Meet Galveston’s V.J. Tramonte

Bouncing back: V.J. Tramonte (c), with Brad Belt (l) and Tom Schwenk, are three reasons Galveston has returned to 95 percent “normalcy” following the wrath of 2008’s Hurricane Ike.

Real estate king and island booster
by Marene Gustin

If you’re looking for a spot in paradise, chances are you’ll wind up at Joe Tramonte Realty Inc., one of the oldest and most established real estate companies in Galveston.

Owner/broker V.J. Tramonte, son of the founder, knows the island like the back of his hand.

“I’ve been a broker for 30 years,” he says. “And I love it—it’s something new every day. For such a little island, we are so diverse: from the historical homes to the new condos on the water. I’ll drive clients around and they are amazed at all of the choices we have here.”

But it’s not just island real estate that Tramonte knows. He’s been a long-time advocate for Galveston, serving on such boards as the Galveston Economic Development Partnership, Rotary Club of Galveston, Galveston Association of Realtors, City of Galveston Zoning Board of Adjustments, City of Galveston Planning Commission, and the Membership Committee of the University of Texas Medical Branch’s President’s Cabinet. He’s also a member of the National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Professionals, active at St. Patrick and Sacred Heart churches, and was a founding member of the reconstituted Knights of Momus, the original krewe for the island’s famous Mardi Gras celebration.

As if that wasn’t enough, in January he became the chairman of the Galveston Chamber of Commerce.

“We have so many important issues coming up in 2011,” Tramonte says with excitement. “For sure, paid parking on the seawall. Other beach communities charge for parking and use the money to fund amenities. We don’t even have any restrooms on the seawall; with the parking money we could build some and have paid attendants staff them. We could also use the money for sand replenishment and landscaping.”

The other issue the chamber is looking at is gambling. Tramonte says no one wants slot machines on every corner, but businesses want the option to have gambling to increase tourism. However, after the Republican sweep in the last state election, gambling may be a hard issue to sell in the legislature this year. “We lost a lot of our Democratic supporters for it,” he says. Still, Tramonte is looking forward to working for what’s best for his beloved Galveston.

And no wonder—a true BOI (born on the island), Tramonte’s roots go back to The Great Storm.

“Both of my grannies were here for the 1900 storm,” he says. “They remembered their fathers carrying them on their shoulders to the top of their houses. They lived downtown and both survived. I only wish we had recorded their stories of the event.”

His grandparents went into the meat-packing business on the island—with stockyards, processing and rendering plants, and a slaughterhouse. “Grandpa used to say we processed everything but the moo!” he recalls.

In 1968, his father, Joe Tramonte, broke away from the family meat business and founded the real estate company, although it wasn’t ordained that his son would follow in his footsteps.

V.J. Tramonte attended O’Connell
College Preparatory School on the island before graduating from St. Edward’s University in Austin with a political science degree.

“Back in the ’70s, with a degree like that, you either taught or went to law school,” Tramonte says. So he went to the University of Houston Law School and actually practiced law for two years. But that didn’t quite work out.

“Hated it!” he laughs. So he joined his father’s real estate business in 1982, taking it over after Joe Tramonte’s death. And even though he’s kept up his law license, he has never looked back. Today the business has more than a dozen agents, sells and leases residential, commercial, and farm and ranch listings, and manages 300 properties.

Though active in gay issues, he doesn’t play up his orientation, saying that coming out was an ongoing process. “I never had the ‘big talk’ with my parents,” he says. “I’m single, but always looking.”

In between running a large real estate company and all his civic and charity work, Tramonte does find time to enjoy life on the island. His favorite way to spend down time is hanging out with friends, going to restaurants, and walking along the seawall. He’s also fond of old movies from the ’40s and ’50s, racquetball, and bowling.

But his true passion is his island home, and he sees great things for Galveston’s future.

“Ike was a setback for us,” he says. “We lost so many homes and businesses, and so many people. I had water in my home and had to move in with mama for a year. We had water in the office, but we were back to work with white boards and cell phones within 10 days after the hurricane. We had to. There were so many people looking for a place to live and so many people coming in to process claims and help rebuild. They all needed a place to stay.

“But we’re back almost 95 percent
now. And with all the stimulus and Ike money pouring into the island, there’s a building and business boom. We’re in the news all the time with Mardi Gras, Dickens on The Strand, and our Art Walks. We have a festival practically every month here. And we had a wonderful summer. We had a lot of tourists from areas along the Gulf that were hit hard by the oil spill. Galveston is definitely back, bigger and better than ever!”

Marene Gustin is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.

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Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and Gayot.com, among others.

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