Past Treasure of the Month – December 2010
The Rosenberg Library Museum showcased a local and unique treasure for the December Treasure of the Month. An original ceramic spittoon from the opening year of the Hotel Galvez will be on display. Donated by Mr. Nixon Quintrelle, the Hotel Galvez spittoon was manufactured by the Chester Hotel China Manufacturing company and imported by the Burley & Co. china and glass firm of Chicago, Illinois. The Burley & Co. firm, founded in 1885 from the former Burley & Tyrell Co., was one of the largest importers of china and glassware in the United States.
Spittoons, or cuspidors, are spit receptacles popular among tobacco chewers and, historically, tuberculosis patients. Spittoons have had a long world history and have been in use in Southwest Asia for centuries. They first became popular in the United States and the United Kingdom around 1840. In the following decades, spittoons were common sights in saloons, hotels, banks, railcars, gentlemen’s clubs, and other locations of heavy public traffic. Their popularity stemmed from efforts to reduce public spitting on sidewalks, streets, and floors. Many cities backed this effort by passing laws that prohibited public spitting anywhere except into provided spittoons.
Typically made from brass or ceramic, spittoons were flat-bottomed and weighted to reduce chances of tipping. They were also cut from crystal glass and fine porcelain, and spittoons that were located within top hotels were often heavily decorated such as the one on display. Few spittoons had lids, but some were equipped with holes to aid in cleaning. Public spittoons were often filled with an antiseptic to reduce disease transmission. However, when cigarettes and chewing gum grew to be preferred over chewing tobacco, spittoon use declined. World War II saw the end of the golden age of spittoons when vast numbers were melted down in scrap drives.
The Hotel Galvez spittoon is made of glazed china with the Hotel Galvez emblem stamped on the side. It was likely manufactured for the Hotel’s first collection of fine china for its opening season in June of 1911. The Hotel Galvez, set to celebrate its 100th Anniversary this next year, was planned after a mysterious fire destroyed the infamous Beach Hotel at 23rd and Beach. After the 1900 Storm, the opening of the Hotel Galvez stood as a sign that the city had triumphed from the nation’s deadliest natural disaster and was a beacon for the new tourism industry. The Hotel featured a barber shop, candy store, drug store, soda fountain, and a gentleman’s Bar & Grill its opening year, and roller chairs were available for hire to take guests on a stroll along Seawall Boulevard.
The Hotel Galvez was vital to Galveston’s economy and lifestyle during the gambling heydays from the 1920s through the 1940s. The Galvez has played host to Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Lyndon B. Johnson and was a working facility for the U.S. Coast Guard during WWII. Band leader Phil Harris married actress Alice Faye at Hotel Galvez in 1941, and General Douglas MacArthur was a guest in 1957. Howard Hughes, Frank Sinatra, and Jimmy Stewart have also been popular guests of this Jazz Age hotspot.
Major refurbishing occurred in 1965 and 1979, and the hotel was added to the National Register of Historic Places in April 1979. In 1995, Galveston native and entrepreneur George P. Mitchell purchased the Hotel Galvez and instituted historic restoration of the structure.