When Michele DeGeorge (née DiGiorgio) arrived in Houston from Italy in the 1880s, he could never have predicted the impact he and his descendants would have on his new home. Several generations later, the community he quite literally helped build is saying goodbye to Michele’s last surviving grandchild, James B. DeGeorge.
Born in 1932 to parents Gasper M. DeGeorge, Sr. and Josephine Pinto DeGeorge, James attended school and even some college in Houston before attending the University of Texas at Austin. The call of duty interrupted his studies in 1951; James, a United States Marine Corps reservist, served at Camp Pendleton during the Korean War. He married several years later in 1955 and, two years after that, welcomed his first child into the world. James “Jimmy” Bernard DeGeorge Jr. was followed by Gregory “Greg” Allman DeGeorge in 1958 and Lance Clayton DeGeorge in 1970.
“He was like a lot of dads,” said Greg. “He was very interested in my upbringing and how I did in sports.”
James would often take the time to come to his sons’ games or, as a special treat, take them to a pro football game on the weekends.
As they grew older, Greg said his father never pressured him or his brothers to pursue a career in real estate.
“His attitude was ‘You can do whatever you want to do,’” Greg said. “I actually got more pressure from a couple of friends who told me I’d be crazy if I didn’t go into real estate because it’s in my blood.”
To understand that, you need to look back into the history of the DeGeorge family. James’ grandfather, Michele DeGeorge, immigrated to the United States in 1882 with his wife Ursula and settled in Houston by 1884. There, he operated a grocery store and saloon, which he eventually expanded to three different locations.
Michele invested the money he earned into real estate, eventually founding the DeGeorge Hotel in 1913 and the Auditorium Hotel (now the Lancaster Hotel) in 1926. He passed away a year later, leaving roughly 100 pieces of real estate and his legacy to his children.
“I don’t know if there are any other commercial real estate families in Houston that started doing business in the 1880s and are still going,” Greg laughed.
James followed in the footsteps of his grandfather and father, eventually making a name for himself as a visionary developer of residential and commercial properties.
“He always seemed to make moves at the right time,” Greg said. “Timing has a lot to do with success in real estate and he just seemed to have the right timing. He was very good at location selection as well.”
That was evident in his 1988 decision to build the 25,000-square-foot Woodway Arch Shopping Center located at 5750 Woodway Drive and Bering Drive. Considered a risk because of the economic recession, it was one of few, if not the only, shopping centers built in Houston that year. It became an immediate go-to for neighbors in Tanglewood, Briargrove and Memorial Villages.
“He saw the potential in this under-served area in terms of retail,” said Greg. “In fact, DeGeorge Real Estate Services offices on the second floor above Wells Fargo Bank at Woodway Arch.”
Which brings us full circle. DeGeorge Real Estate Services is the company Greg founded in 1990. Greg had listened to those friends all those years before and studied business at University of Texas at Austin, then jumped into the real estate industry via a job at Century Development at Greenway Plaza. During his years with the company, he managed a 1-million-square-foot office building at San Felipe Street and Augusta Drive.
“My dad was very proud that I got that experience,” Greg said. “Then when he built Woodway Arch, I said, ‘I have an idea. How about you and I work together, and I’ll help you lease and manage your new center?”
Jimmy joined the company in 1992 and the next project that James, Greg and Jimmy worked on, the 45,476-square-foot Woodway Square Center at Voss Road and San Felipe Road, brought the sixteenth Whole Foods Market in the grocery company’s history.
“That was the deal that really put us on the map,” said Greg. “I cold-called Whole Foods Market and my father called his restaurateur friend Tony Vallone and we were able to sign them up to pre-construction lease agreements. That’s all the bank needed to guarantee us a loan to build the center.”
Youngest brother Lance, who heads up DeGeorge Design, joined the team in 2008, which created a full-service real estate firm offering leasing, management and development (Greg), construction, financial and leasing (Jimmy) and architectural design (Lance).
“My father was very proud that his three sons work together in real estate as a team, as partners,” Greg said. “The joy of his life was being able to say his sons followed in his footsteps and those of his father and grandfather.”
James passed away on Oct. 19, 2020, but not before building on the legacy of those before him. That legacy is one that only grows as Greg’s nieces and nephews, several of whom are in college, will ensure it lives on.
“We have another generation coming up behind us,” Greg said, “and we plan on putting them to work here in the next few years!”