At First Galveston's
Stewart Beach Was Called the Riviera of the Gulf
by Bill Cherry
had been in the tourist business, like it or not, for 85 years before
it ever occurred to anyone that a playground on the sand with lots
of activities could be not only a tourist attraction but a money maker.
In the late 1930s, Galveston's
Mayor Brantley Harris was traveling along the Atlantic coast, where
he saw the large public beaches like Rockaway Beach, Asbury Park and
New York's Jones Beach. Mayor Harris was certain this idea should
be used in Galveston.
In those days, the westerly part of East Beach was owned by the Galveston
City Co., a partnership in 1/3rd shares by Maco Stewart, the Sealy
and Smith Foundation, and the Hutchings estate. The federal government
owned that portion of the beach to the east of where the Boulevard
and Ferry Road crossed, to the jetties.
When he got back, Mayor Harris persuaded the Galveston City Co. to
donate its portion of East Beach to the city. The city commission
called an election for the authorization of the issuance of $175,000
in revenue bonds. Robert Cummins, a Houston engineer and architect
drew the plans. Donald Boyce, who had been the assistant manager of
Jones Beach, was brought in to supervise the construction and to manage
the park. It would be called Stewart Beach Park.
To help provide economic relief to Americans who were out of work
because of the Great Depression, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Administration
created the Works Progress Administration in 1935 which gave the unemployed
jobs. The labor used to build Stewart Beach Park came from the WPA.
courtesy Bill Cherry
built a boardwalk, a building with a concession stand and restrooms,
and cement slabs on either end of the boardwalk, one for dancing and
one for roller skating. And there was a gift shop and the beach service
office to rent umbrellas and chairs to bathers.
On July 18, 1941, Stewart Beach was dedicated. Mayor Harris' daughter,
Margaret, broke a bottle of water over the prow of the SS Stewart
Beach. And there were addresses by State Senator William E. Stone
and State Representatives Sherwood Brown, Jr., and Donald Markle.
Then it was time for the City Commissioners to speak. The crowd heard
from George Glymer, Herman Bornefeld, James Tompkins and Adolph Suderman.
At 9 that night, the great big band trumpeter, Frankie Littlefield,
and his orchestra played for the park's first dance.
The next year, Donald Boyce resigned, and the head of the business
department at Ball High School, Fred Kingsbury, took his place as
manager. Landscaping of palms and oleanders and grass was added. In
1946, and Austin man, Glen Dismukes, rented an area to put in miniature
golf and archery. The following year, an amusement park of kiddie
rides was added.
In 1948, workers uncovered an old military shell road buried under
the sand. It was cleaned up and resurfaced and lengthened so that
it could be used as an air strip for a flying service that would give
passengers a brief flight over the gulf.
Herbie Reagan managed the skating rink, and Manning Smith taught square
dancing on the dance slab. By the mid-1950s, there were Stewart Beach
skaters square dancing on skates. It was such a novel idea that the
nationally syndicated television program, Art Baker's "You Asked
for It," featured it on one of its editions.
In 1949, the Corps of Engineers turned over the remainder of East
Beach to the city so that it could be added to Stewart Beach Park.
An editorial in the Galveston News the day after the park was officially
dedicated said, "Galveston
was a little slow in realizing that a beach needs something besides
sand and surf. Stewart Beach is the product of a policy which recognizes
the provisions of satisfactory public resort facilities as a public
responsibility.... Vision and private generosity made it possible.
“It offers recreations seekers these definite inducements – comfort,
safety, convenience... attractiveness of surroundings and a variety
of sports in addition to swimming. It takes up where nature left off
when she gave Galveston
‘the finest surf bathing in the world.’”