios Bay for a hotel. The Palacios Townsite Company, a subsidiary of the TRDC, commissioned Victoria architect Jules Leffland to design the hotel, and D. D. Rittenhouse was the contractor/builder. The building materials were shipped from Louisiana via the Southern Pacific Railroad that came to Palacios in 1903. Longleaf yellow pine was used for the framing and cypress for the siding. The roof was covered with 18-inch shingles. The Rittenhouse family and construction workers lived in tents while the hotel was being constructed.
The new structure was named the Bay View Hotel, and was described in a 1903 Palacios news column as having sixteen rooms. In August 1904, Charles A. Gonder was the manager and the hotel was reported to have the capacity of 100. By that time, the boom was on and the hotel was too small to accommodate the many visitors to Palacios. Prospective settlers traveled by rail to Palacios, being lured by “Excursion” rates offered by the Townsite Company, where they were housed in the new hotel. Several of the managers were from northern states and they advertised the hotel as a “Winter Resort,” because of the milder winters on the Gulf Coast, further enticing visitors with the economical rates. A new hotel was being planned. The Palacios Townsite Company decided to move the hotel one-half mile from its East Bay location to South Bay Boulevard to be near the new pavilion, which was under construction. Leffland also designed the Palacios Pavilion. Maj. J. J. Wheadon of Galveston was the manager of the Bay View in May, 1905.
The original hotel was what is now the center section of The Luther Hotel. During the complicated relocation, the original chimney and porches were removed. The building was sectioned into three parts and pulled by mule teams to the new site, where the sections were rejoined. The three-story east and west wings were added to the original building and a 300-foot long porch known as the “Longest Front Porch in Texas” was added. The porch spanned the entire length of the south side as well as the east and west ends. A dining room, measuring about 70 x 20 feet, was added on the north side of the lobby with a separate kitchen and a laundry building. The new hotel was renamed Hotel Palacios.
The Hotel Palacios was advertised as having the finest bathing, splendid weather, best fishing, boating, lawn tennis, dancing on the pavilion and NO mosquitoes.
The artesian well behind the hotel provided water to the rooms by forcing the water through the pipes by its own energy. The hotel was lighted from end to end with gas generated on the premises. The fact that the hotel had only outside rooms was a big selling point. The south rooms with a view of the bay commanded a higher price.
During the summer of 1906, manager G. H. Crandall advertised rates as $2 per day, $10 per week for persons over 13 years of age and $5 for 12 years and under.
The lobby had a wide stairway with parlors on either side. The halls were carpeted, and the rooms were furnished with new iron bedsteads, hair mattresses and dressers, and washstands of mahogany, oak or Birdseye maple.
The “American Plan” included “elegant” meals with the room. The dining room had new tables and chairs, with silver, glass and Haviland china. A permanent orchestra was retained by the hotel and provided music for both lunch and dinner, as well as Sunday afternoon concerts. The Palacios Marine band often played on the porch of the hotel for the enjoyment of the guests.
By the end of 1910, the hotel had served the purpose for which the Palacios Townsite had constructed it. On January 1, 1911, the company leased it to an individual for two years at $50 per month. The operation during the next two years was unsatisfactory to the company and by January 6, 1913, C. M. Rebou had taken charge and was having “a grand clean up.”
During Rebou’s management, the ads included information about a free Box Ball Alley on the grounds. The alley was located on the northeast corner of the hotel property and provided entertainment for hotel guests who preferred not to participate in pavilion activities, especially during the winter months. The alley was a long building on a lot 65 feet long x 20 feet wide. It contained at least one alley (probably two) which had five pins and a ball smaller than those currently used by bowlers. In 1914, the building was turned over to the Palacios Library Association which occupied it until it was destroyed by Hurricane Carla in 1961.
By March 1913, W. W. Nichols took over management, and the American Townsite Company in San Antonio paid the hotel taxes for 1914 and 1915. Mr. and Mrs. Rebou returned in February 1915 and leased the hotel. Joseph Reynolds was the proprietor in December 1917.
J. F. Barnett purchased the Hotel Palacios and various other Palacios Townsite Company properties in a sheriff’s sale for one thousand dollars on April 2, 1918. The hotel was then sold to Charles W. Hess on April 3, 1918 for five thousand dollars. In a deed dated November 22, 1919, Mr. Hess conveyed the hotel to Ben and Mina Ehlers for ten thousand dollars. Ehlers deeded the northeast corner of the property to the Palacios Library Association on August 20, 1920.
A June 22, 1922 Palacios Beacon ad announced the Palacios Hotel was under the new management of Mrs. J. L. Phillips. The big news in July of 1924 was the purchase of the hotel by a party of Illinois men—Dr. W. W. Van Wormer, E. J. Seward and F. O. Jennings.
The Hotel Palacios was center of social life. It hosted countless banquets, dances and parties. The dining room at one time had even served as a dancing studio for Miss Alvey Wakefield.
