GALVESTON — Last week, a brochure floating around in cyberspace marketing the sale of 53 prime West End acres caused some intrigue in real estate circles from Austin to the island.
The brochure was showcasing six tracts ranging from 5,865 square feet to 25.74 acres potentially worth millions of dollars and representing the largest remaining undeveloped piece of property facing the Gulf of Mexico behind the protective seawall.
What’s more, the brochure played up the phrase “court-ordered sale,” sure to incite opportunists trolling for bargains.
The stuff of legends
But what the brochure didn’t say was the land had been owned for 50 years by the island’s Maceo family, who had operated the famous Balinese Room and other notorious venues and at one time controlled most of the gambling and other vices on the island.
The Maceo family’s legendary exploits still loom large on the island. And, in an oblique way, the demise of the vices that fueled the family’s fortunes played a role in making the well-positioned West End property, until recently, very hard to sell.
In 1957, Texas Attorney General Will Wilson and other law enforcement officials began a massive campaign of raids that wrecked racketeering, gambling and open prostitution on the island, according to reports. The crackdown ended gambling at the Balinese Room and at bookmaking parlors, casinos and clubs throughout the county built by Sicilian brothers Salvatore “Sam” and Rosario “Rose” Maceo.
A little reassurance
Around that time, Victor Maceo, the nephew of Sam and Rose Maceo, had taken out a loan on the 53 acres at the seawall where it now connects with FM 3005. Part of the property backs up to Stewart Road. Before the extension of the seawall, the property was on the beach.
With the end of gambling at the Balinese Room, bankers became understandably worried about that loan, said Vic Maceo, Victor Maceo’s son.
“The bank felt like the ability to pay might be hampered,” said Vic Maceo, who is chief deputy of administration at the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office.
So Victor Maceo approached two relatives, who became partners in the property. Victor Maceo maintained 50 percent ownership, and the relatives bought the remaining interest in different percentages, Vic Maceo said.
As the years passed and families grew, more heirs came along, diluting the ownership interest of the property, Vic Maceo said.
Offers came along for the property as condominium and hotel developments rose around it, but with more than a dozen owners weighing in, agreement on a price was not to be had.
“Some of us felt like it was a good price; some of us felt like it wasn’t a good price,” Vic Maceo said.
To legally sell the property, there had to be absolute agreement among owners, no matter the size of interest each had in the land. The land was subject to the rules of “undivided interest,” which give title to two or more people without specifying the interests of each party by percentage or description of a portion of the real estate.
“The smallest percentage of ownership has as much say as the highest percentage,” Vic Maceo said.
‘Time to do something’
In January 2008, Vic Maceo and his brother Samuel Anthony Maceo, since deceased, hoped to end decades of deadlock.
“I felt it was time to do something with the property,” Maceo said.
The brothers filed a lawsuit in Judge Lonnie Cox’s 56th District Court seeking partition of the land, which led to a forced sale of the property, with profits awarded to stakeholders depending on their ownership interest in the land. The land was placed in receivership; island attorney Christopher Cahill was appointed the receiver. Cahill was charged with finding a real estate broker to sell the property at fair market value.
While the sale was “court-ordered,” it was not a distress sale or a case of the owners owing back taxes, Vic Maceo said. The family expects a fair price.
No feud here
Although the lawsuit caused some tensions among family members, it didn’t spark a feud among one of the island’s most well-known families, Vic Maceo said.
“I think there may have been some lack of understanding about what I was trying to accomplish, but there was certainly no ill will on my part,” he said.
The property, which is zoned for mid-rise buildings, went on the market shortly after Hurricane Ike struck in September 2008 and as the national real estate crash had begun to play out.
Although the brochure marketing the property has been in circulation for some time, only recently did it become a topic of interest among industry observers, who contacted The Daily News for more information.
With the economy improving and investment and interest in resort developments on the rise, Vic Maceo said he expects more interest in the property, which can be sold by tracts or together.
“After 50 years of owning it, you can’t be in a big hurry,” he said.