Rick's Castle
Home Up

1987 - Rick's Castle

Story written by Rick Archer

First written: June 1989
Last update: September 2009

FORWARD

Most of us have an inkling of what it is like to be seduced by beauty.  You want something that is irresistible, but you also know it is dangerous.  It is a scary feeling to want something so bad that you are out of control and unable to listen to the warning signals.  You know you are in the presence of danger, but you are helpless to do the right thing.

Typically we assume it is a 'femme fatale' that works her evil magic, but not this time.  Once upon a time, I was so taken by the physical beauty of a building for sale that I nearly made one of the worst mistakes of my entire life.  There were warning signs all around me, but I was so determined to possess this magnificent structure that I ignored the danger.  I offer you this story as a cautionary tale to all.
 
Sometimes if something seems too good to be true, you have to learn to trust your feelings and back away.

The Greenridge Property was so vast that a single photograph could not do it justice.  However this artist's rendering of the property gives a pretty good idea of the unusual layout.   At first glance it really does look like a modern-day castle!   All it needed was a moat, a drawbridge, and some spires.

The building is still there today. It is located one mile west of the Galleria. It has three levels.  The first level is half below the ground and half above (if you look closely at the picture, you will see ground level windows on the far left and another set of windows in the structure on the right).  For security reasons, there are no door openings at ground level.  You have to access these rooms from the second story courtyard.

The sweeping Courtyard was a thing of beauty (look for the two areas with the square tiles or see sketch below).  It had the romantic atmosphere of a French sidewalk area.  The Courtyard was so totally screened off from the surrounding area that it felt like you were in your own little world. This lovely second story veranda connected the entire structure together (the picture doesn't make it clear, but you can actually walk directly under the middle structure).  All of the 16 different rooms were accessed from the courtyard.  Those courtyard tiles were beautifully laid.  They created such a smooth surface that dancing on them would be no problem.  I visualized having wonderful outdoor dances during the cooler times of the year. 

There was a third level with apartments.  I assumed I would live in one of those apartments at some point.

There are only four entrances to the courtyard... two stairs in front and one set of stairs on each side.   By limiting access to three of the entrances, I could guarantee total control of the courtyard when necessary.  For example, for public events on the Courtyard, we could take tickets at the single open entrance.  No sneaking in to my parties!   Just as important, we could defend the structure against vicious attacks from rogue dance studios.

Thanks to the unique architecture, I had all sorts of ideas.  My imagination was going wild!  I was in love.  Greenridge was going to be Rick's Castle. 

Rick goes Looking for a New Building
Summer, 1987

1987 was the year I went looking to buy a building to become my dance studio.  I was no longer happy at Dance Arts Unlimited

Dance Arts, located at 4803 Bissonnet,
was not working out for a variety of reasons.  When I first started there in October 1979, I sub-leased two small rooms in the back.  For six years, it was just me and one other teacher. 

However, six years is a long time.  At this point my program
had outgrown the space of the two rooms in the back. The place was a dump.  It was always dirty, the air conditioner didnít work, and the furniture was completely worn out. 

Still, until recently, I had been happy here. 

I had thought of Dance Arts as my permanent home.  It had to take something pretty bad to make me go looking. 

I was miserable because my relationship with my one-time mentor Glen Hunsucker, owner of Dance Arts, had taken a serious turn for the worse.  For seven years I had enjoyed an excellent relationship with Glen. In the beginning, Glen had been so good to me that I literally worshipped the ground he walked on. However, in the previous year - 1986 - Glen and I had begun to quarrel.  As 1987 began, I felt taken advantage of and disrespected.  Glen was constantly hitting me up for new revenue and arbitrarily changing the rules of our working agreement.  If he had leveled with me and asked for help, that would have been one thing, but instead he had turned into a dictator.  At times, Glen would become a fire-breathing dragon.  That made no sense.  Previously Glen had been such a gentle man.  I was mystified by this change in his behavior.  What had I done to turn this man so much against me?   

What I was not aware of was that Glen had acquired a serious drug problem.  There is your explanation for his mood change right there, but I had no idea at the time.  The problem was so bad that further down the road it would put him in prison for most of the Nineties.  The drug problem poisoned our relationship in two ways.  One, he needed more money to pay for his drugs.  Two, his drug-fried brain crippled his coping skills.  Glen constantly threatened to evict me, to raise my rent, and to reduce my room usage.  Worst of all, he would literally scream at me for the slightest of reasons.  I was a nervous wreck!  Get me the heck out of here!

I had been miserable now for over a year.  I decided I had taken enough abuse.  I had to assume things weren't getting any better. It was time to look for the Exit Door.  However, I didn't want to waste money paying rent for the rest of my life.  I preferred to buy a building. 

I had
enough money to buy a building in the $250,000 range.  Purchasing within this range, the monthly payments would be close to what I was paying in rent to begin with.  I was confident we could make this work.

So I got myself a realtor. Together we went looking.  Evelyn found me all sorts of buildings.  She located several buildings that were in my price range and seemed very promising.  What I didn't anticipate, however, was how hard it was to make a deal. 

A
t one point or another during 1987, I put down bids on seven different buildings.
But not one deal went through!

