Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Post Oak Mall Superpost

Currently updating. Unmarked "ninja" edits are undergoing.

I know I've made a few Post Oak Mall-related posts here lately, so I've decided to merge them all here, and update this page whenever necessary. Post Oak Mall opened in 1982 on the corner of Harvey Road and Texas 6 ("the East Loop") and was largely the catalyst for development on that side of town. It included a small extension of Holleman from the frontage road (still two ways at this point) to just beyond the highway (ooh, I should write that in my Holleman history). It had four department stores at opening, with three more coming soon by the end of the year (the seventh anchor pad was never developed, though I can take stabs at what it could've been). Post Oak Mall was actually pretty small: it was under the general "regional mall standard" of 1,000,000 square feet of retail at only around 800,000 square feet, and the "department stores" were really small. Even the largest store, Foley's, was only around 103,000 square feet, far less than the Foley's branches in Houston, which were well over twice the size. And yet it was huge: at the time, Southwood Valley was at more or less the far south part of town, and the "East Loop" was only about nine years old. There was nothing like it in town: Manor East Mall was much smaller and much less ornate, and in an area rich with the oil boom while the rest of the country was in recessionary effects, it was definitely right for its size.

Fast forward: it's December 2011, and February 2012 will be the 30th anniversary of the mall. It's seen almost a complete tenant turnover, and speckled with vacancies and low-end local stores. "That's So Me Boutique & Gift Basket Xpress" is one of the signs of this decline, and if you know dead malls, you know it's starting to get bad when a store without a lit sign and selling gift baskets, of all things, moves in. Post Oak Mall is dying a slow death, and it's only stayed constant because of the fact that there's no other mall in town, and in times when the weather is over 100°, you want to hang out in an air-conditioned place. Cynics would say that even the newest renovation won't stop the decline (read on).

There have been a lot of changes over the years, and let's start with the biggest store, Macy's. When it opened, it was a Foley's, a relatively upscale department store chain out of Houston. It downscaled in 1987 when Federated Stores (its owner) sold out to May Department Stores (eliminating many departments), and was doomed in 2005, when May Department Stores was sold as a whole to Federated (which was different from the original Federated--it's kind of a long story). In 2006, Foley's was stripped of its lettering, with only a crude-looking Foley's banner over the Macy's name, which came off in September of that year. Macy's closed the store for a week (I think) to remove all the brands from the Foley's store and put up their own (cheaper) brands, and prior to this mauling, all the Foley's brands went on clearance. The new Macy's sign doesn't even light up (the old Foley's sign, which I remember as the last logo of Foley's they had before their demise), and the last real vestige of Foley's, some worn parquet floors, disappeared in 2011 when Macy's replaced them with white tile.

But enough on that. I remember going to Foley's with my mother in the early 1990's and finding it cooler than the other department stores based solely on the escalators (the only ones in the mall, and the only ones for miles around). Unfortunately, by that time (mid-1990s), Foley's was pretty much just a brand name shared with other May Company department stores. Here are the pictures I have: they all date to the post-Foley's era.




Apparently, according to the 2011 Macy's Factbook, the location opened in 1984, which is possible, though discrepancies happen everywhere. I need a consensus on that.

The other major anchors include a Sears at 98,533 square feet, which is about the right size for a Kmart (I think even larger than the Kmart we had at the opening of this). I swear I remember this location had an Optical Department just a few years ago (2008?), with the little jingle at the end of this commercial running through my head. I believe it still has "Sears, Roebuck, and Company" near the entrances, something not seen nowadays.

There was a JCPenney, which opened in late 1982 soon before JCPenney started to dismantle the "full line" it used to have (though they were headed in this direction). JCPenney stores in the late 1960s and 1970s were more like Sears now than Kohl's now, and there are many classic examples out there of old JCPenney Auto Centers (and, in VERY rare cases, a JCPenney Supermarket! But only three stores had them). I remember getting a "Space Jam" basketball here circa 1996 (I think it was JCP, anyway) and even as late as 1990 they were still were building "full line" stores, so it's possible it had a sporting goods department back then.

There's still an 80s looking sign out front mentioning the Package Pick-up, but since JCPenney eliminated its catalog division a year or so ago, it's now a "jcp services" desk. At least the store hasn't converted to that awful new "jcp" logo yet.

There was a Wilsons initially for a few years, a catalog showroom based out of Baton Rouge. This too was a small location of only 40k square feet, though the catalog showrooms were smaller. Within a few years, the location was bought by Service Merchandise, and it lasted until the first round of "Service" closures in 1999. It was soon leased to Dillard's, which divided their main store and put the Mens and Housewares department in the store. Unfortunately, it didn't label which store was which on the outside.

The main Dillard's was a rarity in the sense that it was built as a Dillard's, and not a Joske's like in Houston and San Antonio (those would become Dillard's in '87). After '99, the Dillard's location only had the women's and kid's departments. Around 2010-2011, the Dillard's became exclusively women's, but they moved back in the kids departments back in. While there's nothing at the Dillard's womens/kids that I would remotely buy (you know, being a guy) but it has some worn carpeting and parquet floors, which are cool.

The sixth was a Bealls, which was an independent small Texan chain at the time, with the apostrophe recently dropped in the logo at the time. Bealls was one of the few anchors that maintained dual anchors with Manor East Mall, though it cannibalized the downtown one.

The food court was much more grandiose than today, featuring eateries on both sides and called "The Gourmet Court". Charter food court tenants included Chick-fil-A, Corn Dog 7, Funnel Cakery, The Great Hot Dog Experience, Giovanni's, Ken Martin's Chicken Fried Steak, Peanut Shack, Pepe's, Potatoes Etc., Salad Bartique, Sesame Hut, and Seafood Shoppe. Orange Julius opened soon after (it was leased but did not open with the mall, apparently), and Taste of the Tropics and McDonald's opened later. Because the food court had been reconfigured at one time (the corridor to the restrooms was different), it's hard to tell what became what.

Chick-fil-A was the oldest and largest tenant in the food court, until it closed after December 24, 2011, just a few months shy of the mall's 30th anniversary. Supposedly the reason for this was that the stand-alone locations were doing very well, and there was a lease disagreement (Chick-fil-A didn't want to stick around unless the mall made major updates--which they did eventually, but it was too late). In the spring of 2012, it was filled with Raising Cane's, a noticeable step-down. Raising Cane's didn't even have the interior eating area like was just a walk-up. I do like Raising Cane's, for what it's worth, but I like Chick-fil-A more. What is a Southern mall without a Chick-fil-A? A dead one.

Pepe's was a branch of Pepe's Mexican Café on College Avenue, the remnants of a small chain. At one time, it also had locations in College Station (present-day Gumby's) and even (reportedly) in Austin.

I honestly can't tell you what most of those sold. You'll have to make your own hypotheses (for example, Giovanni's is probably pizza, etc.). Peanut Shack and Orange Julius would've been harder to guess: Orange Julius is basically like what it is, selling its flagship smoothies, but back before Dairy Queen bought them and closed them en masse in the early 1990s, they sold hot dogs and french fries. Peanut Shack was always a snack stand. A few years ago the folks at Labelscar snapped a pic of a Peanut Shack at a small-town Oklahoma mall. It was obviously closed for the evening, but the point still stands.

Photo from "rcj0618" on the HAIF: though it was actually just a flipped image of an old ad from InSite Magazine which is freely available from the web

Anyway, by 1997 or 1998, the food court had downscaled considerably, but there was still a few outlets on the north side of the food court.

Here is the oldest directory I have on hand. I've dated it about 1998 or so, before Kinney Shoes went out of business nationwide, but with a significant vacancy in the form of the old Woolworth's, which probably closed a few years earlier in a 1997 round of closings. Unfortunately, due to the size of my scanner and the tendency of the directory to contort on odd directions even in the scanner, I had to take a picture to suffice.

Hopefully I could get it scanned in a better condition, and cleaned up to boot.

One "Villa Italian Specialties" was still on the north side, near Afterthoughts (we'll get to Afterthoughts later). The other "differents" back then were Taste of the Tropics being a different place (now regular store space), Subway (don't know if the "original" Subway ever opened) being where TotT is now, and McDonald's became Sonic in 2002. There was Manchu Wok and Roman Delight in the 1990s as well. Around 2003 or so Subway finally closed.

