The San Luis Hotel sits on a tract which holds a special place in my memory. It was a World War I gun emplacement erected to protect Galveston Island from possible invasion by the Germans, but as children, we called it the “Stink House.” It was a reinforced cement block house, partially underground containing two long-range shore batteries.
As a small child in the 1950s, I remember playing inside it with my sister and cousins while our fathers fished in the surf across the street. And yes, it stank. I can’t describe the smell. It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before or since. You could only stay inside one or two minutes before you needed to get outside and breathe fresh air. But the smell isn’t what holds the location in my memory.
During the Great War, my maternal grandfather was a captain in the Marines. He had been assigned to command the Stink House battery. His name was Adrien DeLeon Seixas from a long line of California Spanish. In 1917, he was a 35-year-old single man, a CPA living in Los Angeles. His assignment in Galveston was his first time in Texas.
While on this assignment, he made the acquaintance of Frank Williams, the plant manager of the General Foods plant in Houston. Frank Williams was married to Ida Mason. With Frank and Ida, lived Ida’s youngest sister, 18-year-old Katherine, called “Kat” or “Kattie” by Ida. She was quite pretty, a natural redhead with a peaches-and-cream complexion. She had more than her share of suitors.
Frank introduced Kat to DeLeon, who was immediately taken by her. Although she played hard-to-get, he pursued her until she caught him. They were married in Houston in September 1919. As a wedding present, he gave her a Seth Thomas mantlepiece clock, which I now have as a family heirloom. It still works, too.
After they married, DeLeon and his bride returned to Los Angeles when his hitch was up. They had two children, a son, Adrian DeLeon Seixas and a daughter, Kathryn Virgie Seixas, my mother, both children born in Los Angeles.
Their son, my uncle “Dee,” was a Navy blimp pilot during the next world war. Blimps were used as sub chasers. Part of his job was to search for and find German submarines in the Gulf of Mexico. And so, he, like his father before him, helped protect Galveston Island during wartime.
This is how the Stink House came to figure prominently in my family’s history and my memory. The smell is gone, now, but I remember it every time I pass the San Luis.