Can you imagine that?  Here was someone with enough cash to buy at that level, no credit problems, yet not one deal went through.  

Even more ridiculous, a
t the end of 1987, all but one of the 7 structures were still for sale.  That must be the all-time record for futility.


ONE BIG GIANT WASTE OF TIME

As I look back, 1987 was one giant waste of time.  Besides the seven buildings I put down bids on, I must have looked at another 20 buildings as well that didn't have a chance of working out.  I have heard that some people enjoy real estate, but not me.  I bristled at each dead end.  It seemed like all I did was look at buildings and waste more time.  This was getting old very fast.  I had absolutely zero patience.  The whole darn time, I just wanted to get it over with.  I realize, of course, that this kind of attitude is the worst possible attitude you can have, but it is what it is. Sometimes you have to accept your failings.  I was not cut out for the Real Estate Game.  It is obvious I had little flair (or patience) for real estate.  This was not a game I enjoyed playing.

Adding to my impatience was the fact that we just kept spinning our wheels with futility.  It was ridiculous to keep making bids where nothing happened!  To this day, I still can't explain "why" none of these deals went through.  Our futility made no sense at all.  It was a mystery then and all these years later it still remains a mystery.

I suppose one possible answer to the mystery would be that I had a mediocre real estate agent.  In retrospect, it seems pretty odd that seven deals in a row fell through. Unfortunately, since I have never had another realtor to compare her to, the question of her competence remains in question to this day.  I honestly do not know the answer (although obviously I have my suspicions).

Evelyn (not her real name) was a personal friend of my mother.  One day I was complaining to my mother about the problems I was having with Glen at the studio and how badly I wanted to buy a building.   Mom worked for Evelyn's husband and knew that Evelyn did commercial real estate.  My mother suggested I talk to Evelyn.  So I did.  I liked her and we got started.  One thing that Evelyn was very good at was finding lots of properties for me to go look at. 

When we started, I figured this process would not be difficult.  Thanks to problems with the oil industry, Houston's economy had taken a huge hit in the mid-Eighties.  Sad to say, during this time, a lot of people left the studio because they had to relocate in order to find a job. I lost a lot of friends during this time, including two of my favorite teachers Jim Smith and Diane Head.  Jim's oil company transferred him to Dallas and Diane's fiancť was transferred to Dallas by his oil company as well. 

The silver lining in this downturn was there were now many properties on the market at a reasonable price.  At the start, Evelyn told me finding a building should not be a problem.  Ah, famous last words.

Approximately once a month for the next seven months, Evelyn came up with a new property that fit my needs - more space, lots of parking, reasonably located near the Loop, and in my price range.  Each time I put down a bid.  Evelyn's suggestion was to bid 10% below asking price and see what happened.  So that's what I did.

One by one, each deal fell through.  One building that I bid on turned out to have another bid in before mine.  It was a very attractive building just west of Chimney Rock near the Dance Place.  Okay, no problem.  One building was on Westpark, another building was just off Westpark.  I have no idea what went wrong with either of those bids.  Another building was between Alabama and Greenway Plaza.  I had really good hopes for that one, but nothing ever happened there either. 

One place I thought had a lot of potential was on Rice Boulevard next to a gymnastics school.  The building wasn't much to look at, but the vast land behind it promised wonderful parking and maybe a tree-lined sand volleyball court to boot.  I offered them exactly what they asked, but I still didn't even get to First Base.  Memory tells me ownership of the building was being contested in court, so it was available and not available at the same time.  Today it is a truck rental place.

Out of these first five bids, I can't remember even one counter-offer.  I couldn't figure it out.  Were these buildings for sale or not?  In the meantime, we had just wasted another month of time.  Each time, Evelyn and I would give up and start looking at other possibilities.  One week later, she would be back with another possibility and we would start the whole stupid game over again. 

Fortunately, I kept my mouth shut, so no one at the studio had any idea what I was up to.  No point in burning my bridges ahead of time.  On the other hand, Glen was going further and further off the deep end and I was getting more and more desperate to make my escape.  My desperation explains why I had offered full price on my latest bid... I wanted to escape in the worst way!

THE POOL HALL BUILDING

Offering "full price" turned out to be a more effective strategy.  On my sixth try, I finally got past First Base.  I not only made it to First Base, I got all the way to Third Base!   In fact, I was literally rounding Third when got I tagged out at Home.  The Pool Hall story turned out to be one of the most frustrating experiences of my life.

The Pool Hall building is located on Gessner about half a mile north of I-10. When I last checked in 2009, this building was heavily fenced in with barbed wire.  It looked like it might be an office for a police narcotics unit.  If so, they picked a good spot. It is a free standing structure located in a hidden area behind a strip mall.  You would never find it unless you knew it was there.

Considering my preference for privacy, I was thrilled with this spot.

 In 1987 the building had served as a pool hall. Now it was empty.  The building had an odd alignment. The restrooms were in the very center of the building.  I anticipated building a dance floor in the shape of a racetrack oval around the restrooms!   Not exactly your traditional ballroom dance floor, but perfect for western dancing which ruled supreme in that day.

