Rosenberg Library Remembers the Opening of the San Luis

 Rosenberg Library Remembers the Opening of the San Luis
Dr. William and Edna Levin talk with George Mitchell at the grand opening of the San Luis.

Galveston’s Seawall Boulevard is home to some remarkable structures. Whether it’s the elegant charm of the Hotel Galvez or the nostalgia-invoking Pleasure Pier, it’s easy to fall in love with the island’s Gulf-view boulevard. One of the most impressive buildings on the boulevard is the beautiful San Luis Hotel. The Rosenberg Library is displaying some of its artifacts from the hotel’s 1984 grand opening celebration as the September Treasure of the Month.

 Rosenberg Library Remembers the Opening of the San Luis
The opening celebration for the San Luis featured amazing entertainment, lots of food, and an incredible fireworks display. Proceeds from the event benefited UTMB’s geriatric research programs.

Story of the San Luis

Developed by the Woodlands Group the San Luis resort broke ground March 7, 1983 on the historic site of Fort Crockett’s bunkers at 53rd and Seawall. The group was headed by Galveston native, philanthropist, preservationist and oilman George Mitchell. The $36 million 15 story structure boasted 244 guest rooms – each one with a view of the Gulf of Mexico, and was designed by Morris/Aubry Architects. Guests could choose from five ball rooms – enjoy the $1,000,000 swimming pool, have a drink at the lounge, and eat at the fine restaurant.

The name was chosen with careful consideration. A few of the possible names include the Sintra (a hilltop retreat on the coast of Estoril, Portugal), the Empress (in honor of the Empress Carlotta, wife of Maximillian the Emperor of Mexico), and the Island City Hotel. “San Luis” was chosen for two major reasons. It was the original name of Galveston Island (the island was later named after the Viceroy of New Spain Bernardo de Galvez). It was also the proposed name for a Seawall hotel designed in the 1920s – meant to rival the Galvez in scale and luxury – that was never built.

The San Luis opened on June 2, 1984. The black tie event benefitted the geriatric research programs of UTMB, and featured a performance by Peter Duchin and his orchestra. The star-studded event hosted a diverse group of guests including politicians, businessmen, medical professionals, and even national celebrities. Actor and writer George Plimpton assisted nationally recognized pyrotechnics expert Felix Grucci Sr. with the “Concert in the Sky.” The twenty plus minute firework display was choreographed with music and lights, and was broadcast.

Part of the Library’s display included an invitation and photographs of the opening ceremony, photographs of the construction of the San Luis, and architectural renderings of the building. Most of these items came from George Mitchell’s papers housed in the Galveston and Texas History Center in the Rosenberg Library.

 Rosenberg Library Remembers the Opening of the San Luis
Edna Levin’s dress was on display as the Rosenberg Library’s September Treasure of the Month.

Ambassadors of UTMB

Aside from George Mitchell, two of the night’s brightest stars were Dr. William and Mrs. Edna Seinsheimer Levin. Dr. Levin was born in Waco and served as President of UTMB from 1974 – 1987. During his tenure the school constructed new buildings, increased enrollment, and grew funding for educational and research programs. His individual accomplishments were just as impressive: he was a member of many professional organizations, won the Lareate Award from the American College of Physicians, received a NASA Group Achievement Award, and was recognized by the National Cancer Program and countless other groups.

His wife Edna Levin was born and raised in Galveston, and spent most of her adult life working to improve the island. After graduating from Ball High and the Hockaday School in Dallas she returned to Galveston and married William Levin. Her dedication to community service earned her the nickname “First Lady of UTMB.” She was active in numerous civic organizations including: the Public Health Nursing Service, Junior Welfare of Galveston, the Medical Dames, American Red Cross, American Cancer Society, and Temple B’Nai Israel. She and Dr. Levin were both active in historic preservation and earned the first Founders Award given by the Galveston Historical Foundation, as well as the Lenora Kempner Thompson Community Enrichment Award for their work in restoring the Grand 1894 Opera House. After her death in 1996 her family established the Levin Family Foundation which led to the Edna Seinsheimer Levin Professorship in Cancer Studies in 1998.

The Library displayed the dress Edna Levin wore to the grand opening of the San Luis Hotel. The cocktail dress, made by American fashion icon Adele Simpson, is made of magenta chiffon and features a high neckline and long, tapering sleeves. Mrs. Levin donated the dress to the Rosenberg Library in 1990.

Past Treasures