Ultimately, Corn Dog 7 closed (man, I could use a foot-long corn dog sometimes) and became Little Tokyo sushi, Smoothies Ice Cream & Yogurt eventually became in the late 2000s Nestlé Toll House by Chip (no more Blue Bell...or gyros), and Manchu Wok (don't know when it opened, it renovated circa 2011) remains open. In January 2012, Little Tokyo closed (shortly after Chick-fil-A "flew the coop", as it were), and in October 2012, Sonic closed, when the lease ran out. Luckily for the mall, shortly after closure, it was announced it would be "Flip & Peel Burgers and Fries", which would be a new concept by CharlieMac. With Stover Bros. Café increasingly moving away from the things that made Stover Boys a success (not that the menu changes at Stover Brothers are bad, mind you), I would hope that FPBF is a return to the original form. Two things I didn't like about Flip & Peel and neither are the restaurants fault:

1) I don't tend to like American cheese, and I regret I got the burger with American cheese.

2) The Canadian Fries are discontinued. I was disappointed, but the thing is I realized two things. Number one, cheese curds aren't found here at all (no grocery stores stock them), so already it's not economic if you have to ship them from out of town (even Houston). Two, I may be wrong but I'm thinking our local culture doesn't appreciate international foods very much--while burgers, tacos, and fried chicken tend to do well, non-American cuisine is rare, so the closest you get is bastardized chain restaurants. While there are Asian grocery stores and places that stock international foods, they work because of the demographics of the city. Notice that College Station H-E-B has a decent selection of international foods, but not so much for Tejas Center or Tower Point Market.

The food court is definitely not what it used to be: half of it isn't even food-related anymore. At least they took out the kid's play area, which I think opened in 2004 (but I could be wrong?).

To sum it up:
McDonald's closed, and was replaced with Sonic in 2002, which closed a decade later. It was replaced with Flip & Peel.
Corn Dog 7 was replaced with Little Tokyo (Corn Dog 7 closed in 2006 or so, Little Tokyo opened around 2009 and closed in early 2012 or late 2011)
Then Smoothies Ice Cream & Yogurt became Nestlé Toll House Café in 2009 or 2010
There also used to be a Subway until around early/mid 2003.
The Taste of the Tropics wasn't always in the same place as it is now. I believe their current place was Subway before that.

The current line-up is Manchu Wok, Flip & Peel Burgers and Fries, Raising Cane's, Roman Delight, Nestlé Toll House Café by Chip, and Taste of the Tropics.

Picture I took in 2008 of the food court

Here's the mall directory of Post Oak Mall from 2004, from what I consider better days. I remember walking out of the mall relatively recently, disgusted that I couldn't find a single storefront worth checking out.

I mean, back in the day, this had Foley's, Subway, the Texas Store, a whole block of stores where Steve & Barry's was (including Flag Expo, a tiny store which I liked), Wicks N Sticks (the classic southern mall candle store), FX Video Game Exchange, Waldenbooks, and more. It was also when they had paper directories (instead of just one non-movable one), which CBL stopped doing in May 2009 because they're cheapskates.

On Steve & Barry's, a year prior to their arrival, Hibbett Sports, Dollar Corner, Flag Expo, In Style Fashions, and The Limited were near Sears and (original) Dillard's in 2004. Can't say too much about them, but I remember one of them (could've been Dollar Corner) was this sign that had a drawing of a person on it, one side would have the person grinning with a crown, while the other side had a sad-looking old man with a beard (the beard and the crown were the same, only flipped).

Flag Expo was as noted, a tiny store, not much bigger than my kitchen, and sold little flags. According to the store owner of the time, there was a kid who bought a new flag (in general, they ran about five or six dollars) every week. I always wondered who it was. Apparently, Flag Expo had sold more than flags. This revelation came in fall of 2011 when I discovered that Military Depot was selling a bunch of Aggie-related clothing, most of which had Flag Expo stickers on them. I -never- saw clothing at Flag Expo, so it's possible they wanted to expand, were forced out, and Military Depot bought all their inventory and started to sell it off at the same price it was seven years ago.

All these stores were forced out for "Steve & Barry's University Sportswear" in 2005, the fast-growing cheap clothing store. I remember it had things like the "vintage advertising" t-shirts before they dropped the University Sportswear in 2007 or so. The chain I don't think ever was very profitable, and the cheap leases they got (they were generally in distressed malls, though this wasn't always the case) fueled growth for more stores (eventually, it got to the point where they would move into just about anything: there was a store in Spring that was in a vacant Randalls supermarket), and it all collapsed in fall 2008, with the store closing around November of that year. After it died, it served a few transient purposes, including a publisher's clearinghouse (the book selection was terrible, I tells ya), a job fair, and a Halloween store. Ultimately, it became The Shoe Dept. Encore.

The mall has also never had much luck in terms of restaurants. Casa Olé has been here since the earliest days, and still serves up its own mediocre Mexican food. There was another restaurant at one time, too: "Jubilation" (a Google search reveals a "Paul Anka's Jubilation: The Place for Steaks" matchbook, named after a famous restaurant in Vegas at about that time, though it's doubtful that the two were related; still, a fancy steakhouse in College Station that pulled out when the economy got rough isn't outside the realm of possibility), which eventually became Chelsea Street Pub & Grill, which I remember vividly (we never ate there, but I recall the facade had an exterior entrance and fit in nicely with the lampposts). Later on, Luby's Cafeteria leased a large space in the back, closed circa 1998 with some other underperforming restaurants and has remained chronically vacant ever since. Halloween stores have been here, as well as (very briefly in the latter part of the 2000s) "Rugged Outdoors Armory" with things like bows and swords, but it was too awesome to last. Most of the former Luby's decor still remains, if you'd like to check it out.

A store gone by: Babbage's. Located where GameStop is now, Babbage's was a computer software store, including Mac products that weren't games (like Kid Pix Studio on CD!). But the parent company decided that video games (especially used video games that they can buy low, sell high) were more profitable, and it became GameStop in 2002. They even quit accepting things like Super Nintendo (and later, N64 and GameCube) stuff to maximize profits.

JB's Wrestling World deserves a mention, too. Opened in 2002, lasted for a matter of months. A former economics teacher of mine once had this story about it, in which he detailed a conversation he had with the store owner (and I'm paraphrasing even more, here): "Want a wrestling poster?" "No." "Want a wrestling t-shirt?" "No." "Want a wrestling calendar?" "No." I passed by the store once. It was dark yet not closed. I think it there was a glow-in-the-dark poster.

Waldenbooks will be missed, though the store at the mall closed in fall 2006, well before the main closure waves/conversion to Borders Express hit. It was one of the first tenants, had a wood facade and two signs, "Waldenbooks" and "Waldenkids". I bought my The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker guide there. It was a pretty big store, and reopened a few years later as The Shoe Dept. (relocated from their smaller store near Bealls). In 2011, The Shoe Depot. hit the road again and moved into the old Steve & Barry's, and Borders went out of business, ending the legacy of Waldenbooks as a whole.

C&L Nut Buddies used to have a kiosk somewhere in the late 2000s. They aren't there anymore, and haven't been for the last few years. I think they may have had free samples, though.

The Texas Store had a location for years in the mall, and eventually moved out to Gateway Center (but they moved on...). "Rustic" wooden floors and decor, books of all kinds, t-shirts too, and the obligatory line of novelty hot sauces. After it closed (mid-late 2000s, 2008 maybe?) it remained vacant. A training/employment center for BJ's was temporarily there, but it disappeared after the restaurant opened. In December 2012, it was still vacant.

Gadzooks stayed far longer than it should've. It was initially a 1980s/1990s teenage-clothing shop. It had a red and blue neon sign that hung until about 2008 when it was enlarged into Forever 21, parent company since 2005. I remember reading in an article in summer 2003 that it dropped male clothing, and the Forever 21 doesn't carry male clothing either (though larger ones do). Forever 21's bags have "John 3:16" and I remember reading in an article that the current daughters who run it (the fashion side, anyway) mention that "demonstrates [their] parents' faith". I also read somewhere that some of the "fast-fashion" Forever 21 designs are suspiciously similar to other designs. I'm guessing the daughters do not share the same religion as their parents, and probably don't have any scruples about "borrowing" other's designs, but I digress. Forever 21 is a fairly open, bright-looking store and has four mannequins out front which change regularly.

Stina's Shag I remember had a wooden facade (gotta them: they're from the 1980s), a rug store that operated briefly. But rug stores, especially rug stores in 2007 that use the word "shag" do not last long at all. It later served as a temporary Buckle store. It's vacant now and no longer has the wood facade (instead, a cheap plasticy one).

Best Buy Mobile is in part of the old Express, which is reasonable. Given we're too cheap for an Apple store (yuk yuk yuk), it gives mall patrons opportunity to fool around with things that start with "i" and other mobile devices (we're also too cheap for a Microsoft store, too).

