Saturday, December 11, 2010

Villa Maria Road, Finfeather, and the North End of Wellborn Road

Historically, for me, the last stretch of Wellborn Road was really neat, but it always carried historic fear, as the only reason to go that way would be going to the pediatric dentist. But the reason I wanted to cover this (originally planned as part of the defunct "Wellborn Way" plan). This post has been going on and off for several years now (it's one of the oldest posts in the collection). As a result, there are some things that are somewhat dated, as well as the overall structure of the post. I've tried and re-tried to rewrite the post but was never able to properly.

After passing the last stoplight for the FM 60 overpass, the road goes through a relatively sharp bend downward, quite noticable at 40 MPH. It also loses the left-hand turn lane, replaced with a median that prevents U-turns. Church Street is on the right, until the mid-2000s or so, it had a distinctive brown street sign with the same font but also a little CS logo (the one that looked like a snail). The font was the same as most of the other street signs, but the brown signs gave it distinction. Today, there's a different brown sign, but I miss the old ones.

The stretch of Wellborn in Bryan was always quite from College Station, rather than the modern paving of the College Station stretch (with its left hand turn lane and stripes), the Bryan paving had redder, older pavement, and Botts dots instead of stripes.

The Old College stoplight was quite old. I like it because of the almost curved pole, and how the green light has kind of has an inner burned orange. It's warmer than those newfangled LED lights, which are as ugly as all get out, at least without the diffusers. I nearly cried in 2012 when I discovered that they WERE replaced with LED lights. There's three apartment complexes. The first is the horrifically tacky Wave's Z Islander, which opened circa 2009.


I'd rather have those trees than Z Islander. By a long shot.

The railroad on the left goes through trees and is at a higher grade than Wellborn. After passing Montauk (leading into a subdivision built roughly at the time of the underpass), you enter the Villa Maria underpass area.

When I went to Blinn (and later, worked at Village Foods), I really did enjoy going under the Villa Maria underpass (west to east). Not that going underpasses is so great, more often than not I'm driving into the sun, and am often stopped at the stoplights, but given my daily commute, it is nice not to be backed up by trains. And when they redid the overpass, they also took out access to Green Road...that blind curve was not fun, especially if someone was turning left out of it.

But I still missed the way it was set up before the construction.

Villa Maria Road and Finfeather was one of the cooler road set-ups that I kind of miss (the admittedly less-exciting North Graham Road is coming up next). I don't have photos to give you justice, but I DO have this aerial photo that was taken in 2004.

As you can see, the two railroads are separated from each other paralleling Wellborn, coming together after the crossing. But to me it was more than that.


(click for higher-resolution)

As you approached Villa Maria from Wellborn, you would just go straight and meet a red barricade blocking a path to the golf course. Going right led you to College Avenue and the Green Street Death Trap™ but going left led you across the two tracks and the Finfeather stoplight, which I believe was a normal stoplight but of the hanging variety.

It was especially cool to me how, despite the large gap of the tracks, if one crossing guard went down, so did the other. The fact that one track was skewed made the effect even cooler.

Unfortunately, what was "cool" wasn't necessarily safe. And due to the very odd position of the tracks (about sixteen feet above the Wellborn level), it was not really safe at all. A train de-railed near the intersection in early 2003 (or 2004), and construction began in late 2004 or early 2005. When it was all over, the result was that Finfeather no longer had direct access to Villa Maria and the gas station at Finfeather and Villa Maria was forced to convert its prices to the electronic style so it could be seen.

Today, it's pedestrian accessible, there are neat graphics on the underpass side (such as the Queen Theater, which was installed long before the Queen was actually restored), and it's a lot safer for pedestrians, trains and automobiles alike.





But back in the day, there was the intersection of Tee Road, and then the stoplight and that red barricade that indicated that Wellborn had come to an end.

I used to believe that the red barricade had blocked off part of Wellborn that once existed long ago.

After all, Wellborn had paralleled the railroad until the county's end, and the space beyond was pretty clear-cut, as if something had been there in the past, and maps showed that Texas Avenue was pretty close to the railroad (this was before Google Maps, mind you). Even though I was wrong (and completely disproved as late as 2009), it was a question I had for years.

One more thing...there was a Citgo on the corner of Finfeather and Villa Maria, originally a 7-Eleven and later an EZ Mart (later renamed EZ For You, keeping the logo intact) which had stores facing the east side, originally a fish market (The Fishman) and later other stores that were never successful (Omar's Upholstery among them). The Citgo eventually became an Exxon as well, but still suffers from poor access. I'm surprised that it's still open and kept up in decent condition...while it's visible from Villa Maria, you'd have to make two rights to get up there.

