Historic homes tour offers look into famous tailor’s condo
The dark brick building beside a Goodwill store with sweeping Gulf of Mexico views is unassuming. But stepping inside the “Ortiz Penthouse” — as its new owners call it — is like stepping back in time.
Frank Ortiz and his wife, Blanche, formerly the co-owners of Ortiz Tailors in Galveston, bought the former Fort Crockett administration building near 45th Street and Seawall Boulevard in 1957, said Gregory Turner, co-owner of Island Home Properties, which now owns the building. Frank and Blanche Ortiz remodeled it into luxury homes called the Beach View Apartments, Turner said.
The couple moved into a nearly 4,000-square-foot condominium in the building, where they lived for decades. Frank Ortiz was known as the “tailor to the stars” in Galveston and for decades designed outfits for Liberace, Wayne Newton and other Las Vegas performers, Turner said.
Ortiz is credited with being the first to “put bling on Liberace” and designed many of his costumes after, Turner said.
Frank Ortiz died in the early 2000s and Blanche died in September after living her last few years at The Meridian, a retirement community in Galveston.
The property went up for sale shortly before her death. Turner and his partner, Darinda Fuller, bought it with plans to restore it and bring back the luxury condos.
Although Frank and Blanche Ortiz lived in the home into the 2000s, walking up the steps to the entryway is like time-traveling.
“It’s a peek into the past,” Turner said. “There are these secret places in Galveston that you’ve driven past and didn’t realize their history.”
As Turner and Fuller sift through the house, they’ve found directories with telephone numbers for Wayne Newton and other celebrities and love letters Frank and Blanche Ortiz wrote to each other. They’ve also discovered old photographs and retro outfits designed by Frank Ortiz, Turner said.
“They traveled the world and had a real love affair,” Turner said. “It’s also obvious they loved to entertain.”
The Ortiz Penthouse will be used as a happy hour destination at 4504 Fort Crockett Blvd. for the Galveston Historical Foundation’s Historic Homes Tour in May.
The yearly event highlights Galveston’s architectural history through public tours of privately owned homes.
“The annual homes tour highlights the island’s architecture crossing decades of construction and design as well as houses both large and small,” said Dwayne Jones, executive director of the Galveston Historical Foundation.
The tour offers a close-up look at the island’s collection of late 19th- and early 20th-century houses. Tours will be held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. May 6, 7, 13 and 14.