Timeless: it was there for years, and I seem to recall it sold things like home décor: Beatles portraits, overpriced pop culture things, stuff like that. It was neat to browse around in. But browsing won't pay the bills, and in recessionary times, it folded. It reopened as Kitchen Collection, a far neater store to go in, because Kitchen Collection actually has practical things. I wasn't too impressed with the KC at one of the San Marcos outlet malls, but although smaller, it has less percentage of the space being stuff you'll never use like plastic onions to save leftover onions in. And it has pizza stones for a decent price, essential for making pizza at home that actually does taste like pizza.

The Gap was always there as I remember (though it was not a charter tenant). Once an industry leader in its wooden floors and subdued lighting (the designer of that went on to do Apple stores), it fell out of favor as the Gap started to be associated largely with the 1990s and was not able to adapt. It closed in 2011. It is now fully re-tenanted, with the corner "flagship" entrance now a Kids Foot Locker, a rarity in the fact that it's not "Jan's Junk & Such" or the like.

Abercrombie & Fitch closed in early 2011, too, but I'm not sorry to see it go. It had a bad smell and loud music, and was located right out there near the pretzel stand.

Candies & More was next to JCPenney. It was a bulk candy store (found in most malls). Problem is, it was filthier than normal bulk candy stores (filth in terms of dirt, at least), and it was a convenience store as well. I don't think it sold beer, but it did sell other candies, cigarettes, and lottery tickets. It closed in 2012, since I remember going in December 2011 and buying one of those lemon ice things, and going people watching. I thought it was possibly the fact that it was too frumpy for the mall, but I was wrong. Some store called "Sports Zone" moved in, painted the white wooden facade blue, and added hats and junk along the walls. Net loss in all aspects.

Fairy Godmother was a short-lived store next to the Puppy Store that offered the chance for little girls to have a "fairy tale party" or such nonsense. Unsurprisingly, it closed by late 2012. It is now Perfume X, with one of the worst facades you could think of.


A non-store example includes the various physics festivals they've had here, but they ultimately moved out and combined with the Chemistry fairs (not enough people, apparently). And was it just me, or did the trees seem to be larger?

I thought that the neon near the ceilings especially looks cool later in the evening (it lights up) and wasn't there when the mall opened (to my knowledge), but it didn't light up anymore even before it was gone for good. The skylights were cool, too. Before they replaced them in 2008 or so, they were awesome. They were slightly tinted, very 80s, and let light in without actually seeing the sky. There's a picture here, on Flickr.

For now, I'll stop. There's more stories to tell, pictures to post, et cetera. Maybe I'll break into more than one post. Maybe I'll just keep updating. Anyway, that's all for now, will be working on next post (and beyond!) and have a Merry Christmas.

Also: BONUS POINTS if one could find out when the theater closed. I believe Wikipedia is wrong in this respect...

EDIT 1 (July 1st, 2012): They are renovating now, with most of the entrances at the front being deconstructed. Sometime in the spring Little Tokyo closed, and Sonic is closing this fall. While I haven't gone to the mall recently, I did snag this picture from the mall's website, where the original tile was uncovered. Neat!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Newspapers: Mostly Supermarkets

Post removed from the Index

Hey everybody. Have I got a treat for you. Remember how I couldn't scan at the Evans Library? Well, today, we have grocery store scans.

Here we have the comics page from 1992.

Unfortunately, about half of it was truncated in the early 1990s for the crossword, the horoscope, Jumble, and the "Magic Hand" or whatever, which I think moved from another part of the paper. I may go over the history of the comics page another day, but I'm now angry in retrospect.

Yes, we really did have a Jewel-Osco, as mentioned in this post. This would become Albertsons within a matter of months (joining the pre-existing Albertsons on Texas Avenue and FM 2818), before closing when the nearby Randall's (styled with an apostrophe) became Albertsons.

There's even a shot of a Sunny Delight bottle, before they changed it to "Sunny D" (and later "SunnyD"). Tangy Original was called "Florida Style" and "Smooth" was "California Style".

Earl Rudder was finished in 1972. Good to know.

Is anyone besides me think it's a little disturbing that the pig wears a butcher outfit as HAM is clearly advertised in the lower left corner? (also: this provides me a hint that will be used in an upcoming feature. Stay tuned)

A genuine local grocery store from the early 1970s. Unfortunately, it seems Orr's was forced out by foreign competition, and it was dead by the late 1970s (or 1980s. Help me out here!) giving us NO local groceries until Village Foods in 2008. Regardless, it probably didn't help that both locations were quite small (like, smaller than Brookshire Bros. small), and unless they went into the convenience store biz, they were doomed. Still, I think it would've been nice if they had at least lasted long enough to open a College Station location.

This ad comes from 1970, which proves that the Wienerschnitzel has been operating in that building for over 40 years.

That's all for now. The Piggly Wiggly ad gives me enough opportunity to plan my next post...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

East 29th and Texas Avenue ~ The Ex-Greyhound

The short-lived Burger King that opened in 2009 and closed in less than two years. [Source: Yelp]

405 E. 29th Street
(Later Renumbered to 401 S. Texas Avenue after demolition)

As a College Station kid (this was originally named "College Station Roads & Retail", after all), I never went to downtown Bryan all that much. That's not to say I didn't at all...I specifically outline a memory in the Palace Theater post, but most of them were a trip up to the amazingly dirty, run-down bus station up at 29th and Texas Avenue (though we wouldn't take Texas Avenue all the way up or back...I specifically remember taking College Avenue back, and I know it was College Avenue because where "Woody's" is now, was an old military surplus place (there was a statue of a plane that had "surplus" on it). What was especially stunning about it was not the building, but the fact that even though it was COMPLETELY EMPTY (no sign or anything), there was still a lit neon border on the sign. That's even more impressive than the still-lit Service Merchandise sign I saw in early 2003 (San Antonio) a full year after the chain shut down, but I digress, or that one time in December 2003 where, while waiting for my cousin from Waco, I used my toe to squish a mosquito (I was lying down in the middle seats when this happened), and my sister didn't even notice until maybe 450 miles in the subsequent trip (second day, now in Alabama en route to central Florida) because she had napped most of the first day and the morning of the second.

What I didn't know at the time was it started out as a UtoteM (and that may have had Amoco gas, from what I've heard) and became a bus station by 1980. I don't think it was remodeled much at all between tenants, and it had a drop ceiling, florescent lighting, really worn tiles, possibly dated from 1960s to 1970s (it started out as a UtoteM that may have had Amoco gas, however, it was a bus station by 1980), some rather drab and cheap-looking chairs, and the like. There were a few vending machines, including some candy dispensers and (if I remember right) even a coffee vending machine. While it was a miserable place that seemed to be falling apart, it had charm (though I'm sure I'm the only one that thinks that) as a wonderfully grungy place that was a gritty time capsule of the 1980s.

In the mid/late 2000s it was closed and demolished. I never got to visit any of the replacement bus stations in the years following (though I did see the new bus station in the parking garage last fall), mostly because the relatives picked up either got their own cars (like my cousins, one of which still lives in Waco) or became too old to travel (like my grandfather).

I'd still like to find photos of the place.

The replacement of the store was a Burger King, part of a proposed bunch of new stores as part of a new franchisee. The new Burger King opened around April 2009 and closed in January 2011 (but not reopening). Reason was probably because B-CS just isn't a Burger King town (the one at Texas and Deacon seems to get pretty low volume). It reopened as a Chicken Express some months later (2012 I believe) which did little to the restaurant except give it red trim instead of blue. The other problem with the restaurant pad is poor access: there's no entrance to Texas Avenue at all, even though it was renumbered to a Texas Avenue address! That hasn't seemed to stop Chicken Express, which still continues to operate after about 4 years.

Post overhaul completed in June 2015

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

101 Fairview


I don't have a lot of information for this building. It was once a crummy old house at the corner of Fairview and George Bush.

However, in circa 2010, the building was renovated, a concrete parking lot built, and numerous other accoutrements were added.

Anyone know some more backstory to this?

Friday, September 30, 2011

[Side Stories] Just Train Crazy

Sometime in late 2005 and early 2006, George Bush Presidential Library, and by extension, the entire town, was wrapped up in a massive railroad exhibit.

"Trains: Tracks of the Iron Horse" opened in November 2005 in the Special Exhibits section of the George Bush Library. But unlike other special exhibits, it was wrapped up in an entire event that involved the city and Union Pacific itself. Union Pacific is the company that runs the railroad tracks in town (except for the ones in far south Brazos County--that's BNSF), having acquired them from Southern Pacific (I think) in 1996.

And regardless of being a railroad town in name only--the trains quit stopping here officially in 1995, and by the time this happened, Callaway Villas had poured concrete over where the Amtrak station once was, leaving only an overgrown platform (that's progress, I guess).

But Tracks of the Iron Horse was impressive, and kicked off numerous things in town.