Finally, just west of the intersection was Doug's Ace Hardware...long before Ace Hardware came to town, there was Doug's Ace Hardware on Villa Maria. In simple block lettering, the store...well, I don't really know a whole lot about it, like when it opened, but I'm thinking the 1980s.

Eventually "Ace" was removed off of the sign. This was long before Ace came into town, and I thought it was a bit underhanded. Then it closed altogether shortly after, circa 2006. It's now Enercon. I never went inside until after it became Enercon.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

[Side Stories] The Disappearing Railroads of Hearne

This post was updated on March 16, 2012, originally named "Hearne: Strippin' The Tracks". Minimal edits were made.
Rebranded as a "Side Stories" on May 8, 2013. No other edits were made, except the promise of more "Hearne stories" was removed.

One of the fascinating things about Hearne in my lifetime is the way they outright got rid of several rails (I knew there used to be more when I was younger!)

Naturally, it was a railroad town, long since the glory days that ended long ago, when Southern Pacific loaded and unloaded cargo. Today trains stop here, but I'm sure that they get more graffiti plastered on them on Hearne than any cargo exchange. So what's changed, even long after 1990 and even the Union Pacific acquisition of SP?

Well, for one thing: it still has a lot of tracks, almost 12 in the downtown area. As you can see in these 2010 and 1995 images (which you can click for full resolution!), you can see that in the heart of downtown, there are so many tracks, there are no at-grade crossings.





But they did remove a lot of tracks between them in the late 1990s or early 2000s. The white part (in 2010) is where tracks were removed:





The most obvious part is the bridge you go over when you enter Hearne from the south. A railroad goes under it. If you kept following this track, becomes the "MoPac Highway" railroad in Austin. But prior to the early 2000s, it was a true triangle with the tracks leading into the distance (I recall it did look pretty neat). Look at the difference between these. One of the "arms" from the "MoPac Highway railroad" is completely gone. You can't go southeast anymore. This could be from the way the trains function nowadays, after all, there is Valley Junction to the west...




...and there's probably this change in Downtown Bryan as well. Here, you can see the 2003 and 2010 pictures.




The railroad splits from a single track further south, but it's the railroad that skews northeast that goes to Hearne.

Finally, Google Earth spies an interesting railyard that seems to have literally gone to junk.




Wow, they had a turntable! My six-year-old self would've loved to see to that...too bad it was never visible from Highway 6.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

H-E-B College Station


Just to give you an idea of the store at 1900 Texas Avenue South.


A bit of a history lesson: prior to the year 1990, H-E-B stores did not exist at all (maybe a few tiny stores in the suburbs, called H-E-B Pantry) in the Houston market, which by extension included the College Station market. Instead, there was AppleTree (Safeway until the company had to divest the division), Randall's (at the time, a respected upscale-leaning independent), and Kroger. Those were the big ones.

Around 1992, H-E-B decided to launch a plan that would put it in the competitive Houston market by operating small, low-end stores lacking expensive-to-operate-but-otherwise-standard departments like bakeries, delis, and pharmacies. H-E-B essentially carpet-bombed the Houston market with stores like this, beating Food Lion (a similar operation) to the punch by several months (and Food Lion caught a lot of flack in Dallas for lacking pharmacies). The march to conquer Houston included a few stores in Bryan-College Station, two in Bryan, and one in College Station where DSW is now.

By 2000, H-E-B was ready to build full-line stores, and in less than a decade was second place just after Kroger, which had been established for decades. Absolutely brilliant. I had been in a "full-line" H-E-B before, a location in Waco, Texas at the corner of Dutton and Valley Mills, and in 2002, H-E-B closed its Pantry store and built their first full-line College Station-Bryan store on the corner of Texas Avenue and Holleman, but facing more toward the former, in March or April 2002 (I believe it was April). This blew everything in town out of the water at the time. Not only was it far bigger than the one in Waco (which closed down a few years ago) and had all of its departments (including a tortilleria), but also had a bakery (with bolillos), a pharmacy, a florist, a fish market, and more. The Pantry had a pretty good quality and selection for a store of its size, but the real H-E-B offered all that, and more, as it was at least twice as big. It even made the Southwest Parkway Kroger look small and dated (which admittedly it kind of was).

Up until 2015, the store's décor and layout remained largely the same, with some changes have gone on within H-E-B in the past decade. Originally, they had a video game section with a display in the middle that had TVs playing the Super Smash Bros. Melee trailer (hey, it was early 2002), and you could buy a portable PSOne there. This was gutted for more of the "general merchandise" selection they have today. Unfortunately, it was one of the earlier departments scrapped when it became clear what customer's buying habits were (Yelp likewise reports the brief time they carried Caribbean imported foods, though said reviewer is notoriously untrustworthy when it comes to restaurant reviews).

