Ghost of a Chance

The Balinese Room needs a gambler willing to bet the house - on its own future

The Balinese actually represents the last chance to build something new over a Texas state beach -- the lease allows for a 74,000-square-foot expansion, on existing piers that once supported a low-lying fishing pier that washed away generations ago.

Greig inked the deal in 1998 and set about the restoration process. He concentrated on the South Seas Ballroom.

"We spent two months just getting the pigeon shit out. It was six inches deep in there," he says. "There'd been hundreds of pigeons living in there for years."

Complete with palms and piano, parts of the Balinese remain in mint condition.
David Wallace
Complete with palms and piano, parts of the Balinese remain in mint condition.


For more information and 360° pictures of the Balinese Room, visit

But by August of that year, the ballroom was clean, tables and chairs were installed, restrooms were fixed, and air-conditioning was humming. A test party for 100 invited guests was a smash, he says.

A month later, Frances hit. Part of a small fishing pier came loose and smashed into the pilings supporting the walkway, knocking out three of them and putting too much strain on 20 others.

Greig is suing his insurance companies over what he considers laughably low settlement offers, and he says that has precluded him from repairing the problem. "I would jeopardize my position if I fixed it up," he says.

And so he's looking for someone to pay $25,000 to take over the lease.

"Tropical Storm Frances just knocked us back to ground zero," he says.

The Balinese didn't die with the 1957 raid that ended gambling; instead it suffered through a slow and drawn-out battle to keep its place in a world where no one "dined and danced" much anymore.

In the historical room of Galveston's Rosenberg Library, the file on the Balinese Room documents the demise. There's a color brochure from the '60s, with color drawings of a sleekly finned sedan at the front door of the building, which then featured a lighted pagoda on the roof. Men in white dinner jackets and women in evening gowns stroll along the seawall. In the back room, beehive hairdos scrape the ceiling near the curving bar, and the tables are circled by swirling bucket seats whose cushions are encased in white Naugahyde.

The file also has a news release announcing the beginning of "the 1971 season," which will feature late-night excitement via something called "The Night Watch."

"Here," the release says, "you can spend an evening in the 'mod world' of entertainment, enjoying the latest in discotheque music and dancing, and do come casual."

By the 1980s the end was near. A daily notebook from 1985, left on a dusty table in the offices behind the ballroom, tells the dismal tale: "Very slow today," notes one entry. "Slow today; no complaints," says another, dutifully noting "10 reservations, 39 walk-ins."

These days potential buyers aren't necessarily looking to hark back to the restaurant days. Wallace says if he had the chance he'd sublease portions of the building to souvenir and T-shirt shops, with a bed-and-breakfast in the back room. One group even talks of turning the former sin palace into a Christian youth center. At least one legitimate party does have some experience in restoring historic downtown Houston buildings, though.

Whoever takes over the lease will face an uphill climb. The lease itself isn't onerous -- it's fairly complicated, but you might have to pay the state $10,000 a year or so -- although the repair job will cost anywhere from $500,000 to $1.5 million.

Most pressing is the walkway. While the main building has survived countless heavy storms, one more solid hit will likely take out the sagging section of the walkway and dramatically increase the cost of repairing it.

"There's a lot that needs to be done, but there's a real nice base to start from," Wallace says.

Both Wallace and Greig expect to close a deal soon. Maybe that will mean the Balinese will once again thrive.

Or maybe that will mean yet another ghost will be added to its historic halls.

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