#1: If you had money to spend, there was a train ride in the brand new George Bush 4141 (a specially painted Union Pacific train) to Dallas. Yes, the luxury of going in a real train from College Station (where trains only stop under unusual circumstances) to Dallas would cost you: $250 a person and up! (link)

It's likely it went on the same route up to Dallas via Corsicana. Because of the Villa Maria underpass construction at the time, and a change in the way the tracks crossed downtown, the train didn't parallel Finfeather.

#2: After the train ride, a special spur was built near the pedestrian overpass that housed the 4141. She's a beauty, and in the time since, I've seen it several times. I once got in an argument on Flickr that I had just seen it in town when the other person claimed it was in the storage yards. So obviously one of us was mistaken, or UP made multiple 4141s.

#3: Local businesses and other institutes bought fiberglass trains for $2500 to paint. I have a full brochure (it's on Project HOLD somewhere) that details the exhibit and also the train details, but here's the list. I saw the "Hot-N-Ready Express" the most often, but there were many others. In 2006 they were auctioned off, though there are still a few hanging around town.

#4: There was a talk done by the Union Pacific President and Former President George H.W. Bush, which I went to. And I talked to former President George H.W. Bush, which was amazing.

#5: There was a giant model train in the rotunda of the museum.

#6: The exhibit featured a "timeline" of how various railroad companies were eaten up to become an oligopoly industry today.

All in all, it was a fantastic exhibit and a fantastic era (if short) of the city, and one of the highlights of the year 2005. I had liked that year so much in particular that last summer on the now-defunct Two Way Roads, I dedicated an entire summer to The Spirit of 2005. Two Way Roads, of course, is defunct and often has terrible writing, but CSR&R is a spin-off of it, and thus some credit has to be given.

In the future, I may update this post with pictures of the glossy book that was handed out during that time (it's paperback and essentially a giant advertisement for UP, but it's just that cool).

EDIT 3/20/12: A better link for those train statues.

May 2013 Update: Side Stories

Monday, September 26, 2011

[Side Stories] Turkey Creek: FM 2513

Updated June 2013

Back in early 2011 I created a post called "Turkey Creek: The Old FM", but the whole thing was based on the assumption that Turkey Creek Road was the old FM 2818. But I did more research and found out that I was wrong. So I removed the post and eventually forgot about it. But in September of that year, I found it and updated it again.

It's 1956 in Snook, what's the quickest, distance-wise, to get to downtown Bryan?

Well, FM 60, of course. You could keep going west and go into Texas A&M College, but that's a bit out of the way. Isn't there an easier way? Today, you could go on FM 2818, but back in the 1950s to 1970s, people didn't have that option. They DID have, however, FM 2513, which takes you to directly to Carson Street.

A distinctly different road, FM 2513 is a bit blurry to read, but what happened to it?

Well, part of it was replaced with FM 2818, but it's still mostly intact. Turkey Creek Road, yes, from Bryan to the airport.

It would make sense, of course: Farm to Market roads were around long before the West Loop, and why else would there be two Turkey Creek Roads?

I had theorized that they did connect, and if you looked at the way the grass is after Turkey Creek Road connects to Harvey Mitchell near the Dick Freeman Coliseum, it supports that.

The College Station segment was never really improved. The West Loop opened (I'm guessing...1972-1973?) as a two-way road, which likely caused the existing Turkey Creek to be torn up and rebuilt, and the rest of Turkey Creek, now in two segments, to lose its status as a FM. While the section between FM 60 and F&B had homes and got the old "tar and gravel" treatment (it was eventually paved), Turkey Creek between F&B and Harvey Mitchell was never improved, and retained a narrow, badly-paved section. Historical, but hardly drivable material. This remained into the early 1990s, when a new terminal was built for Easterwood Airport, causing Turkey Creek to be extended under Raymond Stotzer Parkway (an overpass was completed circa 1996) as William A. MacKenzie Terminal Road. However, from the other end of 2818, anyone looking to turn onto Turkey Creek for a quick shortcut to the airport would be very sorry.

In the late 2000s, F&B gained a stoplight and extended, causing Turkey Creek to be broken in multiple segments, so that there were two different segments. At least now one segment of Turkey Creek WAS a shortcut to the airport. Shortly afterward, in 2009 or 2010, the oldest and worst segment of Turkey Creek was closed. There's gates and barbed wire, with a cul-de-sac at the southern end, but it hasn't been torn up. It's a private road (and sometimes I see the gate near the 2818 side open). Sadly, as much as I'd like the actual feel of a genuine old Texas farm-to-market road, potentially getting stuck/cited for trespassing is not one of my favorite things to do.

One more thing: prior to F&B's major expansion, it was planned that Turkey Creek (CS) was going to widened significantly to become a major road. Oh well, it was doomed anyway...

The Bryan section I'm less familiar with, and it did keep its FM status for a little while longer. Originally, the intersection with 2818 was completely different.

This isn't actually that intersection, but it's a close replica: it's a tilted version of the Texas 21/William Joel Bryan Parkway intersection redone in the late 1990s or early 2000s, though the Turkey Creek/2818 was redone years before it, possibly to create a small extension. I do enjoy the Turkey Creek interchange, it's possibly the last place with the overhanging yellow and red blinking lights (the ones at 47 go way too fast, dang LEDs). That's worth it for the nostalgic factor, and I always passed those lights, and I'm glad that it's one of those things on those Waco trips I used to take when I was younger that's still around (unlike Hearne's railroads and a few other things).

UPDATE 6/18/12: AND IT'S GONE in early 2012, with only the concrete bases remaining. However, to be fair, it was for the 2818/Villa Maria interchange, so I guess it at least has an actual REASON.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Gibson's Discount Centers

This link is to be used in conjunction with this article for preservation of comments. If you've arrived from a Google search here, follow the link back for a mention of the local Gibson's anyway.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

[Side Stories] George Bush Presidential Library and Museum: The First Ten Years

Yes, IA&ABV is alive after all: I'm not going to leave you hanging (that's a tactic of other blogs/websites I know), so here's another post.

To be honest, the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, whether or not you are a Republican or have even a semblance of respect for G. H. W., is a profound achievement of College Station and the greater area.

I don't really have a bunch of pictures on the Library, I just have a map (as seen below) and eggs. Easter eggs, that is, and we'll get to those later (eventually).

The 2007 renovation changed a lot of things for the worst, but here are some of the general (and specific) memories I have:

- Security was amped up a lot after 9/11. There were hidden cameras everywhere, but it wasn't until post-9/11 that a permanent bag check was established near the entrance. Prior to that it was just a nice open area where you could probably find a corner to curl up next to an air conditioning vent (I know I did).

- The Ansary Gallery of American History is a temporary exhibit gallery. Over the years (prior to 2007), there was a general 1960s Americana thing: I specifically remember a tiny putting range (that you could use!) and an old Wheaties box. That was the first temporary exhibit, and over the years, it included so many things that they're largely forgettable. One of the things I remember was the "Miniature White House", in which you just looped around the giant (and detailed) dollhouse and went back out again. Another one was about trains, but I'll talk about that in a bit.

- There was a holographic baseball in "The Family, The Man" section, but it was several years until I was tall enough to see it on my own. Still, it was really neat, but it was removed with the renovation (holographic images were really popular in the late 1990s)

- The World War II area actually never changed over the renovation, which I like. There's a film on George Bush getting shot down and rescued later, and also a metal platform with information on some WWII planes (including the Enola Gay, which dropped the first atomic bomb)

- There was also a wall of television screens, which screamed "1990s" and was taken out after the renovation.

- "The Overlook" originally had nothing, it was turned into a (rather tacky) quasi-museum area after the remodel.

- "Air Force One" was a neat exhibit, it was styled to look like an airplane cockpit, complete with the sound of pressurized air. You could buckle up in one of the seats, but the buckles were removed in the late 1990s and remained that way until just a few years prior to the renovation.

- There was a Berlin Wall exhibit, which I honestly forgot is still there or not. It used to have several black and white pictures and a color monitor. Most notably, it had a chunk of the Berlin Wall, with graffiti on one side, and nothing but concrete on the other.

- "The Gulf War" exhibit was later de-rided in its later years for being a bunch of chintzy lights, but I tell you, it was something really neat. There was a huge 3D (at an angle) map of the Middle East, with LEDs going off as a video was telling you was telling you about the Gulf War. The lights indicated troop movements, bombing raids on Iraq as a bunch of rapidly flickering lights (then fading), missle movements, and little red lights indicating where Saddam set the oil on fire as he was leaving Kuwait. Lights would flash overhead when the missles hit (such as the Scuds being aimed at Israel). It gave me chills watching it every time, and back in that era, Saddam was still at large post-Kuwait. The exhibit that replaced it really is pathetic compared to what it once was.