Both the Pool Hall and the Strip Mall were both owned by a bank.  I have little doubt that someone defaulted on a loan and now the bank owned the two buildings.  The bank had tried to sell both buildings as a package, but were getting nowhere.  So they decided to split the property up and sell it in two parcels.  I was buying the smaller structure plus the rights to use the entire parking lot after 7 pm. 

The large strip mall was 90% unoccupied.  It had just been renovated.  At the time, there was a dry cleaning business in the main building and that was it.  I talked to them and they seemed friendly enough.  The owner said maybe they would stay open until my business started in case some of my students wanted to drop off some clothes.  Works for me.  I was more than happy to help them out.  I wasn't worried about my potential new neighbors.  My building was completely offset.  Their activities and my activities were unlikely to conflict.  Best of all, since most businesses operate during the day, I would have most of the parking lot all to myself. This place would work out just fine.

The bank officer I was working with was enthusiastic about my bid.  In fact, based on our preliminary talks, I assumed we had a done deal.  As far as he was concerned, I had enough money for the down payment.  In addition, I had been in business long enough to satisfy him that I knew what I was doing.  I had a very good rapport with my bank officer.  Our relationship was friendly.  The negotiations had gone so smoothly that I had practically no fears about doing this deal. 

Now it was time to wrap it up.  I was totally ready!  I was chafing at the bit to get the deal done so I could get out on my own.  One summer morning, Evelyn and I went downtown to the bank's main office to seal the deal.  I entered the room in a triumphant mood.  I had my checkbook with me and I was ready to sign the papers. 

My first inkling that something was wrong came from the bank agent.  Typically, the bank officer was pleased to see me.  He always greeted me warmly.  Today, however, he seemed reserved.  Was it my imagination or did he know something was wrong?

After some preliminary talk, the bank's lawyer entered the conference room.  This was a surprise to me.

The lawyer began by saying before he could sign off on this deal, he had to address the concerns of the larger property (his exact words).  I think my lifelong disgust with lawyers began at that exact moment.

I raised an eyebrow.  What was this all about?  I thought we had a 'done deal'.

The large strip mall in front of the former pool hall was 90% unoccupied.  So far, only a dry cleaning business had moved in.  The lawyer pointed out that other businesses would soon be looking to move in as well.  The lawyer was convinced that the bank needed to protect the larger property against any conceivable encroachment by my smaller enterprise.  Accordingly, he had drafted 12 provisions that restricted what I could do or I could not do with my property. 

My bank agent had not warned me of this. I had no idea this was coming.  I was completely blind-sided. 

It took me a while to decipher his jargon, but this turn of events boiled down to an argument over parking rights. 

Since most businesses operate during the day, my night time business would make perfect use of the parking lot in the evening.  This is the kind of door that swings two ways... I made it clear that the daytime businesses would be permitted to use my area in the back for any overflow parking.  Or perhaps they could insist their employees park back there and save the nearby spots for their customers.  This time shifting made perfect use of the parking lot.  In fact, that's the way it had worked here in the past - the pool hall had been the designated 'night time business'. 

My bank agent understood the concept, but not the lawyer.  In the unlikely case that the future owner or renters of the property needed the parking lot at night, he wanted me to accept 'realistic limits' over my own parking rights. 

Let's say that a Chinese Restaurant wanted to move in and stay open till 9 pm.  Under his guidelines, if my student's cars proved to be a nuisance, the Chinese Restaurant would have the right to restrict my parking.  In other words, the Chinese Restaurant would have the ultimate say so in any conflict regarding parking.

For that matter, any business that moved in would have the same right!  I would have to accept any demand they placed on me.

I could not believe what I was hearing.  In fact, I was literally in shock. I looked at him like he was crazy.   I had no way of knowing who might move in.  Based on his suggestion, I would be at the mercy of any unreasonable demand with no recourse!

My shock turned into angry.  This lawyer was violating an agreement I already had negotiated.  As the bank officer and I had discussed PREVIOUSLY, the whole idea was to have daytime businesses rent the large structure and then my business would use the lion's share of the parking at night.  Did this lawyer really think I was going to sign off on a deal that would restrict my student's parking rights?   I kept looking at the bank officer to speak up, but he deliberately avoided my stare.

The lawyer had some other wacko ideas.  For example, if a restaurant were to move in and wish to operate on Sundays - a family day according to the lawyer - we would be obligated to avoid having any loud parties.  If the restaurant felt our studio was a distraction, it would have the right to demand we start classes on Sundays after the restaurant were to be closed.   Mind you, there wasn't any restaurant currently there, but just in case, the restaurant's rights had to be protected!

If a business needed extra parking on special holidays, we would have to cede our parking to them.  They would have the right to demand we could not even be open for business on a Holiday if they thought our activities would interfere with their fun.   His list of restrictions went on and on.  The lawyer had quite an imagination.  Some of his worries were so crazy that I began to wonder what sort of people he thought we were.  Just the way he talked about the 'dance studio' made me wonder if he thought we were some sort of
dangerous dance cult.

Now that my shock had worn off, I was ready to stand up for myself. I objected strenuously.  I pointed out that once I owned my own property, what right did a future business have to tell me what I could or could not do?  I was the first person to commit.  I deserved the privilege that comes with being first.  Let them adjust to me.  That's the way it is always done - the new businesses decide whether they can co-exist with the other businesses that are already there.  I promised to work with any business that wanted to move in, but I could not understand why I supposed to worry about the concerns of neighboring businesses that were not even currently in the picture.

