Rosario Maceo (born Sep. 8, 1887- died Mar. 15, 1954) also known as "Papa Rose", "Rose Maceo" and "Iron Glove", was a Sicilian born mobster and organized crime boss in Galveston, Texas. Rosario and his brother Sam Maceo made the Galveston Island a nationally known resort town during the early and mid 20th century, during a period known as Galveston's Wide-Open Era. They owned various restaurants and casino venues including the now-vanished Hollywood Dinner Club and the Balinese Room. He became an Al Capone-like figure in the city. Maceo was the enforcer and head of operations for the business empire he and his brother formed.
Rosario Maceo was born in Palermo, Sicily. The Maceo family immigrated to Louisiana in 1901. He was trained as a barber and later moved to Galveston in 1910, shortly before World War I, to start a business with his brother Sam. Rosario's command of English was never great and he was reportedly illiterate.
Growth of an empire
During Prohibition the Maceo brothers began to give gifts of wine that they were able to smuggle to their customers. As their customers became more interested in the liquor they gradually became more serious bootleggers. Rosario had part of his business on Murdoch's Pier, a hangout for Ollie Quinn, leader of the Beach Gang which was one of two main gangs on the island. Maceo built a relationship with Quinn and the Maceo brothers gradually allied themselves with the Beach Gang. They opened a speakeasy and invested in the gang's gambling operations. Eventually the Beach Gang leader Ollie Quinn and the Maceos opened the Hollywood Dinner Club, the Gulf coast's most elegant night club at the time. Maceo's ability to intimidate made him an enforcer in the organization early on. Arrests of the leaders of the gangs allowed the Maceo brothers to gain control of the island's underworld.
The Maceos gradually invested in numerous clubs and other entertainment ventures in the city involving gambling and bootlegging. Their other big venture, besides the Hollywood, was a club and casino called Maceo's Grotto (later renamed the Balinese Room) which opened in 1929. The Maceos soon controlled most of the gambling, prostitution, and other vice on the island. Rosario acted as the enforcer of the organization while his brother Sam was the "face" of the organization establishing partnerships, negotiating deals, and attracting tourism and investment.
The Maceos became wealthy as their businesses expanded and the island prospered. Their syndicate owned dozens of casinos and restaurants both on the island and throughout Galveston County. To compensate for the often inept and corrupt police force and judicial system on the island, Rosario led a group of vigilantes known as the "Night Riders" to keep order on the island. Area residents considered the island and their homes entirely safe in spite of rampant criminal activity.
Rosario Maceo married Frances Dispensa. Frances was described as being exceedingly kind but, like her husband, very strong.
The Fertitta family and the Maceo family considered each other kin because of the marriage of Joseph Frances Fertitta to Rosario's sister Olivia Maceo. The Fertittas became involved in the Maceo businesses due to this relationship.
End of an era
The heyday of the Free State was over by the 1940s. Because of conflicts with the United States Treasury, the Hollywood Dinner Club was shut down in the late 1930s. The local clubs found it increasingly difficult to attract major entertainment figures. Gambling had been legalized in Nevada in 1931 and this distinct advantage over Galveston gradually lured mob figures to Las Vegas. The competition created by the up-and-coming entertainment center in the desert substantially challenged the island on the Gulf. Still even during the later years the Balinese Room was able to attract the likes of Tony Bennett and Peggy Lee, among others.
By the late 1940s corruption at the Texas state and county level was in decline. As investigation of the Maceo activities became more serious, Sam and Rosario began plans to move their empire to Nevada. Thanks to Sam's dealings the Maceo's became major investors in the Desert Inn, which opened in 1950, the largest and most elaborate casino resort on the Las Vegas Strip at the time. Sam and Rosario Maceo transferred controlling interest of most of their Galveston empire to a new group dominated by the Fertitta family with investments coming from business interests around the island. The Fertitta group, however, never wielded the influence that the Maceos had.
Rosario Maceo died in 1954 of heart disease.