When Michael Valentine was general counsel for a now-bankrupt Houston electric company, he would pass a small Spanish-styled, pie-shaped building at the intersection of NASA Parkway and Highway 146 on his drive to work. He liked the property so much, when it posted for sale in 1999, he purchased it.
"I bought it as a way to get away," he recalls. "I lived around the corner and thought I might work there instead of at the kitchen table."
The building has an illustrious history, constructed in 1939, Valentine says, as an icehouse that sold beer to thirsty fishermen. In the 1940s, it became a beer, bait and tackle shop that owed its success to the drawbridge that would cause people to stop (and drink) while the boats passed by. In the late '70s, it became Curley's Corner, the new owner maintaining its popularity as a beer and bait store.
In 1985, a local contractor purchased the going concern, Valentine says, but damage from a hurricane and the drawbridge closing had harmed business. The contractor had no choice but to close the bait shop. Twice, he remodeled the building turning it into his construction company office and designing its Spanish-mission motif. After a fight with the town of Seabrook over parking, Valentine says, the contractor put the place up for sale, which is when Valentine bought it.
It wasn't until 1999 that Valentine opened his law office in the former bait shop. He prepared tax returns and maintained a general business practice, but left the building as is, until he outgrew it in May 2003.
Valentine doubled the size of the space (still small at 600 square feet) by finishing out the second floor, which had been a loft. Two sides of the triangular building are comprised of a metal grid of windows 20 feet tall. There is a rooftop view of Galveston Bay and a 7-foot, chrome-plated shark above the sign indicating Valentine Law Firm. But after $50,000 of renovations by Valentine and more than $100,000 spent by the contractor, many locals still refer to his law office as Curley's Corner.
"I get a lot of people who say, 'I always wanted to come in here and I needed a lawyer so I called you,'" Valentine says.
Valentine rides his bicycle to work, walks to the courthouse, and his "official dress code" is shorts and a golf shirt. Each day at lunch, an elderly Italian client brings Valentine authentic Italian food. And sometimes by mid-afternoon, clients can see him through his windows taking a power snooze in his big leather chair.
It's not a stress-free practice, he says, but it's close. "I have designed a nice life for myself."
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