- Toward the end, there were machines (I think they're still there, but they cost extra...I think) where you could input your name and pick a number of pre-selected questions to get a "letter from the President". The novelty wore off quickly. Also toward the end was tourist information. I always picked up this digest-sized "dining guide" that had menus of restaurants all over town (including but not limited to the late Deluxe Diner).

- There was a time in 2nd grade where we were taking a tour and saw Barbara Bush walking her dogs. We thought we were so lucky because the other class missed it, but then another class got their picture with her. :/

- One of the best times during the pre-remodeling was the 2005 train exhibit...but I've decided to save that for another time, as it really is a story in itself.

- I don't know if it's still there, but there was a "Millie's Activity" thing where there were doghouses periodically that had questions for kids. I think there were two levels, one for beginners and one more advanced.

Friday, September 16, 2011

[Side Stories] Texas A&M...OF THE FUTURE!!

Here we have an article I scanned in a long time ago for Project HOLD on a separate page elsewhere that was eventually put on permanent hiatus when I realized that College Station Roads and Retail was a much cooler project than submitting it to Project HOLD (which, as you know, is VERY difficult to navigate: my site has a lovely index to browse through).

Anyway, here's the one article I scanned, an reprinted article from January 9, 1957 (reprinted from an anniversary edition):

As you can see, there's both real predictions, laughable predictions, and things that would become scarily realistic later.

Let's see, highlights:

• "The campus is too spread out. Students have to travel all over the campus to attend classes." DING! Give this man a prize: this is a problem today, with loads of buses, hundreds of pedestrians, and idiot bicyclists*. Keep in mind that this was written before West Campus, too.

• Saving two million dollars every year would NOT get us a new campus, even accounting for inflation.

• The military aspect HAS been greatly diminished. More than 50% are "civilians", but the Corps of Cadets isn't eliminated.

• Highway 6 (by this time, Texas Avenue) had been four laned, but by 2000, that was the business route of 6.

• "...and the railroad will be replaced by a monorail" is a definite reminder that these people still had the "flying cars to the moon" future in mind.

* I by no means mean to imply ALL bicyclists are idiots, only certain ones. You know who I'm talking about.

EDIT 3, May 28th 2013: Updated some to fit in with modern site

Saturday, September 10, 2011

(Formerly) Village Foods

Village Foods back in the AppleTree days. (Picture from Holcombe of Hidalgo, used with permission)

When this post originally went up back in September 2011, it was a look at a former AppleTree that converted to something completely different...and that "former AppleTree" was a Safeway that was one of the last (if not THE last) in the Safeway Houston division. It might have even opened after the division spun off but before the name change. I really don't know. There was a brief time when the stores were advertised as Safeway, but were "locally owned", probably due to a lingering licensing deal to use the name from Safeway.

AppleTree started out with nearly 100 stores from Waco to Rosenberg, but the crippling debt resulting from the buyout forced the company into bankruptcy in 1992 and sold off its stores in late 1993. For whatever reason, six stores were purchased back and remained as AppleTree stores.

The Briarcrest store was one of these, and it was bought as part of the last six by Tony Kubicek, who bought the name and operations of the stores, with the possibility of even expanding at some point. Unfortunately, this never happened, and AppleTree started to shed stores again. By 1999, only three remained, all in Bryan-College Station. After the closure of Culpepper Plaza's store, it went down to 2. This AppleTree held its own, even having features that no other grocery store did (like making its own sausage), though despite being laden with AppleTree logos and having many of the same employees since the Safeway days (and still does) wasn't like the old AppleTree company (it was unionized, for one).

It's unknown to what exactly went on with AppleTree corporate, but in 2008, the supermarket was sold after Kubicek wanted a lower rate on rent. His landlord ended up buying the store instead, and Jim Lewis, the landlord-turned-owner, decided to make it his own. While the actual change of hands occurred in 2008, there was a "Grand Opening" in March 2009 (I've never been able to find out if the store closed for a reset, but from all I've heard, there wasn't). Around this time, the store updated its dated 1980s department graphics to new Benjamin Knox paintings, and revised the merchandise selection to include more organic (and later gluten-free) items, as well as local items.

VF heavily relied on the "local" schtick considering that the area had lacked a real "local" supermarket since the closure of independent Food Town (not related to the Houston chain) located at 600 North Main in the early 1990s (it was open in 1991, but not too much longer afterward), and the fact that no other supermarket really focused on natural and organics food like they did (gluten free wasn't as trendy when it opened). Already problems were apparent, though, as the mix didn't reciprocate well with everybody. One of the misconceptions that the store had to overcome was that it was some sort of Whole Foods knock-off, which it wasn't, and actually scared off a few loyal customers who (wrongly) believed the prices had shot up, while anyone expecting some sort of Whole Foods-type experience (or even a Sprouts-type experience) would be extremely disappointed.

For a time the original post here went down from the website due to a "conflict of interest" in summer 2013 (guess why?) and then it went back up again with a new selection of photos. For an inside look at Village Foods (including the photos that used to be here), check out the post at the Safeway & Albertsons in Texas Blog.

In 2015, it was announced that an Aldi would join the grocery mix in the area at an undisclosed place in Bryan. Some hypothesized perhaps the underserved west part of town, but instead would be at the corner of 29th and Briarcrest...the site of Village Foods! In December the store announced officially it would close in early February.

People have said that Village Foods collapsed due to competition, but despite being between a huge H-E-B and a huge Walmart Supercenter, I don't think that tells a full story. After all, this store has outlasted the bigger and nicer store at the other end of 29th (that would be Albertsons, formerly a Randalls) as well as the supermarket in between (Winn-Dixie). Heck, it even managed to ultimately outlast the Walmart Neighborhood Market off of Texas Avenue.

There were a number of factors that worked against Village Foods. In 2013, Briarcrest was plagued with construction, which ended up sealing off the main entrance of the store permanently. The remaining "other" entrance from Briarcrest was a bit awkward to turn in and out of since it was shared with the nearby Galleria Village office tower, with the other entrance being a side entrance off of 29th Street. The high school brought riff-raff and fighting into the parking lot.

Their product mix featuring organic, gluten free, and health foods began to become less important as H-E-B and even Walmart to an extent began featuring those types of items. Combined with the already-rough competition with a Walmart Supercenter half a mile to the east, a large H-E-B a mile to the west, and the addition of a Walmart Neighborhood Market within a two mile radius, it was a surprise that Village Foods was able to survive much at all.

Since Village Foods is dead and gone now (and no, despite the presence of Lewis' new Village Foods & Pharmacy at Broadmoor and 29th, for all intents Village Foods as we knew it is gone), I'd like to share a few stories regarding this store.

There are some things that I didn't like about Village Foods, but we won't discuss that (we're here to celebrate its life!)

The store was pitifully low-volume in the last few years of its life, but the upshot of that was that it was never jam-packed like H-E-B is, even during peak times (plus it was vastly overstaffed in the front end). It was still the best place to order more obscure food items, as well. They ordered Cel-Ray for me in late 2012 when I requested it, and it even carried it up until Village Foods closed down in February 2016. I won't forget that sort of service.

The rotisserie chicken was also quite good and was surrounded by delicious pectin (it always smelled great when it was being bagged). Juicy yet not greasy like so many other roti chickens are (I'm looking at you, H-E-B), I'm afraid I'll never have anything quite like it again. If I recall, the chicken did use orange juice as one of its ingredients in preparation.

Since day one, the store had a luncheon area, which for many years created its own in-house pizza (reports are that while unremarkable, it was decent). Soon after the demise of Stover Boys at Westgate Center, Charles Stover was brought on to manage the luncheon and deli area, which was merged into "Stover Bros. Café".

I only went to the pre-Stover deli once--it originally offered "Blue Plate Specials", which were things like lasagna, but Stover soon expanded the menu to include gourmet hamburgers and fries (carryovers from Stover Boys) but unfortunately wasn't able to use/brand everything due to complications from the Stover Boys bankruptcy. Stover changed some things in the deli, including vastly expanding the deli meats and cheeses to the standards of other supermarkets (I remember the part that originally faced the front of the store, which now has Boar's Head deli meats, originally had things like chips, including a brand of tortilla chip I enjoyed). While much of the traffic from Stover Boys was gone except for a small band of loyalists, Stover Brothers eventually built up a new following, enough to talk about expanding the seating (which they never ultimately did do). While Stover was free to build his menu from the stock "burgers and fries" to include more gourmet burgers and unique sliders (and we aren't talking the Krystal/White Castle fast food variety, although neither are in the area), there were some things left by the wayside: the milkshake sales went way down, so their homemade Mexican Vanilla ice cream was replaced with stock Blue Bell "Homemade Vanilla". Also killed was the "White Trash Donut" (later rebranded to "Southern Fried Doughnut"), which was amazing but hard to make (and really bad for you, but that's beside the point). Since the donuts are no longer available, you'll have to do with this description of them. See some early menus and stuff by visiting Yelp. Also, despite Stover's departed presence, many items remained permanently changed, like the potato salad.

