A step back in time: Bleakley continues to practice law in the historical Hovey House



PHOTO #1: Bleakley Law Offices staff, left to right: legal assistants Nancy Dolle, Kim Wade, attorney Fred Bleakley, legal assistants Mary Kozicki, and Pat McDonald. Not pictured, attorney Berton May; PHOTO #2: Attorney Frederick W. Bleakley, in front of fireplace in his office on the first floor of the Hovey House; PHOTO #3: Horatio N. Hovey House (also known in later years as the Houston House), located at 318 Houston, now owned by Fred and Ann Bleakley: PHOTO #4: The entry hall at Hovey House is a step back in time with massive wood doors, intricate trim work and beautiful stairway: PHOTO #5: The walls throughout are covered with thick wood panels intricately carved by artisans int he 1880s, including the sitting area in Bleakley's office; PHOTO #6: The stairway was totally refurbished during restoration by then-owners Roger and Marilyn Anderson and Sherman and Nancy Poppen. The finial was destroyed so an artisan created an exact reproduction of the original.

By Diana L. Coleman
Legal News

Attorney Fred Bleakley and the staff of Bleakley Law Offices, P.C., take a step back in time every day they come to work in the beautiful Hovey House, located at 318 Houston. The house was built in 1889 by business man/lumber baron Horatio N. Hovey and has passed through numerous owners since Hovey moved his family to Detroit in 1903.

Since it stopped being the private residence of the Hovey family, the house has been home to many an varied things. Besides being a residence for others, Hovey House has served as a State of Michigan home for delinquent boys, a dress shop, the Houston House Restaurant and Banquet Room, wedding receptions, and ladies’ teas.

In 1979 the Hovey House was purchased by Mills Property Management Corporation under whose ownership it was registered with the National Register of Historic Properties.  In 1984, the property was purchased by Sherman R. Poppen and Roger A. Anderson who contracted with Mills Construction to restore the home to its 1880s grandeur and to renovate it for office space. In 1998 the house was purchased by Frederick and Ann Bleakley, and in 1999, the Bleakley Law Offices opened its doors at 318 Houston.

Bleakley, a plaintiff worker’s compensation and social security attorney, is the second generation in his family to practice law. His father, Frederick W. Bleakley, Sr. was a worker’s compensation defense attorney.

Bleakley, a native of Grand Rapids, came to Muskegon after law school to gain some legal experience.  “Growing up, I hated Muskegon,” said Bleakley.  “My dad did workers’ comp defense work and we came to Muskegon often as there was an administrative law judge located in Muskegon on Ottawa Street.  We would camp at Pioneer Park in the summer and my dad would drive into Muskegon to hearings while we stayed at the park.

“My childhood memories of Muskegon were factories belching gray ash and smoke in the air,” said Bleakley. “I thought it was the worst place in the world.  I can remember my dad talking about moving to Muskegon because his practice brought him there so often. I literally cried my eyes out and begged my dad to please not move to Muskegon.”

Bleakley shared his first impressions of living in Muskegon.  “I moved here on Labor Day weekend in 1985,” said Bleakley.  “The first person I met was attorney Chris Wilson. We were tenants in the same apartment building and we spent several years enjoying our youth together. Chris took me to a beer tent that first weekend, and then I played golf at the country club, and thought maybe Muskegon wasn’t so bad after all.”

As history has it, Bleakley moved to Muskegon to begin his practice with the plan to get out of Dodge as soon as possible. Bleakley’s father knew Tim Bott well and asked if he had any work for his son. So he moved to the dreaded city and began his Muskegon practice at Tim Bott’s office. He later joined with the firm of Libner, VanLeuven, and Kortering.

“Those attorneys were getting older and really did not want to get involved in owning real estate and wanted to continue to lease,” said Bleakley. “I was younger and wanted to own my own building and that is how I ended up here. “

After purchasing the building in 1998, Bleakley totally gutted and restored the basement, installed a new heating and cooling system, new roof, and structurally restored the sagging front porch.  It is actually a continual work in progress, but truly a labor of love for the Bleakleys.

The Hovey House is also home to other professions as Bleakley leases the second and third floor as well as space on the first floor.  In addition to the Bleakley Law Offices, the first floor is home to the solo law practices of attorney Philip M. Stoffan, and attorney Joseph S. Bush.  The second floor is home to Dr. Mulder, psychologist, H. Richard Morgenstern, J and J Synergies, and Allison Bush, social worker.  The third floor is leased by tenants. “The leased space and the tenants help to pay the overhead on this house,” said Bleakley.

Bleakley has practiced administrative law since 1985, but with attorney Berton K. May, the practice has expanded to include motor vehicle accidents, premises liability, slip and fall (plaintiff), legal and medical malpractice, and wrongful death cases. Bleakley has focused his plainiffs’ practice on personal injury, social security disability, workers’ compensation, and automobile accidents. He makes the trip in to Grand Rapids frequently.

“In my practice, I am in Grand Rapids almost every day and surrounded by the same 20 to 40 attorneys who also practice administrative law,” said Bleakley.

“Administrative Law is a world unto itself. I don’t really know what’s going on at the county building, or have much contact with the local bar except at the local golf outing. Those of us who work in comp and social security know each other well and work together on a regular basis in front of the same judges.”

Bleakley has been recognized through years for his outstanding service in the area of his practice. He is a member of the National Organization of Social Security Claimant’s Representatives and the Workers’ Compensation Adjunct Appeal Board, as well as a National Football League Players Association-Workers’ Compensation Panel Player Representative, a Hearing Panelist for the State of Michigan Attorney Discipline Board, and one of the National College of Workers Compensation Fellows.

Bleakley explained,  “I was elected as a Fellow in the National College of Workers Compensation Lawyers in 2011. Induction was held in Boston. It was a fancy black tie affair with dinner. My wife Ann, well, actually, my whole family went.  It was a great experience.”

When away from his practice, Bleakley is equally busy.  He is a sports enthusiast and has sponsored and coached many youth teams. He is still involved in coaching sports and is an avid supporter of the Muskegon Winter Sports complex.

He and Ann have three children which also keep them jumping. Marissa, the oldest, is working on her master’s as Western and did her undergrad at Michigan State.  Kristen is a full time student at the University of Michigan.  The Bleakleys must agree to disagree when it comes to college sports with representatives from both U of M and State in the family.

The Bleakley’s youngest is Eric, and he is a sophomore at North Muskegon High School. Eric’s full name is Frederick Bleakley, so he is the third generation. Frederick Bleakley I  is called Frederick, Fredrick Bleakley II is called Fred, and Frederick Bleakley III is called Eric wit in the family to distinguish the Fredericks. Will Eric also become a lawyer? Who knows — he may jump right to Administrative Law Judge.