Balinese-inspired weekend home is a peaceful retreat for Houston attorney
Scott Arnold’s love of Balinese furniture and artifacts is evident upon entering his weekend home in the San Jacinto Neighborhood Conservation District of Galveston. Although Arnold has traveled to the Indonesian island of Bali several times, it was his fascination with Galveston’s storied Balinese Room that piqued his initial interest.
So, in 2001, Arnold acquired the place that had once been a famous gambling hall that operated on a pier 600 feet into the Gulf of Mexico during the 1940s and 1950s. In its heyday, legends such as Bob Hope, Jack Benny and Frank Sinatra performed at the former casino. After buying it, Arnold opened a nightclub on the Seawall property and ran it successfully until it was destroyed by Hurricane Ike in 2008.
“I own a 50-year, nominal rent lease with the General Land Office of the State of Texas and have the exclusive right to build 140-foot seawall frontage,” said Arnold, who owns the Balinese Room franchise, including federal copyrights and trademarks.
Arnold, a personal injury trial lawyer in Houston, also is the principal of Arnold Interests, a real estate acquisition, development and management company specializing in the redevelopment of historic and architecturally significant buildings. His properties include an 1880s downtown Houston office building, several buildings in Galveston and in Texas City’s revitalized Sixth Street area.
“Growing up in the northeast and spending summers in Rhode Island meant I was at the beach a lot,” he said. “So, I’ve always felt comfortable around the ocean. When I was 11, my family moved to the Houston area, and I started spending time in Galveston.”
After passing the bar exam at age 24, Arnold began his 38-year law career and even tried a case against the flashy trial lawyer Percy Foreman. Although, he has many courtroom stories to reflect upon, Arnold much prefers to talk about his Bali-inspired Galveston house he bought in 2005. The fact that the house was within walking distance to the Balinese Room, 2107 Seawall Blvd., was a plus, he said.
Built in 1901 and just a little more than 1,000 square feet, the house was originally meant for emergency housing for those who had lost their homes during the 1900 Storm that killed more than 6,000 people. Wooden storm debris was used as interior and roof sheathing. As many as 10 people occupied the small structure at any given time, he said.
When Arnold bought the house, it had been abandoned for several years and was basically a tear-down, he said. But he saw potential. Walls were removed and ceilings torn out in the master bedroom and living room, exposing the roof and rafters. Arnold kept some of that storm debris visible, which includes a sign that says “Saloon” on the ceiling of the living room and one that says “Bicycle Resort” on the master bedroom ceiling. He also kept beadboard on a side wall.
The rooms that are now the living room, master bedroom, master bathroom and closet were the original parts of the house, which had oil lighting and a wooden cistern. What’s now the kitchen, second bedroom/study and half bath were later additions.
“I was focused on island ambience, while respecting the history of the house,” said Arnold, who also made it a point to keep a few items belonging to the previous owner, Ralph Turner.
Turner, who occupied the house with his family from 1947 to around 1995, was a decorated World War II veteran whose U.S. Army uniform and wooden chest are displayed in the second bedroom, which Arnold also uses as his office.
The vibe of Bali, China, India, Thailand and Africa is strong. Four orange velvet living room chairs Arnold took from one of the nightclubs he leases in Houston, and the extra-wide commercial bar sink, work well within the worldly ambience.
Most of the pieces in the master bedroom were purchased in Bali, such as the mahogany Balinese throne, with hand-carved lion head armrests and claw feet. A Buddha painting, wall hanging from India, Moroccan lamp, Chinese bedside table and a cedar armoire original to the house, complement the décor.
Arnold built the oversized bed when he was in college, later adding the headboard, a gift from Scott Hanson of Antique Warehouse in Galveston. A painting on the wall he is most fond of is one he completed with his 87-year-old mother, who is an artist.
“I did the collage and she did the water coloring,” he said.
A full-length Balinese framed mirror and Thai temple rubbing in the master bath lead to the second bedroom/study. Turner’s Army uniform hangs near a Balinese desk, and shares wall space with a collection of statues and masks, as well as a traditional Balinese painting, illustrating the many aspects of Balinese life and levels of deities.
Sitting on a kitchen bar stool, looking out onto the living room with its orange velvet chairs, a Victorian-style chaise made in Bali and an exotic assortment of tall statues and wooden carvings, Arnold is quite content with his island home, which differs vastly from his more traditional Montrose residence in Houston.
“I have a sense of freedom here,” he said. “I’m very competitive and I’m able to lose my courtroom persona once I cross the causeway. When I come to this house, I become a different person.”