2013 did bring the temporary addition of Hebert's Cajun Food, having been evicted of their shack at University Square, and briefly operated out of the "Southern Comfort Road Trip" food truck Village Foods had. There were plans to run it out of a food truck but the last update was close to two years ago. As far as I can tell, Hebert's Cajun Foods is gone gone (though rumors are once again abounding of its return).

Now that we're done with Village Foods, what happened next? Over 2016, the building was slightly altered, including removing the peaked roof for what would be the Urban Air Trampoline Park, but also adding ALDI to the eastern third of the ~50,000 square feet building (on the left side if you were looking at it head-on), though it completely gutted the building, down to removing even the concrete floor (I went inside the building during construction, until a contractor chased me out for not wearing closed-toed shoes). The only thing really left is the columns, and despite ALDI's fairly bare-bones nature, it is much cheaper and much nicer than Village Foods ever was. Perhaps it will eventually become grody and run-down, but for now, it's a clean, nice store. Urban Air opened over a year later in January 2018 with the new 1758 address though I don't know if they used the upper level of Village Foods.

1758-1760 Briarcrest

Last updated February 2019

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Dueling Gas Stations at Rock Prairie Road and Wellborn

Shell station. It turns out that we don't have a great shot of the Exxon yet.

This post was originally title "The Development of Rock Prairie Road" and includes, in the comments, the text dump of an old post on Southwood Athletic Park. On July 31, 2014, an overhaul of the post was done when it was re-opened as a commentary on gas stations. On February 24, 2019, the text (but not the picture) was scrubbed in preparation for an eventual rewrite of the article.

12725 & 12727 FM 2154

Monday, August 29, 2011

[Side Stories] Comm. Building Permits College Station in the Late 1980s

We rarely get stuff this neat: this is a list of commercial buildings for the late 1980s (taken from a city-produced master plan guide from circa 1990). This either has Bryan permits in mixed in, or a Lowe's they got a permit for in 1987 was cancelled. There wasn't any Lowe's in College Station until 2010. It's possible that Lowe's got the permit for their current location and sat on it for over two decades, which is plausible but unlikely.

No idea where the other 1985 permits except for Scott & White, and that's probably the older building on University, and the Hampton Inn...which is probably the one next to Applebee's. It's likely the Theatre is the Brazos Fellowship building (it was a three-screen theater off of Southwest Parkway), but I can't know for sure. I do know where Aggieland Printing was, up until about 2001, it was located in a little maroon building right about where the water tower driveway is.

The 1986 permits include 7-11 (which replaced a gas station-turned-bar), but it's not a 7-11 anymore, which is a shame: I do enjoy Slurpees, and ICEEs (found at a few gas stations in town, and Target) aren't the same, as they mix syrup and ice, while Slurpees is frozen syrup continually blended (it's true).

Kentucky Fried Chicken is probably the one at Southwest Parkway and Texas, renovated a few years ago.

Whataburger is almost certainly the one on Dominik, which places it as being relatively new before a fire gutted it in the early 1990s (it has since been repaired).

Mazzio's I have unpleasant memories of, it's where Harvey Washbanger's is. The change-over happened in the late 1990s.

Post Oak Square is I think the one to the west of the TJMaxx/Toys R Us center (that one's Post Oak Plaza, I think). Post Oak Square had Catherine's, and a tasty Korean take-out place I'm not sure is still there.

1987 brought Putt-Putt Golf (which closed about five years ago or so, dying as "Brazos Valley Golf and Games"), an "Exxon Shop", which I'm guessing is modern-day Franky's (or the Valero on Holleman, or even the Highway 30 ones), and Wal-Mart, which secured its permit that year and was up and running by 1988. I don't know about the go cart track, wasn't Pooh's Park, which was on its way out by that time.

1988 brought Loupot's (probably the Southgate location), Taco Cabana (near Barnes & Noble), Circle K (which is where Texaco is, near Walmart, a funny story on that one, we'll discuss it later), CC Creations (moved), Shamrock (Diamond Shamrock?).

1989 brought "Nancy's Cookies", "Jud's", and "Western Auto". Western Auto is probably the current Advance Auto Parts on Harvey, which is what all Western Autos are now.

If you have locations for any of these, please please please...


(Some of you may have been concerned at the lateness of this post. Don't worry: posts are still daily, they'll just be in the evening instead of the morning)

EDIT July 2, 2012: Fixed and updated stuff, especially Hampton Inn.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Southgate Chevron

I snapped this picture from the bus, taken sometime around 2013. The Reveille's sign can't be seen.

The defunct Southgate Chevron has been operating since the 1960s as the Southside Gulf Service, and converted to a convenience store (Reveille's) sometime around the late 1980s (that's what Brazos CAD suggests) with the Chevron name being bestowed in the early 1990s due to a merger. In 2011, I got the below picture that shows the Gulf station and the surrounding area (due to the city reorganizing the Project HOLD server from which I got it from, I can't find the original link and who that is) circa 1985.

Click for larger size/higher resolution.

It's great seeing the George Bush (er, Jersey) stoplight as it was...the "old style" of College Station stoplights (before they were all replaced or upgraded), complete with the old railroad crossing (a cantilever railroad crossing...but where's the crossing gate?), and all those trees, too: this must have been before Olsen Field, and a time when you could probably still see the I-GN right of way on both sides.

I found this picture as well, which appears to be the station in question, from an even earlier time.

Later on, it updated once to the newer 2005 design (didn't roll out fully until the late 2000s), and has always been Reveille's (convenience store) at least since the mid-1990s (if not further back).

In early 2017, it was de-branded as "K.D. Timmons Co. Inc." (a local fuel supplier, though it kept the Chevron colors), and by July 2018 permanently closed, presumably as part of the George Bush underpass project.

UPDATE 2-25-19: Rewrite incorporating 2018 update, new title

300 George Bush Drive

Thursday, August 25, 2011

CSISD Middle Schools Since the 1990s

Until June 13, 2012, this was known as "Middle School misery history!". I changed it to be a bit more specific

Circa 1998-1999, there were only a handful of schools in the CSISD. There was the relatively new Pebble Creek Elementary School and Rock Prairie Elementary School (actually 10 years old by that time), the freshly-renovated South Knoll Elementary School, Southwood Valley Elementary School, and College Hills Elementary School. There was also Oakwood Middle School and Willow Branch Intermediate School, and College Station Junior High to the south. But there were problems with that layout. Despite a recent expansion of Rock Prairie to Wellborn (meaning you no longer had to drive down to North Graham Road or go through Welsh if you weren't coming via highway), the the junior high was crowded, and the school pathway (all 5th graders going to Oakwood, all 6th graders going to Willow Branch).

So during that time (around 1999), the schools received a major shakeup. The elementary schools remained, but the grades 5-8 were changed dramatically. Willow Branch was renamed A&M Consolidated Middle School, got a minor renovation (including the demolition of the dome-like auditorium, a holdover from the days when Willow Branch was a high school) and held half of the city's 7th and 8th graders. College Station Junior High was renamed College Station Middle School (just a quick signage change, really). Oakwood Middle School lost its "Middle" namesake: that was for junior high schoolers, and held 5th and 6th graders. A new campus was built, Cypress Grove Intermediate School for 5th and 6th graders. But there were budget problems during construction, so Cypress Grove was left incomplete, with stubby wings and a few cut plans (like showers in the locker rooms). And because of the never-ceasing flow of kids, it meant it had to compensate with portables.

I say this because I did go to Cypress Grove and CSMS in the past. It was a different time back then: the "outdoor classroom" and garden surrounded by the track has been replaced by an expanded parking loop, the great trees and wilderness to the south, of which only you could see the tip of Christ United Methodist and the water tower was replaced by Creek View Elementary School, and the east, of which we could reach through the fence and grab dewberries, was eventually torn down for more subdivisions. Indeed, what was once the fringe had quickly turned into rapidly multiplying suburbia.

CSMS and AMCMS...I went to both, had very different layouts. The CSMS layout was confusing, as there were essentially five corridors (7th, 8th, Science, Elective, Gym/Cafeteria) that was wrapped around the library. This was in theory a good plan but the problem was the library was more impeding, forcing the central corridors to be very packed (and this was after the split). One neat thing about CSMS was it had three lines, the Cub Canteen, the Cub Café, and something else with C. It served pretty good food at the time: you could order a tall glass of sweet iced tea (they had sugar packets, too), but I doubt that's the same today with draconian food nutrition laws. A funny thing about CSMS was that in spring 1991 when it was built, the school's mascots was still the Kittens (as opposed to the Cubs), but unfortunately, I have no real references (yearbooks, articles, etc.) that actually confirm that fact, so take it with a grain of salt.

