In Galveston, Texas, Ike Hits Historic Buildings

Among the many structures Hurricane Ike damaged or washed away are some historic sites in Galveston, Texas. The famed Balinese Room, where Frank Sinatra once sang, and other landmarks were in Ike's path.

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In historic Galveston, a landmark was obliterated by the hurricane. NPR's John Burnett reports on the legendary nightclub called the Balinese Room.

JOHN BURNETT: Today, from the Galveston seawall, all you see is pelicans sitting on barren pilings poking out of the now gentle waves of the Gulf. That's all that's left of the fabled Balinese Room. That and the Chinese-style arch that held the club marquee. No one can quite believe it's gone.

Mr. MIKE CUBBINGTON: You walk out there, and it's just all open space.

BURNETT: Mike Cubbington (ph) is an engineer at the Galvez Hotel across Sea Wall Boulevard from the Balinese. When he stopped and stared across the street.

Mr. CUBBINGTON: You have people coming in from all over the world, and they go, where's the Balinese? Oh, that's right there. Now, they're going to come, and they're going to go, where was the Balinese, you know. And it's going to be like, well, it used to be right there.

(Soundbite of song "Ill Wind")

Mr. FRANK SINATRA: (Singing) Blow ill wind, blow away.

BURNETT: It was the hotspot on the Texas Gulf Coast. They all played here, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., George Burns, the Marx Brothers. Howard Hughes would stay at a suite in the Galvez and stroll across the street to the Balinese for a show. But the nightclub that was started by a Sicilian barber named Sam Maceo was most famous for its illegal casino that seemed to evade the law year after year. Rodney Syler(ph) is on the board of the Galveston Historical Foundation.

Mr. RODNEY SYLER (Board Member, Galveston Historical Foundation): When the Texas Rangers ever came to raid them, there was somebody at the front door. He would put the light on. The tables would all flip on over. It was a supper club, and it was in the '50s, the Texas Rangers then somehow managed to capture them and seize all the slot machines, the tables, and everything and close down the gambling joint at the Balinese Room.

BURNETT: For years, the Balinese was shuttered. It never regained its former greatness. In recent years, the Balinese stage featured local blues and classic rock bands, but it remained perhaps the best known landmark in Galveston.

So we're standing out here in a parking lot sort of catty-corner from where the Balinese Room stood. Pilings over the Gulf, and there's just splintered wood everywhere. And you do recognize some things from the club here.

Ms. DOMINIQUE JOHA (Manager, Balinese Room): I recognize everything. That's a chair from the ballroom.

BURNETT: I'm talking with Dominique Joha, the Swiss manager of the Balinese, who was out this morning poking through the wreckage looking for anything to salvage.

Ms. JOHA: It's right on the knees (ph), see? That's an original door from the Balinese Room. I really want to keep it. I know there's another one somewhere I saw in the debris. Those are original from the '30s. I mean, we can't let that destroy.

BURNETT: They come along all day, pilgrims looking for souvenirs, a piece of the art deco palm trees, a scrap of the famous painting of the Siamese dancing girls, part of the bamboo wall, or if they're lucky, and autographed picture of the Rat Pack. Long-time islander Dave Gogol(ph) wasn't going to miss the opportunity.

Mr. DAVE GOGOL: I really don't know. I think it was just a chunk of the wood, a piece of the decking and stuff like that. Hopefully, I'm going to go out and get some more and build a set of shelves in my living room out of it.

BURNETT: And so goodbye, Balinese. We'll miss you. John Burnett, NPR News, Galveston.

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