The news that’s in the air that there are some investors who are considering rebuilding on the over-the-water site of the former Balinese Room surely got my attention.
Even with all of its fabled glamour, pomp and circumstance, it’s really time to face the reality.
The Balinese Room of the Maceo days was a serious firetrap, and it didn’t improve much through the successive owners.
The pilings, the framing, the floors, and the building itself were, in the main, constructed of wood.
There were no fire-rated escape routes — one way on, one way off — unless you wanted to take your chances and jump 20 feet down to water of varying depths below, with the hopes of making it safely to shore.
There was no way for the fire department to get equipment to the building from the sides and the rear. Coast Guard fire boats could answer the call, but by the time they could arrive, the building could easily be a total loss, with lives lost and others seriously injured.
What would happen if a fire began on the long entrance breezeway? Guests would be stranded in the main building.
Inside the kitchen, which was on the southeast rear side, were a massive charbroil grill, deep fat fryers, big commercial stoves, and salamander and steam tables.
All were gas fired.
Air conditioning and heating units were on the roof. In the early years, the units used water-cooling towers, which were on the roof as well.
Many high voltage transformers ran the black lights that caused the famous paintings on the walls and the glass palm trees at the dance floor to glow.
The control room where the spot light and stage lights, sound equipment and radio broadcasting transmitters were located was perched in its own enclosed spot above the east wall of the dining room.
This was in the days of high-watt, high-heat Klieg lights with colored gelatin lens covers, and hot tubes that made the sound and broadcasting equipment work.
Earl Llewellyn and his sidekick, Frank Baveaux, orchestrated the lighting and sound for floor shows, and the radio feeds from there.
While the entire building did have an automatic sprinkler system, the times when there actually were fires, it was when the Balinese Room was closed.
The damage sustained each time was extensive.
When the Maceos and the Fertittas operated the Balinese Room, guest parking was not a problem. They had parking lots across the street. Valets welcomed guests at the Balinese entrance, and quickly drove their cars to the lots.
That was not the case with the Pleasure Pier, which came later. When it was built, the city made no concessions for providing off-street parking for its guests.
I point these things out to remind all involved that rebuilding on the Balinese Room’s site can’t give away to decisions that become irresponsible because of its nostalgic past.
Bill Cherry is the author of “Bill Cherry’s Galveston Memories.”