AMCMS was better in that the layout was basically an "X" with a central corridor and a second building that was a big loop. The "big loop" building was neat in the fact it had multiple gyms, ramps, and about three or four brick types on the outside. I don't know how much of that was from the original high school there, and what was Willow Branch construction.

I never went to Oakwood, but there was a mural on the south side that had cats on it (probably student-painted) that disappeared sometime in early 2006, and as a kid I always thought the Oakwood library was really cool and unusual (I wonder if it's still that way? Oakwood is one of the oldest, and thus, most architecturally interesting, of the CSISD schools, as far as I know).

Got any memories of CSISD schools, grades 5 through 8? Post 'em here!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Campus Theater

A much, much, better version of this 1989 shot is found here. This version is from TexasEscapes.

217 University Drive

The Campus Theater opened in Northgate in 1940, on the corner of Boyett and University. It was the first theater in College Station, and ended up lasting a very long time. Done in an art deco style and with a single screen (it had a balcony and cry room, too!), it survived sometime into the mid to late 1980s as competition forced it out of business (or maybe the Schulmans, which owned and built it, closed it in '85, along with their theaters in downtown Bryan. Makes sense in the timeline). (Here is an awesome shot of the cinema not too long after opening, but I don't have permission to post it).

After the theater began to deteriorate, around 1995 it finally reopened as Shadow Canyon, which soon after gave it a dreadful makeover by covering over much of the building in wood to give it a country-western theme, and that's been the type of tenant of it's been ever since. Shadow Canyon did well initially, but within a decade, they were out, after they started charging a cover and used gimmicks like wet t-shirt contests to gain attendance. Next up was Midnight Rodeo, which still has locations in San Antonio and Amarillo (an Austin location has closed since 2013). But the College Station location did not last nearly as long as Shadow Canyon, as it opened in early 2006 and closed by summer 2007. (There was another location in Katy Mills in Katy that closed about the same time, and was replaced with Circuit City, bet that went well for them). In 2008 (at least I think it was 2008), it became Daisy Dukes, owned by the Dallis brothers, which was a country-western dance hall. As you can see from a Panaramio picture below, it's obviously the same building, but horrible things have been done to it (sorry I lack a better picture).

Panoramio user rahulatiitd

So the building was clearly mauled, but it got worse. In spring 2013, Daisy Dukes took advantage of the upper level the original building had and opened rooftop seating right above the marquee, with seating and televisions. This was not only ugly but also raised the question if the circa 1940 roof clearly not designed to support tons of people would collapse one day (then again, these sorts of things were done with all sorts of redundancies). By November, it was renamed to Duke's, and by summer 2014 changed hands to The Tap's owners. Prior to this time, there was a lot of drama with the Dallis family including squatting in the Café Eccell building, DUI arrests, and the fact that a former manager of DD's (and an estranged brother, at least publicly) was arrested for something more major, and while initially The Tap talked about the space becoming "No Name Saloon" (which was just a temporary name and never actually on the marquee, the closest to that being when they were changing signs).

Their Twitter page actually "borrowed" the same Campus Theater page I had linked to (and I am absolutely sure they saw this page), but not only did they not restore the facade (not that I expected them to do so at all but the opportunity was there) it just remained a trashy dance hall, this time named Boulevard 217.

As a "parting shot", here's a from-the-back-seat picture I took of it on the night of October 30, 2014.

Horrible picture, I know, but it gets the point across

Editor's Note: This post was rewritten in 2015, but at the end of 2015, Boulevard 217 closed, and was replaced with Shiner Park, which opened for the fall 2016 semester.

* This was cited from a link from The Eagle (now dead), but the URL indicated it was the June 8 2007 issue, if that helps.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Holleman Drive: A History

Currently updating as part of a site revamp.

Before 1940: As far as we know, this was an unnamed county road (it probably had a number) going from Highway 6 (Wellborn Road) to S. Holik Farm (the border of which is now Glade) (internal link)
1949: "The Knoll" planned out, and built by 1955.
1960s: County Road renamed to Holleman.
1970s: The road builds an extension from Winding Road (where it had previously curved into), re-routing west from its straight-away connection, and going to the modern day Texas Avenue, as well as a little bit past modern-day Lassie.
1972: Pooh's Park opens on the north-of-Texas-Avenue side (source: clipping)
Late 1970s: Tinley's Chicken 'n Rolls opens near Pooh's Park (though their website mentions a 1968 Tinsley's opening?)
Late 1970s or early 1980s: Holleman Drive West opens (likely opened under a different name, though I can't confirm or deny that) and builds its first duplexes along the road. Meanwhile, "Sutton Place" builds off the bypass with several residential lots facing south. None are developed. This why Holleman bends a little toward the highway, it's the old Sutton Place road.
Late 1982/early 1983: Holleman extends to the new bypass to provide access to Post Oak Mall. As a whole, this section is Holleman Drive East (and does not have striping)
Mid 1980s to Late 1980s: Holleman Drive West crosses the railroad (ultimately resulting in the closure of the Luther Street crossing)
1990s: A shopping center (Plantation Shopping Center) builds at the corner of Holleman and Texas Avenue in the early 1990s. Over the years, this would include H-E-B Pantry, then Target, then Hastings (circa 1997), then finally Old Navy (circa 1999)
March 2002: H-E-B opens at the corner of Texas Avenue and Holleman. The new store is much bigger than the Pantry it replaced. The old Pantry is replaced by Gattitown a few years later.
1996: A stoplight is funded for Anderson and Holleman. [source]
Late 1990s: A four way stop is built at Welsh and Holleman, near the Checkers gas station. The eastbound Holleman stop sign is affixed to a metal power pole.
Early 2000s: The Glade stoplight opened. This replaced a four-way blinking light, suspended by four wires, creating an "X" over the intersection. I kind of miss it. Also, in this era (though a few years later) was the Dartmouth stoplight (replaced stop signs) though the area continued to be undeveloped for several years.
November 2004: A road opens from North Dowling Road to Rock Prairie Road W., incorporating part of Abbate. This is called "Jones-Butler Road", in anticipation that it would connect to the Jones-Butler on Holleman.
December 2004: A gas station opens at Harvey Mitchell and Holleman, featuring Rattler's convenience store and Wendy's, as well as a dry cleaners. Subway comes later.
2005: At about this time, Lincoln Center adds on a new addition.
2006: Previously, in the "main stretch" of Holleman, there were four lanes (no left hand turns) from Wellborn to Eleanor (the rest was two lanes with a turn lane and shoulders). In 2006, this is reduced to the four lanes stopping at Oney Hervey. This allows better left-hand turns into Arizona and Oney Hervey. Also, Marion Pugh extends to Holleman.
2007: Holleman opens a stoplight at Harvey Mitchell.
2008: A right-turn yield lane to Harvey Mitchell is added.
2008-2009: At about this time, a four-way stop sign is added near the Lincoln Center. Also, the Lofts at Wolf Pen Creek open, featuring Red Mango, Honeybaked Ham & Deli, and Tutta Pasta. Within a few years, all of these but Red Mango are closed.
Late Summer 2010: Jones-Butler (between North Dowling and Rock Prairie) renames to Holleman Drive South (as well as I-GN between Rock Prairie and North Graham), as Holleman prepares to extend. Around this time, Saddle extends to Holleman.
Spring 2011: Holleman finally finishes its extension to North Dowling. It's four lanes and concrete. The section between North Dowling and Saddle closes for reconstruction.
Summer 2011: The reconstructed area opens, creating a solid Holleman Drive that goes from the mall to North Graham Road. The Cottages of College Station begins construction.
Spring 2012: Deacon Drive builds a small stub off of Holleman Drive South but goes nowhere. It is a nice two lanes + turn lane + bike lanes + sidewalk concrete road with eventual connections into the Barracks. There is a turn lane on Holleman in this area. Despite the speed limit temporarily lowered to 45 MPH during construction, it goes back up to 60 MPH soon after.
Fall 2012: Maroon U opens in the old CC Creations spot.

Originally a small stub extending from the "West Loop" with a few duplexes on it, Holleman expanded with the Woodway duplex subdivision and Woodway Park, with the connection to Holleman completed in late 1985.