 I asked him why he was so concerned about protecting the rights of non-existent tenants. 

The lawyer smiled sagely.  He said, "We cannot let the tail wag the dog."  

What in the heck did that mean?  I asked him to clarify.  In other words, my smaller building needed to be kept subservient to the needs of the main building.  He was worried that without these protections, the 'problem of my dance studio' (his exact words) would discourage potential investors in the larger building. The bank would end up not being able to sell their larger structure because most business owners would prefer not to have A Dance Studio as their neighbor.  I honestly began to wonder what vision he had of my business - a front for the Klu Klux Klan?  Paramilitary Organization?  Satanists?   Frankly, I felt insulted.

The lawyer would go on to repeat that phrase six or seven more times over the next hour.  Every time he said it, I became more infuriated. 

I told this man I had rights too.  My business was a sure thing.  If anything, I was more important to the bank because I was ready to take an entire property off their hands.  Furthermore, contrary to his concerns about my business,  I had co-existed with my neighbors at 4803 Bissonnet for seven years without major conflict.  I was about to commit to a $300,000 building that was stretching my budget to the limit (yes, I was exceeding my budget because this building seemed so promising).  He had no business expecting me to spend $300,000 and be willing to tie my hands in the process for a business or businesses that didn't even exist.

Why was he making this deal so hard for me to accept?

He just shrugged.  He said he was sorry if I was uncomfortable, but it was a standard business principle to protect the larger interests from interference by a smaller entity (I think those were his exact words).

My mouth dropped open in astonishment at what I had just heard.  I was crestfallen.  I had come into the room prepared to make the biggest commitment of my life only to discover I was less important than a business that didn't even exist. I had always heard a bird in the hand was worth two in bush, but not this time.  Apparently his "don't let the tail wag the dog" argument trumped my "bird in the hand" wisdom.

The entire time, the bank agent who had put the deal together just started down at the floor as his deal unraveled before his very eyes.  All that time and effort down the drain.  But he never said a word in my defense.  I thought he was my friend, but the coward was clearly intimidated by the lawyer.  I bet he lost this same battle the day before. Today he was already whipped because he let the lawyer deep six all his hard work without any protest.  That's when I remembered how formal he was at the door.  That proved he knew this was coming, but hadn't bothered to warn me.  Thanks a lot, buddy. 

Furthermore, my realtor didn't stick up for me either. She said very little.  I thought I had friends in the room, but I guess not.  I was fighting this battle single-handed.  With friends like these, who needs enemies?

I argued till I was blue in the face.  I pointed out time and again there was so much parking in that shopping center, this argument wasn't even necessary.  The situation was so far superior to the parking realities at our long-time Bissonnet location, it was hard for me to believe there ever would be a problem. 

The lawyer didn't listen to a word I said.  He said his first loyalty had to be to the larger facility.  After it was rented out, then he would turn his attention to the property in the back.  The only way he would work with me now ahead of schedule would be if I was willing to accept his conditions.  The tail will not wag the dog.

That was it.  I saw that the lawyer would never budge in a million years.  It was hopeless.  I got up, picked up my folder and told my realtor I was leaving.  Since I was driving, she got up and walked out behind me.  Stupid lawyer. His arrogance and air of condescension were difficult to accept.  That was easily one of the angriest moments of my entire life.  It took every ounce of self-control not to punch that jerk in the nose. 

A couple days later the bank agent called to see if there was any way to pick up the pieces.  Not if I had to sign that waiver.  Judging by his sigh on the other end of the line, I could sense he was just as disgusted as I was.  How could anybody ever work a deal with a guy like that lawyer? 


THE GREENRIDGE CASTLE

The Pool Hall fiasco took a huge toll on my spirits.  I had completely committed to buying that building only to have the carpet pulled out from under me.  Now I was really discouraged. I wasn't getting anywhere.  I had made legitimate bids on six buildings I could afford.  I had always bid a price that was reasonable, but most of the time I never even got past first base. 

Just about the time I was ready to give up, a new building appeared that took my breath away.  I wanted to buy the Greenridge Building from the moment I saw it. 
Just like a beautiful woman can cast a spell over a man, I was helpless from the moment I saw this place. It captured my heart! The unique architecture made the property look like a medieval castle. This place was so cool!

It had 16,000 square feet. Compare that to our location on Bissonnet with 7,000 square feet. Plus the place was so gorgeous.  This could be my Castle!  I could be King Richard!

I loved that place. For that matter, I still do. I stop every now and then and take a whimsical look at it.  Any time you want to see it, go to the corner of Greenridge and Beverly Hills. Someone has bought it and fixed it up.  It still looks good.

To this day, I have never seen another building that would even remotely compare to this one.   Although its 'practical' value might challenged, for sheer beauty, this building
wins the prize. 


NEGOTIATIONS


It was love at first sight.  My realtor Evelyn set up a meeting with Sam and Dave, the two owners (not their real names).  The Greenridge property was unoccupied. 
Since Sam and Dave were from Nevada, they found it expedient to set up their business office right there on the premises.  This meeting gave me my second look at the Castle.  I trembled with excitement as I walked through the place once more.  Oh, how I wanted to make this place my permanent dance studio!!   

