Tanny Charles Guseman, real estate investor and businessman, son of Italian immigrants Giuseppe Cusumano and Leonarda “Lenora” Papa, was born Gaetano Cusumano in Brownsville, Texas, on December 28, 1884. He was the third of eight children and was baptized at Annunciation Catholic Church in Houston on March 19, 1885. His first career was as a cobbler making and repairing shoes, then eventually he worked in Houston real estate investments and hotels.
By the mid-1880s the Cusumano family lived permanently in Houston. Giuseppe Cusumano eventually Anglicized his name to Joseph Gusemano and by 1918 to Joseph Guseman. His children followed suit: Salvatore became Samuel, Francesco became Frank, Gaetano became Tanny Charles, Dominic Alphonse remained Dominic, Luigi died young, so (according to custom) the next son was named Luigi and became Louis. The two other children were Michael Joseph and their only daughter Bernardina. Tanny was educated in Houston public schools.
Joseph Cusumano (Guseman) was a cobbler of the old school, and while living in Houston, he taught sons Samuel, Frank, and Tanny the art. Tanny Guseman stayed in the shoe business and first worked for Buckley Shoe Company from 1903 to 1906. The Houston Press wrote, “A big St. Louis shoe firm was looking for a bright young man to revolutionize the shoe repair business in Houston by introducing machines. They found T. C. Guseman, son of Italian immigrants who knew an opportunity when he saw one. An accomplished shoemaker of the old school, Mr. Guseman went to St. Louis for two years (1906–07) to learn something about modern mass production.”
When Guseman returned to Houston, he opened the T. C. Guseman Shoe Repair Company in 1908 at 408 Travis Street on the south side of Market Square. Eventually, T. C. Guseman Shoe Co. added ready-made shoes for sale. His father Joseph worked there as a master cobbler from the time the store opened until near the time of his death at age seventy-eight in 1927.
Initially, the family lived downtown near the business district. In 1905 they bought a home at 209 Pinckney, just north of Buffalo Bayou in the A. C. Allen Addition of Fifth Ward, an area settled by German, Irish, and Italian immigrants. In 1895, along with other Italians, the Gusemans also purchased acreage in the Little York area for farming.
On June 9, 1920, Tanny Guseman married Antonina “Lena” Mary DeGeorge at Annunciation Church. Their parents had known one another since before their emigration from Bisacquino, Sicily. Lena’s parents were Ursula and Michele DeGeorge, who became godparents to Tanny when he was baptized at Annunciation Church in Houston in 1885. Lena’s father owned the DeGeorge Hotel at 1418 Preston Avenue. The newlyweds lived in the hotel from 1920 until 1924 and then at the DeGeorge’s Queen-Anne-style home at 918 Bagby Street.
Tanny began his entrepreneurship into real estate investments in 1921 when he purchased his first two-story commercial building at 1400 Congress at Austin. Also purchasing the adjoining lot, he built his first commercial building at 1404 Congress in 1925. Into the twenty-first century the blue and white tile on top marks his name and the year. He discontinued his shoe store, T. C. Guseman Shoe Co., when it suffered a fire in 1933.
In 1926 his father-in-law Michele DeGeorge built the Auditorium Hotel at 701 Texas Avenue. Michele died within the year and his son Gasper took on the oversight of all the DeGeorge properties. In 1933 Tanny joined his brother-in-law Gasper DeGeorge in real estate management. After Gasper’s death in 1940, the estate was divided. Lena’s and her sister Rosalie DeGeorge’s inheritance stayed intact with Tanny overseeing management. In the 1940s Lena, Rosalie, and Tanny purchased the Travelers’ Hotel at 110–114 Main Street. Tanny Guseman spent his remaining years overseeing management of three downtown hotels, commercial and residential properties, and continued making his own investments. In 1943 he purchased a three-story-brick building at 509–511 Louisiana and in 1953 a second three-story-brick building at 515–517 Louisiana. The buildings were adjacent to the north side of the Auditorium Hotel and became a support to the operation of the hotel.
Tanny Guseman’s masterpiece was built in 1939 when he acted as the general contractor of the Gusemans’ home at 1908 River Oaks Boulevard. A French-Italian home designed by architect Robert K. Maddrey, it was the first house built of concrete and steel in River Oaks. The U-shaped house and large loggia opened to an Italian courtyard with a raised fishpond and statuary. Terrace steps descended to a formal garden. Walnut floors, plaster walls, central air-conditioning and heat, and elegant millwork graced the spacious home. Permanent stairs accessed a full basement and a fully floored attic.
Guseman was an astute businessman who accumulated substantial wealth in real estate. He learned frugality from his immigrant parents and in-laws; he spent no money on himself. Ever mindful of his family’s humble beginnings, he was generous. While collecting rent, he placed the rental income in one pocket and pulled money from his own wallet to assist people in need. When the Houston Little Theater president, Mrs. Dewey Roussel, called upon him during the summer of 1942, he agreed to donate the use of the Auditorium Hotel basement for the installation of the Stage Canteen, a nightclub for men and women in uniform during World War II. Guseman furnished air-conditioning, engineers, and workmen during its three years of operation.
Tanny and Lena Guseman had three daughters: Lenora Guseman Smith (born in 1921), Ursula Guseman Lusk (1924–2015) and Michelene Guseman Toomey (1927–2013) and sixteen grandchildren. The families were members of Catholic churches, primarily Annunciation and St. Anne, although their names are also found in Sacred Heart, Assumption, and St. Michael. Tanny was a member of the Houston Club, the Chamber of Commerce, the Elks Lodge, and Knights of Columbus, and he once served on a grand jury. Both Tanny and Lena Guseman died in Houston—he on June 24, 1959, at age seventy-four and she on December 12, 1970, at age eighty-six. Both are buried in the Michele DeGeorge mausoleum in Forest Park Lawndale Cemetery.