There's also a sushi-making kiosk and a gourmet food sample place that was added later. In the front, there were what appeared to be large sheds (they were later removed to accommodate more garden supplies), and there was also a Washington Mutual bank inside (which may or not have been the first bank there). Fortunately, H-E-B converted it to an IBC bank (removed circa 2012) before Washington Mutual collapsed completely.

All in all, the store (which, by the way, boasts warehouse-style ceilings, unlike the old Pantry) became wildly successful today. Despite the college students which tends to have the store carry some more downscale items, it let the store have a 24 hour/7 days a week schedule during the school year, so anyone can go in for cat litter, gummy bears, and soy milk at 1 am, something even Houston suburbanites can't do (but they have Auntie Anne's and a Greek restaurant, so...)

The parking is usually full and the store is popular, but due to the tight and hilly footprint the store sits on, it can't expand, which is a shame. It was curiously bumped to the bottom of remodeling lists, leaving it with all 2002 décor intact, and now already is starting to look small, dated, and downscale compared to other H-E-B stores I've seen (though again, it's hard to criticize your store when there are still dozens of stores floating around without even pharmacies). The presence of the store managed to clean up the entire block. The land value of the nearby homes on Park Place shot up (and even sparked a mild building boom). This was a part of a big Southgate revival, though in some cases, ended up demolishing decent homes that just needed a little love for dense, student-living oriented townhomes.

In 2015, the store began to remodel, tearing off the giant lettering on the sides of the colored walls (some glimpses can be caught of that), and is currently undergoing significant changes, namely moving the florist to the other side of the store near the pharmacy, making the produce area less of a maze, and a few other things. Obviously, it won't any physical expansions.

Enjoy these few pictures I took at H-E-B in June 2010, taken with my crappy old cellphone camera.

 

 

 

 


I have two directories from the store. The more colorful one is from the 2002 opening. See if you can see the differences...the later one is from 2005. Download them both here.

There's more stories to tell, even. The space before the H-E-B included the El Chico restaurant on the corner (which was a number of things before that, including the original Allen Honda location (newspaper clipping, MyBCS confirms it), which later became Bud Ward Volkswagen (Allen Honda must have moved to Southwest Parkway by that point, more on that later), "Charlie's Under the Water Tower" (a bar), and then El Chico (which may or may not have been a rebuild). It was torn down in 2007 for a Chase bank, which may or may have not been related to the Texas Avenue widening.

From John Ellisor comes this picture of Bud Ward Volkswagen, one of the car dealerships there at some point. I think I see the Holiday Inn in the background.

The old water tower that was behind it was dismantled around 2002-2003 for an H-E-B gas station and car wash, and connected to what was the El Chico was a shabby-looking maroon building (with wooden shingles if I remember right) with Early Bird Cleaners and Aggieland Printing. This, and its adjacent parking lot (a holdover from the car dealership?) can be seen below.



Both moved to a yellow building in the parking lot, though Early Bird Cleaners has since departed.

-rewritten may/15

Friday, June 4, 2010

Randall's / Albertsons


The decaying monolith beckons.

615 University Drive East
College Station, TX

This was one of the very first "true" blog posts written on this site that actually fit with the theme that was officially adopted around 2012 and continued to the end of the blog's original run. It involves the one of the coolest-sounding stores to ever grace the area, when Randall's, an upscale-leaning grocery chain from Houston opened a new "New Generation" store in College Station fairly close to the Texas A&M University campus. With construction underway by March 1991, and opening in fall of 1991 (see comments), it was the largest grocery store in the county (not like there was much competition) and definitely the largest one in College Station. It had, according to this article featured "a coffee department with a bar and stools, fresh-made juices, pizza from scratch, a full-line floral department, a full-service bank and a one-hour photo shop", and at 80k square feet (the size of the H-E-Bs now), it was a sight to behold. It was sold to Albertsons and eventually closed during a long, slow period of decline and contraction. While today Randalls and Albertsons are one (imagine that!) this store will remain shut due to some lease issues. Read more at my new blog, Safeway and Albertsons in Texas, which is where I moved this article.

Over to the west side of the store is 607 University, a small strip center with about four or so stores. Besides Haiku Sushi & Hibachi Grill, which I remembered being here for a long time (don't know when since I never remembered the building as a Randall's), and became Kobe Steak & Sushi much later (around 2012--this new incarnation shut within months). Most of the places here were pretty forgettable: "TGF Precision Haircutters" was another that was later absorbed by A+ Tutoring.