On December 12, 1927, F. O. Jennings, Mrs. Mary E. Jennings, E. J. Seward and Minnie May Van Wormer formed the Hotel Palacios Company. Mr. and Mrs. Jennings moved to Palacios to manage the operation of the hotel. This description of the Hotel Palacios was in the company’s charter. “The said hotel consists of a main building 230 feet long by 36 feet wide, two [three] stories high, a dining room, 71 feet long and 20 feet wide, and a kitchen 39 feet long and 30 feet wide. There are 32 rooms and three dormitories in the hotel. The buildings are frame construction.”
By the late 1930s the Hotel Palacios had fallen into disrepair and the hotel was purchased by Charles and Elsie Luther in 1936. Mr. Luther was quoted as saying, “The title was a mess by this time. It took four years and a trip to visit owners in every state in the nation except Washington and Oregon to get it straight according to Texas law.”
The Luthers began a massive renovation of the hotel. The old dining room and kitchen were torn down. The “Longest Front Porch in Texas” was also removed and the cypress lumber was saved. The entire building was refinished inside and out. Work on the hotel included basic structural strengthening, rewiring, new plumbing and private bathrooms which were added to each room. The breeze-ways between the central building and the wings were enclosed. Some rooms were turned into two and three room apartments to provide living quarters for families of soldiers at Camp Hulen.
The cypress saved from the long front porch went into the foundation for an eleven-room tourist court which was built on the west side of the grounds.
The renovation was finally completed in 1941 and Mr. and Mrs. Luther formally opened The Luther Hotel with an open house on April 20, 1941--their 20th wedding anniversary.
The newly-renovated hotel weathered its first hurricane as the Luther on August 20, 1942.
A fire on February 27, 1944 destroyed the upper floors of the middle section and the east wing of the hotel. It was the worst fire in the town’s history and required both the Palacios and Camp Hulen fire departments to extinguish the blaze. Mr. Luther immediately began plans which repaired the hotel to a better condition than before the fire.
The Luther was host to several famous entertainers during the WWII era including Rita Hayworth, Carole Landis, Artie Shaw and “Harry” James. Lyndon Baines Johnson, a family friend of Elsie Callaway Luther, was also a guest at The Luther.
Mr. and Mrs. Luther employed several different managers to run the hotel for them. Nellie Jane Luther, Mr. Luther’s sister, ran the hotel for many years until her death in 1961. Elsie Luther’s sister, Jo Milam, served as manager for about 16 years. Later managers included Mable “Bobbie” Anthis, Lenora (Hendrix) Martin, Eileen Lewis, Betty Rusk, Mickey Crenshaw, and Billy and Dolly Hamlin.
In 1965, the State Historical Survey Committee (now the Texas Historical Commission) designated The Luther Hotel as a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark.
During the 1970’s and 80’s, Mrs. Luther often had to hang out the “No Vacancy” sign because the hotel was filled with guests. The hotel was the winter home for several Canadian guests and some from Minnesota who wintered there for 20 years. The Luthers treated their guests as family and had a sign posted at the desk that read, “He who enters here is a stranger but once.”
After Elsie and Charles Luther died in 1987 and 1988, ownership of the hotel passed to their daughter, Claire Joy Dilworth, whose husband, James Colwell Dilworth III, died in 1989. Claire Joy remarried to Jack Findley in 1993 and they owned and operated the hotel until Claire Joy’s death in 2005. Jack moved to Palacios in 2011 to assume management of the hotel, and is today the welcoming face behind the desk.
The United States Department of the Interior placed The Luther Hotel on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010. A marker dedication was held Saturday, July 21st, at 4:00 p. m. Activities included the dedication program, a slide show, a tour of the hotel and refreshments. Anyone who has memories, photos or information relating to The Luther Hotel are encouraged to share them by e-mailing them to email@example.com .
The Luther Hotel is the premier historic icon of the Palacios area. As the Bay View Hotel, she welcomed guests of the Palacios Townsite Company, who became some of Palacios’ first residents in 1903. After her move and expansion on the present site, as Hotel Palacios, and in tandem with the Palacios Pavilion, she epitomized the “City by the Sea,” welcoming thousands of guests, investors and residents. There is no doubt that the most significant period in the hotel’s history began with the ownership of the Luther family, who refurbished the hotel and operated during the Camp Hulen years of WWII and the post war era. Then, in the years when the nuclear age came to Matagorda County, The Luther provided lodging for workers during this time of industrial development. Today, wintering guests still find welcome here, as do birders, sportsmen, travelers and all who appreciate a down-home, family atmosphere. Since the demise of the pavilion, The Luther Hotel stands alone as a testament to the rich heritage of the Palacios area, and remains true to Charles Luther’s motto: “He who enters here is a stranger but once.”
Copyright 2012 -
Present by Carol Sue Gibbs
Jul. 19, 2012
Dec. 4, 2012