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Bill Cherry's Galveston Memories
Columns | Bill Cherry's Galveston Memories

The Twisted Ironies of
the Brantly Harris Recreational Pier

Johnny Garcia's Flagship

by Bill Cherry
Bill Cherry
Fletcher Harris, Jr., a former Galveston city councilman who passed away this past Father’s Day, was the nephew of a former Galveston mayor, Brantly Harris.

Brantly Harris was a maritime attorney. He had seen the famous Steel Pier in Atlantic City, and thought a similar recreational pier in Galveston would be a spectacular shot in the arm for attracting conventions and entertainment.

The tourist industry of the island was suffering at the time, another in its ups and downs that have followed it since the first tourist, Estevanico, stepped on her shores in 1528.

So as soon as Mr. Brantly came into office, he and Sid Holliday, Galveston’s most famous Chamber of Commerce manager, began promoting what they envisioned would be a replication of that steel pier, and it would be called the Brantly Harris Recreational Pier.

But World War II was churning up and building supplies, especially steel and concrete, were being rationed. The chances for bringing the idea to fruition became just this side of zero.

Fortunately, Mr. Brantly had many connections in the Roosevelt administration, especially Houstonian Jesse Jones, who was in the president's cabinet. Mr. Brantly and Mr. Sid went to Washington to sell their idea to Mr. Jesse, but now wrapped in a patriotic package.

The proposed pier would be the perfect recreational facility for the many service men who were stationed on and near the island.

The pier was built, used by the military, and turned back to the city at the end of the war. The name was changed to the Pleasure Pier, and it operated until 1961 when Hurricane Carla all but destroyed it. It had never been a true success in its 20-year life.
Pleasure Pier, Galveston, Texas
Galveston's Pleasure Pier
Postcard courtesy www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~txpstcrd/
Houston banker Jimmy Lyons came to tell the city that if it would convert the pier into the first hotel ever built over tidewater, it would be the catalyst needed to rebuild the tourist industry again. Lyons and the city opened the Flagship Hotel in 1965.
Flagship Hotel, Galveston TX
Flagship Hotel
Postcard courtesy www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~txpstcrd/
Soon thereafter, Jack Bushong was enticed to make sure that Lyons and the city’s dream would be a booming success. Mr. Jack became the manager, and he put together the best team to guarantee that success that had ever worked in Galveston’s tourist industry.

Big Don Benson came in as the restaurant manager, O’Neal Thomas as the bar manager, and cocktail jazz piano great Johnny Garcia with his group, Chano Rodriguez, Oscar Garcia and Penny Ochoa played for dancing.
Johnny Garcia
Johnny Garcia
Photo courtesy Melba Garcia

Within moments, the Flagship took on the feel of a cruise ship, docked at the foot of Rosenberg Ave., that was ready to sail into the moonlit gulf, on its way to a faraway port.

Mr. Johnny had come to Galveston immediately after his stint in the service, began playing at Jesse Lopez’s famous La Rumba, met and married Galvestonian Melba Rogers, and they had two children.

For the next ten years, the Jack Bushong formula totally accomplished what Mr. Jimmy and the city had envisioned. Not one of those members of the team had left his Flagship post; almost unheard of in the hotel industry.

But then in 1976, Mr. Jimmy wanted to sell the hotel, Mr. Jack wanted to semi-retire, Mr. Don wanted to move to Houston, and Mr. Johnny and Miss Melba had begun longing to try life in California. The team had made the Flagship Galveston’s most successful hotel, and kept it that way. It was the only time in its 35-year life that it had been the pride of Galveston. It was time for the baton to be passed on.

Within a few years, Chano Rodriguez, Oscar Garcia and Penny Ochoa had passed away. The Flagship had already begun to fall into disrepair.

Hurricane Ike struck and seriously damaged the Flagship on September 13, 2009. Johnny Garcia passed away in Lakewood, California on September 22nd. Jack Bushong died on his 80th birthday, February 1, 2009. Big Don Benson died in Houston 8 days later. Only O’Neal Thomas, 75, of the original Bushong Team remains.

Once again discussions are mounting as to what catalytic part a 1938 idea that began as the Brantly Harris Recreation Pier might play this time in the rejuvenation of the island’s tourist business.


Bill Cherry's Galveston Memories September 1, 2009 column
© William S. Cherry. All rights reserved

Bill Cherry, a Dallas Realtor and free lance writer was a longtime columnist for "The Galveston County Daily News." His book, Bill Cherry's Galveston Memories, has sold thousands, and is still available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com and other bookstores.


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