The two owners had done some preliminary talking with Evelyn.  They told her there were other people interested in the building as well, but these other people had run into the same problem as the bank with the pool hall and the strip mall - no one seemed to have enough money to buy the entire property outright. 

So Evelyn had gotten them to consider dividing the property.  Under this plan, I would buy one wing of the building for a price I could afford.  I would then share the maintenance of the overall building with these other buyers.

During the meeting, I raised several points about what would guarantee me protection from abuses by these other unseen buyers.  Thanks to my recent tail wag the dog humiliation, I had at least learned to be concerned about protecting my own interests ahead of time. 

Sam and Dave acted impressed by my sage business acumen.  They said I was a terrific business man.  Now that they saw things from my point of view, it looked to them like the smartest thing for me to do was to buy the whole place myself, then turn around and rent out the parts I didn't need. Flush with excitement, I fell for their BS hook, line, and sinker.  I was intoxicated.

My very own Kingdom was at my finger tips!

    
$557,000!!
 


This meeting was supposed to be a cordial get-together, sort of like meeting for drinks on a first date.  But
once the two sellers saw how eager I was to own this place, they shifted into high gear.  They could see they had a fish on the hook.  They immediately went to work hammering out a great deal for me.  Like any good salesman, they knew better than to let me walk away and think it over.  I was weak and they were coming on strong.

Over the next two
couple hours, the two men worked up a proposal.  They understood I would need to do "a little remodeling", so their offer included low payments for a couple years with a huge balloon payment further down the road once I got settled in.

I was 37 years old at the time. You would think I would see what was going on, but I admit I had very little business experience.  This real estate stuff was over my head.  I was a babe in the woods and these guys were about to have their way with me.  But I wasn't worried; I had my realtor to protect me.  I knew she wouldn't let me sign a bad deal.

The next thing I knew, I had agreed to buy the place for $557,000!!!!   

Mind you, this price was about $300,000 MORE than I had money for.  But the place was so HOT I had to have it!  Greenridge was just too beautiful a property to take the chance of losing it to another man.


Besides, the price didn't seem that out of line.  Just one month earlier I had come close to buying a 6,000 foot building - the former Pool Hall - for $300,000.  Greenridge, on the other hand, had three times more space with a better location to boot for just $257,000 more.  I had 10,000 square feet to sublease.  If I could find some other tenants, I would be in fairly good shape.  Besides, the physical beauty alone made the building vastly more valuable.  Best of all, people would love having dance parties at this place!  Like I said earlier, this structure made the outside world disappear.  The sense of privacy was unbelievable.  We could dance every night away to our heart's content in this luxurious setting and no one would ever bother us.  The Greenridge Castle would be our own little world.  

I was crazy about this place.  It had the elegant courtyard.  All the rooms were elevated.  There were overhead walkways, split level rooms, plus all sorts of twisty angles and corners that I found pleasing to the eye.  All it needed was the moat and I could have started the next Camelot.

Let me add these guys were clever.  They used the oldest trick in the book - they told me another investor was right on the verge of buying the building.  They threatened me that this other buyer might snatch the entire property away from me if I didn't act now!  I could lose my Castle!


Panic-stricken, right there on the spot I wrote out a check for $7,000 as earnest money

The moment I signed, I got sick in my stomach.  As smitten as I was, I realized I had no business moving this fast.  I sensed I had acted rashly based on what these men said.  Now I was having second thoughts.  Was
I worried sick?  You better believe it.  I knew I was taking a big gamble.


THE MYSTERIOUS SECURITY SYSTEMS INVESTOR

I don't think my rash decision to buy this place at that price can possibly make any sense unless I explain the pivotal role the "mysterious investor" played in our negotiations. 

So who exactly was this key investor?  

During the Big Meeting on Day One, the two sellers spent a good deal of time discussing "The Investor".  The investor was said to be the owner of a security systems firm.  His business was growing fast.  He wanted a new place large enough to allow for further expansion.  Like me, he had fallen in love with the place right from the start, but unfortunately, he didnít have the capital to buy it all.  In their words, this guy was more or less in the same position as I was. 

According to my sellers, this guy already knew about me.  When they realized I might buy the whole place, last night the sellers had contacted him to give him one more chance to commit.  He responded that he couldn't commit, but that he would spend all day today looking for one more investor.  Maybe he could come up with enough cash to buy the whole thing outright. 

I frowned. It was obvious they were playing us both against each other.
 Unfortunately it worked like a charm.  It seemed to me like the security guy and I were in a neck and neck race to buy this place.  But were these guys on the level?  Was I willing to gamble?  Here's where a little practice at reading a bluff would have come in handy.  Alas, I didn't have the guts to call their bluff.  I took the bait and believed every word they said.  The two dealers had cleverly used the threat of this unseen second investor to panic me into moving too fast. 

However their fast-talk didn't stop there.  They had one more master stroke up their sleeves.  First they apologized to me for contacting him last night.  They gave me some line that he had asked them to contact him if they thought they were on the verge of a deal. They explained he had been there first and they felt some loyalty to him.  Then they quickly added I shouldn't look at their actions the wrong way.  After all, thanks to their talk last night, they had discovered this man was very interested in helping me swing the deal.  In other words, if he couldn't get the place himself, he was very willing to work with me!

