By Steve Hathcock
Special to the PARADE
One of the first buildings constructed at Tarpon Beach in 1908, (Today’s Isla Blanca Park) the Casino Hotel (AKA the Gulf side Hotel) was only open for a short period before disaster struck.
A hurricane coming ashore during the early summer of 1909, forced visitors to evacuate and seek shelter at the Quarantine Station which was located in the bay near the southern tip of Padre Island. Many fishing boats were capsized or cast ashore and one of the ferry boats was missing. Dozens of fishing shanties were demolished by the action of the waves.
No lives were lost and all who wished to leave were brought to the boat docks in Port Isabel.
Another storm swept ashore August 26 and again a large group of tourists sought shelter in the quarantine station. At Tarpon Beach every building except the light house and the quarantine station were either heavily damaged or destroyed. Most of the destruction was caused by the high waves and a general inundation of the Island. The wind itself, which barely reached tropical storm status, caused little damage. Repairs took several months but by 1910 Tarpon Beach and the Casino Hotel were once again open to the public.
Over the next 15 years several violent Gulf storms damaged or destroyed much of Tarpon Beach including the Casino Hotel. During this period the only Island hotel consistently open was the Tarpon Beach Hotel, located bayside and built in 1908 by Jesus Vega of Brownsville.
In 1926, James A. Dickinson rebuilt the Casino complete with a water toboggan slide and two fast speedboats to transport passengers to and from the Island. A bus met every boat upon its arrival to take all passengers to the hotel. There was even a lifeguard stationed on the beach when people were in the water.
Business was brisk over the next few years and though the great depression cast a pall on most of the country, the Casino continued its operation.
But we who live on the Island know we are always just one hurricane away from utter destruction as illustrated by the following article published in the July 6, 1933 edition of the Brownsville Herald: “PORT ISABEL, 3:45 p.m. the afternoon the wind at Port Isabel was increasing slightly, and has changed a little toward the east. Otherwise the situation remained unchanged from this morning. Three people from the Padre Island casino were at the coast guard station on Padre Island, and the telephone line to the station has gone out.”
Several more hurricanes struck the Island during the summer-Fall of 1933 doing much damage to structures at Tarpon Beach. Though heavily damaged the Casino was repaired and back in business in time to host a gathering of the Port Isabel Rotary Club. In addition to a meal, the group of 25 Rotarians enjoyed watching a coast guard drill put on by the members of the station on Padre Island.”
In March of 1942, a pair of Memphis tourists visiting Brazos Island decided they’d like to have lunch at the Casino Hotel. Donning swim suits, the pair entered the water and swam the Brownsville ship channel.
After a quick meal the two repeated their epic swim arriving at Brazos half an hour later.
In a January 14th, 1945 article Frank Dobie wrote: “A Gulf storm took the top story off the Padre Island Hotel. Winds have swept the sand out from under it. No deserted bunk-house ever looked more dilapidated; yet it has more ancient signs about “cover charges,” “cashier,” “family meals with all the trimmings,” “European plan,” “American plan,” “laundry,” etc. than the Waldorf-Astoria. You can sit in one of the two old rope-bottomed chairs on the wide front gallery and look over the Gulf, listen to the surf break, watch for a fishing sail and feel your consciousness absorbed into the eternity of the universe.”
The noiseless tooth of time continued her meal though and the old Casino faded into obscurity. Sometime in the early 1950s it was demolished and today there is no visible evidence of its existence on Padre Island.