Galveston’s Garden of Tokio

 Galveston’s Garden of Tokio
Vintage postcard with a view of Joyland Park and beachfront as seen from the Hotel Galvez. The Garden of Tokio is the frame building located just behind the round, tented structure [image courtesy of Galveston and Texas History Center, Rosenberg Library].

During the month of June, Rosenberg Library exhibited a small collection of items related to the Garden of Tokio, a beachfront dancing pavilion which opened in 1921 as part of Galveston’s Joyland Park. On display were a dancing trophy from 1924, a vintage dance card, and historic photos of Joyland Park and the Garden of Tokio.

Joyland Park

In 1919, J.R. Stratford and R.S. Lindamood purchased property along the 2100 block of Seawall Boulevard at a cost of $35,000. The two men already managed Crystal Palace, a popular tourist attraction in early 20th century Galveston. Their goal was to create a new, first-class entertainment venue on the island which would be called Joyland Park.

Joyland Park featured numerous rides including a Ferris wheel, a merry-go-round, a racing derby, and even an aerial swing. The complex also housed a bandstand, a dance hall, and various concession booths. The Garden of Tokio was added a few years later as an open-air dance pavilion.

Within ten years of its construction, the demand for luxury hotel accommodations led to the closing of Joyland Park. Its prime location made it attractive to developers, and in 1928, Stratford and Lindamood transferred the property deed to the San Luis Hotel Corporation in exchange for 75,000 shares of corporate stock. Stratford became a vice-president of the corporation.

Plans were made to construct an 11-story, Spanish-style resort with 400 guest rooms. Construction costs in 1929 were estimated to be a whopping $1 million. However, as a result of the Great Depression, the hotel was never built. Although most of the attractions from Joyland Park were demolished or moved, the Garden of Tokio remained in place. Under new ownership, the dance pavilion was renovated and re-opened in April 1930. An article from the Galveston Daily News on April 19 of that year provides a vivid description of the “famed resort dancing palace” which was touted as “the South’s loveliest dance pavilion.”

A Reimagined Garden of Tokio

Several thousand colored electric lights illuminated the ceiling of the pavilion, and the structure was adorned with exotic flowers. A row of grand crystal chandeliers ran down the center of the hall and hundreds of Japanese lanterns were hung from the roof. The open-air pavilion featured canvas curtains which could be unrolled in inclement weather or rolled up to capture the cool Gulf breeze.

The Garden of Tokio hosted weekend dances on Saturday and Sunday evenings in spring. Dances were held nightly during the summer months, and live orchestras came from all over the country to play at the Garden.

Galveston entrepreneur Sam Maceo later acquired the property and made plans to build a hotel, but the onset of World War II halted the project. The Garden of Tokio was demolished in 1946.

Eventually William J. Moody, Jr. purchased the vacant property and constructed the Moody Center, a convention space which opened in the 1950s. The structure was demolished in 2005. The former site of Joyland Park and the Garden of Tokio is now home to a parking garage.

Past Treasures