Not surprisingly, this got my attention.  I asked them to go into more detail. 

The main reason they had brought him up in this conversation was that they were looking out for me.  They wanted this deal to be a success as much as I did. They figured that if I teamed up with the security guy, financing this place would be a lot easier. The security man had gone to great lengths to say that if I did buy the place today, he hoped I would at least let him rent the areas I had absolutely no interest in. 

The security man loved this place for a number of reasons.  Obviously he liked the looks of the place and the location.  In addition, since this place was something of a natural fortress, he believed his business would be secure here.  Just to be doubly sure, he intended to install his own hi-tech equipment to make certain his office was ultra safe. 

The owners pointed out this would enhance the security of the entire complex dramatically.  I nodded appreciatively.  The thought of that added security was very appealing.  Best of all, the promise of sure-fire rent money was like a lifeline for me.  It was like finding an oasis in the desert! 

Or was it a mirage?  I couldn't be sure.  I had to trust them.  But why would they deceive me? 

As you can guess, the information about the other investor was crucial.  I was being asked to commit to a deal that was out of my league. After I spent my entire life's savings covering the down payment, there wasn't much left in the piggy bank for renovations.  Furthermore the monthly payments were going to stretch me to the limit.  What if my business failed to take off at this new location?  It would have to be an immediate success or I would be in a lot of trouble. 

Therefore, t
he potential of this man's rent was very important to me.  The extra cash would give me a fighting chance to make a go of this deal.  

This man sounded like a great guy to bring on board.  With him in the picture, I felt much more confident.  I felt my reservations about this deal begin to melt away.  Based on this new and promising information, that's when I decided to sign.  Quite frankly, if this investor had not been in the picture, I would have stepped back.  Instead I stuck my neck out and pinned my hopes on an unseen man I had never met in my life. 

N
aturally when the meeting ended, I asked for the security man's phone number.  Without hesitation, one of the men flipped open his rolodex, found the number and wrote it out with his name on a piece of paper for me.  Good.  I breathed a lot easier knowing this guy would likely be willing to help.

THE BAD OMEN

The meeting ended late in the afternoon.  On
my way out of the door, the oddest thing happened.  As I walked by, a drain spout fell off the wall for no reason. That was so peculiar. As it crashed to the ground just two feet away from my feet, I remember thinking what a strange omen that was.  I shuddered inside.  Was my guardian angel trying to tell me something?

I was reminded of one of my favorite movies, The Man Who Would Be King.  Sean Connery is forbidden to marry a woman, but he decides to do it anyway. Almost immediately the whole world goes to pieces.  Birds fall dead from the sky, a plague of locusts strikes, crops die, and his bride-to-be has a terrible seizure during the wedding ritual.  Talk about bad omens!  As I drove home, I could not get the thought of that falling drain spout out of my mind.

DAY TWO

It was now Day Two.  In addition to the Supernatural Omens, today I would learn of problems in the Material World that would give me even more to worry about.

I
spent the morning on the phone to my stock broker.  I would have to cash in my entire life savings to raise the down payment of $70,000.

My stock broker asked me to explain the deal to him.  I said the earnest money and the down payment added up to $77,000, leaving a balance of nearly half a million. With renovations and increased rent, I would have to count on finding some tenants.

After I finished, the guy had the nerve to suggest I was out of my mind.  He said if one major thing went wrong, I would be in big trouble.  There was no margin for error!  That didn't help much; I had begun to wonder the same thing.

I called the investor guy; no answer.  Hmm.

That afternoon, I asked my carpenter to drive over to the building to
look things over.  When we got there, he was appalled at what he saw!  As pretty as it was, upon closer look, it needed a great deal of repair.  He couldn't believe I had signed a contract without checking with him first!


The only air conditioner in the entire complex that worked was in the seller's office.  The other ten units were dead.  Could they be fixed or would I have to buy new ones?   He found an upstairs room that was mysteriously full of trash, cigarette butts, and beer bottles plus some filthy clothes as well.  My carpenter said it looked like some bum had once lived up there.  There was evidence of termite damage in the some of the walls.  There was a thin sheet of water all over the cement floor in the basement plus signs of water damage.  My carpenter was very negative about my building, but then he wasn't in love.  I was able to see that once the placed was fixed up, it would be beautiful beyond my wildest dreams.  Still, his criticism weighed heavily on my ever-darkening spirits.  I swallowed hard. 

When I got home, I tried calling the mysterious investor for the second time that day.  Like the first time, there was no answer.  I frowned.  This had been a terrible day.  My stock broker's negativity in the morning shook me up. My carpenter's negativity in the afternoon shook me up even more.  However, what bothered me the most of all was my inability to reach this key investor by phone.  Answer the phone, damn it! 

DAY THREE

I spent most of Day Three at home.  I must have called the security guy four or five times.  Never a single answer!   Not even an answering machine! I was growing sick with worry.  I couldn't eat.  Late that afternoon I called Information in Austin and gave them his name.  They had no listing for him.  The woman asked if I knew where he worked; maybe she could find the number for his business.  It dawned on me I had no idea what his company's name was.  I thanked the woman and hung up the phone. This was getting serious.

