By Donalevan Maines
Jeff Walters pounds the plaster off the walls of a dilapidated old house in Galveston to reveal gorgeous ironwork that has survived for more than a century. “I could not believe it myself, to find this still intact. It’s beautiful,” says the out manager of Virginia Malone & Associates in Baytown, as well as a new Galveston venture, Save 1900 Realty, that’s dedicated to restoring the island’s vintage homes to their original grandeur.
Growing up in Baytown, explains Walters, “My family would always tour the homes and mansions on Galveston Island. We used to drive around for hours looking at the old-world homes that survived the 1900 Storm.” However, many homes didn’t survive “The Great Storm,” as residents often call what was the deadliest hurricane in U.S. history. Or did they?
In January, Walters met Michael Cordray, a born-on-the-Island (BOI) resident of Galveston who owns a home-restoration company with his wife, Ashley. They flip homes by stripping them down to their birthday suits, often finding preserved patina, tiles, and stained glass from long ago, says Walters.
“When there’s no job beneath you, there’s no ceiling above you,” Cordray told Walters, who was so impressed by Cordray that he encouraged the young go-getter to study for a real-estate license.
“Six weeks later, he had it,” says Walters—who then had a reason to open a real-estate business on the island he’s enjoyed all his life.
“My first memory of Galveston was walking the Strand during Dickens on the Strand,” he says. “I loved all of the hustle and bustle of old-time England. Everyone was in wonderful costumes, and there was music and entertainment on every corner. I loved the candy and ice cream of La King’s Confectionary and all of the shops offering seashells and trinkets. I always wanted to live in one of the old buildings.”
It was at the 1838 Michel B. Menard House that Walters met the Cordrays at “Menardi Gras,” which kicked off Galveston’s 2016 Mardi Gras festivities. The Greek revival-style structure —and oldest home on the island that’s still standing—is said to be the site of Galveston’s first Mardi Gras ball in 1856.
Walters is the youngest of five children born to the late oilman Burl Walters and an absent mother. “I was reared by my father, when he was in town; my grandmother, Lydia Scarborough; and my aunt, Virginia Malone, who is a real-estate broker. She obtained her license in 1957. I had a privileged childhood as far as being exposed to the finer things in life. I shopped and dined out from birth on, four days a week until I graduated from high school. As my friends can attest, I have maintained that tradition.”
He adds, “I knew I was gay in junior high, but I didn’t actively pursue that lifestyle in public. My best friend and I had a secret affair, not knowing that my grandmother knew the tea. I was not out in high school, but I wasn’t closeted either; I was just me. I was not scrutinized by my peers like the nelly princesses running around the school. All everybody ever said was, ‘Jeff is different.’”
Walters lettered in track at Ross S. Sterling High School in Baytown, and he participated in many clubs and service organizations. “Key Club was my favorite. I was the treasurer and lieutenant governor for the Texas-Oklahoma district.
“Being reared in a real-estate family,” he adds, “I hated the business until I was in high school because I was always sitting in the car or at the office while my Aunt Jenny was writing contracts. When I was 18, I took a real-estate course at Lee College that was taught by the real-estate attorney who always did my aunt’s closings.”
Walters oversees five real-estate agents at Virginia Malone & Associates in Baytown, as well as three agents at Save 1900 Realty in Galveston. They include Cordray, out Galveston homeowner Devin Hooper, and Crystal McDowell, a niece of Walters.
“The Galveston office is a full-service real-estate firm,” says Walters. “We plan on helping transform and sell the island’s old, dilapidated homes and return them to their original glory.”
The Galveston Historical Foundation has already taken note of the progress that the Cordrays and Save 1900 Realty have made with their first efforts. “Ashley and I were honored to represent Save 1900, having been selected as a Galveston Landmark Commission Rehabilitation Award recipient,” says Cordray. “We are looking forward to many more incredible restorations.
“I have my sights set on a three-story building on Mechanic Street right down from the Tremont Hotel,” says Walters. “It would make perfect lofts, with commercial retail or our office on the first floor. We are planning on two lofts on the second floor and one loft on the third, at prices ranging from $500,000 to $850,000.”
Walters says the LGBT community on Galveston Island is thriving and growing more each day. “You know how when the first gay couple moves into your neighborhood, the property values soar?” he explains. “Some stereotypes are true: we just have a natural flair for beauty and taste.”
Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.