Rio History: The Casino Hotel of South Padre Island


Special to the PRESS

Mr. Hathcock, you wrote about the Civic Center on Padre Island last week…..can you tell me anything about an old hotel that was a casino?
Thank you for your stories
Ellen Smith

Hi Ellen, 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.

Want the whole story? Pick up a copy of the Port Isabel-South Padre Press, or subscribe to our E-Edition by clicking here.



About padreeliteteam

Alta Monroe, Gayle Hood, Jules Wilk & Laurie Howell are a full-time professional and dynamic team known as the Padre Elite Team with RE/MAX 1st Choice in South Padre Island. Quality service for their clients is their number one priority. To them, it is about the client's needs and protecting their interests. Finding just the right property for their buyers or helping their sellers get their property SOLD is their goal. Helping clients step through the complicated process of buying or selling a property to a smooth closing is essential to them. A personal Bio on each of the team agents is posted on their website at The South Padre Island real estate industry is changing faster than ever these days. With the changes in the economy, there are new challenges with buyers, sellers, foreclosures, short sales, Internet marketing, our education, increases in inventories, changes in comparable sales, and frustrating politics. Alta, Gayle, Laurie, and Jules strive to stay on top of all of these changes and to keep in touch with their clients. Alta, Gayle, Jules & Laurie all hold designations they have acquired through eduction. These designations include CLHMS, CRS, GRI, RSPS, CPN, ePRO, SFR and RSPS. Gayle and Jules both hold the CLHMS (Certified Luxury Home Marketing Specialist) designation and they are the ONLY agents in the entire Rio Grande Valley that are members of the Institute of Luxury Home Marketing. This better qualifies them to share their specialized expertise with a luxury home seller or buyer. Making sure the buyer and the seller are represented correctly is a priority for this team. Investing in TREPAC (Texas Real Estate Political Action Committee) is important to this team since TREPAC has proven to be a major force in Texas by lobbying for Realtors and property rights for the consumer. For many years, the Padre Elite Team has been a major investor in TREPAC. Alta and Gayle have attended the National Association of Realtors Mid-Year Conference in Washington, D.C. often. The conference is primarily for Realtors that are Board directors or executives. It is a great way to stay on top of the current issues facing Realtors and homeowners in our country. They get to meet with their Senators and Congressmen to express their concerns. Last year they were invited to attend the Realtor PAC President’s Circle Conference in New York where they heard many famous guest speakers regarding current real estate issues. The Padre Elite Team also attends the RE/MAX International Conference each year to acquire more education and to keep up with the latest technology available to Realtors in the Marketplace. They have received numerous awards for being Top Producers in the real estate industry. Education is a priority for this entire team including their assistant, Grace. The GOOD news is that 2012, 2013, 2014 and now 2015 proved to be better each year for real estate sales in South Padre Island and the surrounding areas of Port Isabel, Laguna Vista/South Padre Island Golf Community, and Bayview. The real estate market is showing an increase in the number of sales and a leveling of values. Now that the market has hit the bottom, investors are finding that real estate is a great place to invest their money. It is still a buyer's market and a great time to buy. Alta, Gayle, Jules & Laurie all agree that it has been such a pleasure to live & work in a resort area such as South Padre Island. A hundred of your closest friends and family will visit when you live near the beach! Clients are always encouraged to contact them. For more information about this team and to view their blog, visit
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