At that exact moment
it started to rain very hard.  Yet another bad omen.  The wrong number and the rain complete with thunder and lightning combined to put me in a very bad mood.  I was starting to get a terrible feeling about this place.  I was physically nauseous with worry.  However, but bad mood or not, it was time to go to dance class. As I drove to the studio in the torrential rain, I obsessed over the bad phone number. This was a much worse omen than the falling drain spout. I don't recall ever feeling gloomier in my life.

 
 
  THE HAUNTED CASTLE!!

As I taught my dance class that night, I couldn't get the castle out of my mind.  My heart was filled with dread.  I decided I needed another look.  After class that night, I invited 3 guys and 3 ladies from the studio to have a look at the place.  Mind you, this was in direct conflict with my policy not to do anything that might let Glen know I was considering leaving him.   But given how afraid I was of more bad news, I couldn't bear to go over to Greenridge alone.  I had to have company.

It was a dark and stormy night indeed.  The heaviest rain had stopped, but there was drizzle and dense mist in the air.  I knew there were no lights that worked, so we got a couple flashlights out of our glove compartments and climbed the stone steps.  When my friends saw the Courtyard, they were instantly impressed.  Wow!  That cheered me up a bit. 

Sad to say, that happy feeling didn't last very long.  As we walked around, one of the men poked his head into a downstairs room.  Thanks to the night's heavy rainfall, he discovered that this subterranean room
was now covered with 4 feet of water.  That quieted the group a bit.  Me too.

As we wandered through the gloom and the mist, a girl pointed out that in the dark, the Courtyard reminded her of a graveyard.  It was true.  It was so dark, I could barely see the walls.  The same girl asked what was upstairs.  Let's go have a look.  We climbed the stairs and opened the door.  That is when we walked in on some homeless guy drinking a bottle of beer to candlelight.  When he saw us, he threw his arms up and cackled maniacally with fear!

The women could not have been more scared if this was a ghost.  They screamed like banshees.  They turned and ran for their lives screaming all the way down the stairs.  I was pretty close on their heels.  I don't know who was more scared - him or
us - but I do remember my friends were badly shaken. 

That was the end of the Tour.  All six were more than ready to depart.
They politely agreed this was a gorgeous place, but added it was kind of creepy too.  No kidding!  I smiled wanly.  I assured them that once we got the lights working, the building would be much safer and friendlier.

But I had a hard time believing my own words.  I was really spooked.  In the dark mist, my eyes saw danger in every nook and cranny. My imagination went wild.  I saw gargoyles hiding in the shadows.  It took every ounce of courage to stay there by myself. 

DETECTIVE RICK

It took me a long time to steel my nerves.  Finally I forced myself to snoop around some more.  What other horrors lurked in this place at night?  Using my flashlight, I took another look at the sunken chamber with the swimming pool.  My gosh, the water was deep enough to swim in!  I wondered if this building was in a flood zone or something.  I glumly noted that filling the moat would obviously not be a problem.

My thoughts returned to the Ghost on the Third Floor.  Once I got my wits about me, I realized this guy was the reason for all the trash my carpenter had discovered - the bum had made that room his home!   It gave me the willies to know the bum was still around here somewhere.  What if he had a weapon?  I tried to brush the bum out of my mind.  He was probably more afraid of me than I was of him.  Still, I looked over my shoulder at every opportunity to see if he was sneaking up behind me.  I shivered with cold and fear.

There was a reason I had stayed behind.  Sam and Dave had given me a master key to the building as some sort of prize after I handed them my $7,000 check.  I decided to take advantage of the situation and try a little trick. Testing the master key on the office door, sure enough, it worked!  Using my flashlight, I entered their office and went straight for the rolodex. I found the number easily enough. Aha!  I noted that I had been given the wrong number. The number I had been given was one card removed from the correct phone number. Plus the man had given me the wrong area code as well. They had said my security guy lived in Austin, but as I studied the correct 713 number, it was apparent he lived right here in Houston.

Every dark suspicion I had about these guys had been proven true. They had deliberately deceived me.

I made a beeline for home.  As I drove, I could not help but think how lucky these shysters were to give me a working number that no one ever answered.  What are the odds of that?  Or did they know ahead of time this number would just ring and ring?  I wouldn't put it past them.  My paranoia had reached a fever pitch.

I could not wait to test this new number! 
It was midnight, but I didn't care. My butt was on the firing line and I wanted to get to the bottom of this mystery.  I felt my heart in my throat as I dialed the new number.  This time a man answered.
 Once I explained to him who I was, he quickly confirmed my worst fears.

According to this man, the whole sales pitch was a hoax.    These two guys had tried the same routine on him, but he had decided to do some checking. The Castle had flood problems, foundation problems, the owner was being sued, it had once been condemned by the city of Houston…a total nightmare!
 He said these guys were complete crooks.  He added he had no intention of buying the place or renting it.  No way he would invest in that place. His parting words - get out of the deal if I could.