There was a little café near Albertsons called Tuscany's that had a several year stand in the 2000s (my records show it closed in early 2008). Proudly proclaiming that it was the only gelato in miles around (a fact) plus offering upscale-ish coffeehouse goods (coffee, tasty-looking bagel chips), it opened around 2004 with being an Internet café a defining feature (that and the gelato). Any number of factors could've caused its closure: it's possible it wasn't favored by students as a place to hang out (if they wanted any students--some places don't), it was hard to see from the road (invisible heading westbound), or maybe just gelato was a novelty that wore off quickly.

A+ Tutoring is here currently, taking two places at the far end. They came in just before "The Martial Arts Studio", which replaced Tuscany's, moved to Homestead Place (the little shopping center on Texas Avenue, near the cemetery, where the library used to be, if you can remember back that far). A+ Tutoring gets really crowded on some nights, taking up a good half of the parking (which is great for them since all the other tenants had up and died).

I recently found this awesome YouTube video of a Randall's opening in 1992 in Lufkin. While not in College Station, it gives a feel for what it was like, as the décor was probably identical and so on.

This was originally known as "Randalls/Albertsons", posted on the above date. A major update was completed on February 23, 2012, and another on May 17, 2013 with name changed from "The Last Albertsons and the Only Randall's"
Updated May 7th, updated written part, reordered photos
May 22nd: apostrophe was removed sooner
10 23 2013 new video!
3-6-2014: changed the ending so it's a little uplifting, and added a new section with 607 University.
4-29-2014: new alterations, including some changes to the time it was opened
5/12/14: new sentence
June 2015: outsourced and trimmed down

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Holleman extension

This post is untouched and not removed, a leftover of what this site was before it became what it is now.

The extension of Holleman Drive is underway, and it is rather exciting.

There's a small topic about it at MyBCS.com and some PDFs (not a direct link). Anyway, it seems to be going along well.

Here's the plan in a nutshell:

• Saddle Lane will be extended to the road to the east (why I use this term instead of "Jones-Butler" will be revealed in a minute)
• The inner-most left lane of Holleman Drive to Harvey Mitchell Parkway will be turned into a straight lane. Figures, since nearly everyone that goes that way turns on Jones-Butler Rd. anyway.
• There will be sidewalks and streetlights on the new extension.
• It will be four lanes with a median.
• A few new roads will "sprout" off Holleman, including a road called Market Street.
• The intersection with Dowling will have stop signs on four ends, but no left hand lanes.
• Holleman will "bend" into the existing Jones-Butler Road stretch, becoming one-lane and aligning roughly at Saddle Lane.
• Jones-Butler Road from Harvey Mitchell Parkway to Dowling will be closed permanently.
• Jones-Butler Road from Saddle Lane to Rock Prairie Road will be renamed to Holleman Drive.

Observations:
• The low spot just beyond the stoplight has been filled in.
• Construction vehicles are visible from Dowling, as are various pipes.
• The fence has already been "corner cut" to allow Holleman to come in. The post oak there still stands.
• The new extension will have yield/merge lanes going in and out of Harvey Mitchell. No sign of that, yet.
• The ground has not been cleared near Dowling, yet, though near Harvey Mitchell it's well-smoothed.
• There's a sign near Harvey Mitchell that I took a picture of a few months back (December?) but I don't know where the shot is.
• Looks like the construction does not extend to four lanes, maybe only two lanes with turning lane.

Guesses:
• There will be office-type buildings on the stretch, maybe apartments.
• Jones-Butler Road, once closed, will be "recycled" back into usable space. This will take years, however, so there will be a nice shady unpaved path for some time.
• Speed will be 35 MPH on the extension.
• The roads in the Quail Run are scheduled to be resurfaced soon. Since Saddle Lane will be a detour for a significant road, it will likely be more than just a dirt road: probably tar and gravel, like other Quail Run roads are.
• The adjacent 2818 Place will not have access unless they complete a second phase to connect to it (and that is entirely possible)
• It will turn out to be only two lanes with left hand turn lane.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Welcome to College Station Roads and Retail

Hello! I'm Pseudo3D. I am a native resident of College Station, Texas.

This blog was created as a spin-off of my main blog, Two Way Roads to focus on College Station. Specifically, roads (old and new) and retail (also old and new). Please check back as I add content, including some content that is currently being hosted on Two Way Roads.

P.S. I have worked with Project HOLD last summer, so unless there's something really specific, please don't alert me to its presence, I already know. ;)

As of February 21, 2012, this article is considered obsolete