"The Bishop’s Rook and The Balinese,” currently under development, is a historical fiction novel set during the Maceo gambling era of 1927 to 1957 in Galveston, the raids and shutdown of 65 illegal gaming clubs on the island on June 17, 1957, the connection to the early development of Las Vegas and the migration of the Fertitta family to Vegas.
Additionally, a screenplay and theatrical film will follow.
The book will be the most comprehensive work produced covering the length and breadth of what is almost a mythical time in Texas history.
Real names, places and events will be the backdrop to the story, creating a colorful and wildly entertaining cast of characters that could not be richer if Damon Runyon were still alive to chronicle their personalities.
An intensive statewide research effort has been undertaken to capture the real and accurate history of those times. It is my hope to chronicle the bootlegging and gambling years in details not seen before in all of the books, articles and interviews put together during the last 80 years covering the wide open culture in all its grit, glory and bawdiness.
Numerous prominent Galvestonians have contributed valuable information to the project.
The Balinese Room will be featured prominently in the story. The history of the B Room will include its humble beginnings as the Chop Suey, followed by The Grotto and the Sui Jen — ever expanding along the way out 600 feet over the Gulf of Mexico.
The events of Pearl Harbor resulted in a change to a Polynesian theme. The Balinese was born January 1942. My parents enjoyed the extraordinary culinary delights and dancing in the showroom.
I desire that the philanthropic community will support the project as a preservation effort of one of the most notable and unique legacies in Galveston and American history.
Additionally, the enthusiastic backing of the tourism industry — government and private — will be critical to the success of the project on a national scale.
Finally, Galvestonians who have quality photos, film footage of the events of June 17, 1957 — the day of the gambling shutdown, ephemera, memorabilia of the gambling era — will be greatly appreciated.
These items will be scanned in Galveston on site and returned to the owner immediately — the day and time to be determined.
The Bernardoni and Riccobono families have an 80-year history on the island. My great-grandfather died in The 1900 Storm. Johnny Riccobono was my uncle. My father, sister and grandfather are all BOI. My sister Mary Riccobono worked at the Balinese.
The projects have an additional goal of reintroducing the Bernardoni family to Galveston — a homecoming soon to be fulfilled after a 90-year absence.
John Bernardoni, a native Texan, is a producer/writer based in Austin. He was the co-founder of the effort to save, restore and rejuvenate the historic Paramount Theatre on Congress Avenue.