Now totally scared out of my wits, I called Evelyn at 1 am.  She told me I could cancel an earnest money contract any time within 72 hours after signing.  After a sleepless night, the next morning (June 13, 1987), I sent Sam and Dave a telegram canceling the deal. I beat the deadline by one hour.  This was a close call.  Later that day, after a great deal of arguing, I was able to get my $7,000 earnest money check back.

The ordeal was over.  I had escaped by the skin of my teeth.  On the surface, of course, I was deeply relieved.   But deep down, I was very shaken.  How did I ever let myself get into a fix like this?

 

Here is the rough draft of the letter I wrote demanding the return of my $7,000.

This was a very close call.  

   
 


 

 
   CAVEAT EMPTOR -
Let the Buyer Beware!
 

This incident haunted me for a long time.  As you can imagine, my mistake shook me to the foundation of my being.  I had narrowly missed making the worst mistake of my life!   During my three day ordeal, my worries caused me such acute physical pain that I never wanted to hurt like that again.  I never wanted to make another mistake that would make me feel this frightened.  I lost total confidence in myself.  Not surprisingly, I went into a deep depression afterwards. I constantly questioned myself.  How could I have been so stupid?  No one enjoys feeling like the biggest sucker that ever walked the earth.  Was there some flaw in my personality that would allow me to make another mistake of this magnitude?

I found comfort in the oddest of places.  One night after playing volleyball at the Jewish Community Center, an older gentleman asked me what was wrong.  I was in so much pain, I needed to talk to someone.  So I explained my catastrophic blunder to him.  He smiled and said that I shouldn't be so hard on myself.  He said you can be smart and still make mistakes, especially when you are forced to gamble based on incomplete information.

That's when he began to tell me about Robert E. Lee, the man considered one of the most brilliant generals in military history.  From the start of the Civil War, the Rebels were a huge underdog.  They were out-manned, out-gunned, and had nowhere near the economic resources of the North.  Lee's chances of winning a protracted war were slim and none.  He could end it all right here in Gettysburg. This was Lee's one big roll of the dice!

However, the omens were terrible. Stonewall Jackson, his brilliant leader, had just died of a freak injury.  Jeb Stuart, his marvelous scout who was the 'eyes' of his army, had disappeared.  Worst of all, the Yankees had taken the hills nearby thanks to a blunder by a Rebel captain. This allowed a small Union force to narrowly hold the high ground until reinforcements came.  Now the terrain was definitely not in Lee's favor.  Yet, despite all these handicaps, the Rebels still would have won except for a miraculous last-ditch defensive stand by the Union on Little Round Top, perhaps the most fabled episode in the entire Civil War. 

And what was the point of the Jewish man's story?  Lee had been given what seemed to be a once in a lifetime chance to end it all.  Except that he had to act instantly.   He might not ever get a second chance.  Ultimately, Lee made an enormous gamble based on haste, faulty information, weak position, and desperation.  Lee had been seduced by the magnitude of the reward.  He believed this was his ONE BIG CHANCE to end it all!


The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. 
When you want something too much, you do everything in your power to convince yourself the person or opportunity before you is the right one.  I believed I had one chance to wrap up the building of a lifetime.  If I hesitated, there seemed to be someone right behind me ready to scoop it up. 

Like Lee at Gettysburg, I was seduced by the magnitude of the reward.  This Castle would help my small but growing dance studio become something very special indeed.

In regards to this amazing building, I was right about one thing - I have never seen anything like it since.  It would have been the perfect place for my studio.  In my case, this building was so special that it seduced me in the same manner a beautiful woman could hold sway over a lonely man.

Desperation fuels rash behavior. Previously, I had the sense to walk away from a bad deal - the Pool Hall - but not this time.  I was desperate because my situation with Glen had badly deteriorated and because the Pool Hall incident had robbed me of any remaining patience. 

A Leap of Faith.  Wanting something to be true despite clues to the contrary, I threw caution to the winds.  I didn't trust these guys, but my caution was overcome by my hopes and dreams.  With my judgment impaired, I let myself be fooled by some smooth talking crooks into making a very risky deal.   When they said this was my only chance, I believed them.  In my defense, I had no previous experience with con men.  These guys talked a very good game.  Their clever 'investor story' worked wonders on me.  Then I learned to my dismay what a big gullible fool I had been.

What still bothers me to this day is not these con men, but rather my own realtor.  I was suspicious about these men from the start.  However, my realtor didn't offer a single word of caution.   She just sat back and let me make a fool of myself.  So the question is:  Was she fooled too?  Maybe.  I have another explanation.  My gut tells me that after all the time she had invested in this project - twenty buildings that had no chance and six previous contract disappointments, she was so anxious to make some money that she swallowed her whistle.  It wasn't her butt on the line.  So what?

After this deal fell through, I never trusted Evelyn again.  It was obvious she had some integrity issues.  She called from time to time with exciting new places to see, but I always begged off. 

Two months after the deal fell through, by magic I suddenly found myself with the option to
lease the 4803 Bissonnet property all by myself.  Glen had been evicted.  I would be my own man and I wouldn't even have to move.  That put an immediate end to this chapter.  I was already home.

Greenridge remains to this day
the most beautiful building I ever saw.  For an instant, all my dreams and hopes
seemed ready to come true.  Add in the sweet talk and I was lost.  That is when I took total leave of my senses.   Just remember this - if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

 
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