Originally, as a result from the abandonment of the I&GN railroad, there were two generally unimproved roads: "I&GN Road", which stretched from Straub to Gandy (it curved east to Gandy), and another unnamed road (which had the tar-and-gravel mix in the 1990s at least) from FM 2818 (it wasn't Harvey Mitchell Parkway at the time) to North Dowling Road. In the late 1990s, this unnamed stretch was renamed as Marion Pugh in preparation to connect to the Marion Pugh segment north of Holleman. However, plans changed (partially because some of the ROW was already bought), and when a new, paved and flattened (at 60 MPH) road that opened in November 2004, Jones-Butler Road, Marion Pugh was soon renamed to Jones-Butler Road after being repaved. The new Jones-Butler Road (with a full four-way stop at North Dowling within less than a year) connected North Dowling Road to Rock Prairie Road. Frustratingly, not too long after Jones-Butler opened, the entire intersection was closed due to culvert installation, forcing cars all the way down to Cain or Rock Prairie, and the construction left a bumpy patch where it had been nicely done less than a year prior.

As the years went on, another segment of Jones-Butler opened, this time connecting Harvey Mitchell Parkway up to where Jones-Butler terminated at Harvey Mitchell Parkway, a right-in-right-out thing. This was originally supposed to go under 2818 when they built the overpass, but TxDOT didn't want to do a longer viaduct and ended up justing cutting it off, so a third plan was formulated. This time, Holleman would curve into the existing Jones-Butler, but due to some land swap issues, wasn't even started until after the FM 2818 overpass project had been completed, forcing the old Jones-Butler segment north of 2818 to be dead-ended, and the south part to be right-in-right-out. North Dowling Road at Harvey Mitchell was also closed.

In 2010, the segment north of Dowling was "de-named" (now just a detour route) with Holleman Drive South being the name adopted for the road between North Graham and North Dowling (part of I&GN had been improved around 2005). Saddle Lane was also extended and repaved in preparation for the detour. In 2011, soon before the overpass completely finished up, Holleman Drive South opened, with many stubs (red barricades with "Road Closed" signs, these were taken down when the Cottages of College Station began construction). Phase One of the detour involved the former Jones-Butler being cut off at Saddle with cars forced to abruptly make a left turn and wind through Quail Run. By 2011, all this was sorted out, though a few things changed: the fall 2012 of the Cottages of College Station (lots of traffic) and the slight, cheap expansion of Holleman at Deacon Drive West in Spring 2012.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Greatest Freeway That Never Was

Formerly "North/South Corridors 1996", which was then modified to "North-South Corridors 1996"

You are in for a treat. Today, we're taking you back to 1996: the North/South Corridor plan (there's a better one from which I saw and make reference to now, but it's no longer at the College Station Library).

The first page is rather interesting, talking about Wellborn Road, "the proposed SH 40", FM 2818, and SH 47, which doesn't sound too terribly far fetched until you realize how different these roads were from their modern forms.

For starters, the intersection of FM 2818 (no one called it "Harvey Mitchell Parkway", that name wasn't adopted until 1999) and Wellborn was not even a stoplight. There were two small lights suspended on wires that blinked red in whichever direction you were facing (these lights are typically found nowadays on highways going through small towns).

SH 40 was 10 years away from opening, and there was nothing in that direction anyway, the North Graham Road stoplight (now gone) was the last sign of civilization until you got to Wellborn, and then Millican. Pebble Creek, conversely, was a truly exurban subdivision: there was practically nothing between Rock Prairie and Greens Prairie (and keep in mind, Kroger and the other commercial developments weren't around).

SH 47 was brand-new and opened that year or late 1995.

The next two pages talk about how things would be improved, and they're substantially different from the way things actually turned out:

The first thing that never happened was that basically what would happen is Wellborn Road would be six-laned between George Bush (newly renamed) and FM 60, with new pedestrian overpasses. Texas A&M balked at that idea (even though it got the green light from TxDOT) and we now have to deal with 35 miles per hour and expensive pedestrian underpasses.

The second thing, and perhaps more important, that never happened is that FM 2818 would become a full freeway between Wellborn and Highway 21, with all-new overpasses being constructed at Leonard Road (currently a stoplight, though I think it had blinking lights at the time, up until maybe the mid-2000s), Turkey Creek Road (the northern Turkey Creek Road), Villa Maria Road, F&B Road, and George Bush Drive.

That pretty much covers all the lights and would-be lights on that section of FM 2818 (and people would likely be much happier today if they had followed through on that). FM 60, of course, already had an interchange by this point (it would be likely reconfigured, however).

Notice that the "freeway" goes up Turkey Creek, as well, going up to the intersection of Carson and Finfeather. I'm guessing this would be the "highway spur" into Bryan (hardly necessary, I'd say) but I guess it's okay since the Beck extension never existed).

I actually kind of like this plan. Like I said, Harvey Mitchell has been polluted with lights with only the occasional new overpass project (as of this writing, there's an overpass project going on at Villa Maria Road), and that doesn't even cover all the driveways and the like going in and out of it: we've touched on the tragedies at Luther Street West and it's only a matter of time before those numerous apartment complexes between Luther and Holleman cause a major accident.

Since it connected to Highway 40...perhaps the new highway would become the "new" SH 40? I suppose it would be fair to have a type of theoretical drive-by how it could've played out, or addressing any problems, as well as change anything obvious. Assuming that the main lanes are complete by 2013 (and we're not going to get into of when they would've been built in this alternate reality, but in many cases it's the frontage roads built first), our person works at College Station High School, which was built in 2012, and drives down Victoria Avenue to the stoplight at Texas 40 and Victoria (in this alternate reality, it's NOT named William D. Fitch Parkway). He gets on the freeway, passing by the Barron Road exit, and notices that the frontage road merges into the same road as he heads north toward home (meanwhile, the frontage road begins in the southbound direction for the Barron Road exit). He then notices the Wellborn Road exit, but passes over it. It's designed in a similar way that University Drive and Wellborn used to be (before they rebuilt it circa 2011-2012).

He notices the Rock Prairie Road exit next. The Rock Prairie Road exit is a bit of a strange thing. The intersection with the northbound frontage road (which parallels the railroad) and Rock Prairie Road has a stoplight. Cross the railroad and it's another stoplight as it crosses Wellborn Road. It used to be a much busier road back in the day, and could've been a lot busier. It's a two way road with bike paths and a turning lane, and has numerous businesses on it, like Koppe Bridge and Ace Hardware. He wondered if Ace would've gone out of business if Wellborn had gone through expansion much later than it did. He also thought about the railroad crossings and other businesses that used to be along the stretch. The terrifying Cain Road crossing (steep hills, sharp drop-offs, didn't even align with the road very much) or the North Graham crossing were now just memories. There also used to be a plant nursery near North Graham. It would've been closed anyway by now. It was a good thing the Rock Prairie crossing wasn't on the left side: back on Interstate 10 in Houston, people trying to turn right on smaller roads to go home would get backed up by the train, dumping traffic back onto the freeway. Not good.

The frontage roads disappeared as it went over the intersection of Marion Pugh Road and North Dowling Road. Early plans, which were not on the smaller 1996 map distributed by mail, showed an interchange right over the roads. Rather, the highway just went over it. Ultimately, they built an interchange at Harvey Mitchell Parkway, the remaining portion of FM 2818. It intersected with Marion Pugh at a stoplight, then crossed the railroad (an overpass had been planned here but scuttled). It too had relatively low traffic. It was a major boulevard to get to Texas Avenue, but it wasn't a major highway or thoroughfare.

Holleman Drive was next as the frontage roads re-appeared. Holleman crossed under the highway and slowly curved into Dowling near Woodlands Drive. What if Holleman curved back around to Marion Pugh, creating a very twisty road? Perish the thought.

He passed Luther Street West, divided into Poultry Science Road and Luther Street West (it was a dangerous crossing back in the 1990s), then George Bush Drive (a popular exit for university traffic), then Raymond Stotzer Parkway (to the airport, or the university: also both extremely popular). Back in 1996, the set-up used to be different, as you could turn directly from 2818 to the on-ramp.

Eventually, the divided highway would end at 21. But that's (possibly) not all. Imagine a way for the highway from SH 40 to continue west, possibly as a divided highway to Austin (some areas of 21 are in need of a rehab anyway). There could be a bypass on Caldwell, and so forth. Better yet, looking south, since Highway 6 South had gotten a rehab in the mid-2000s (and just got some new frontage roads and an overpass at Peach Creek Road in the mid-1990s), we could continue our "new" highway even further down south. Maybe connect it to Highway 249, the future "Aggie Expressway".

In any case, I think that FM 2818 especially in that area between Holleman and Villa Maria would be so much better as on overpass. No tons of stoplights, no driveways. Just enter the freeway and accelerate.

The final page of the thing I scanned is nothing interesting: just has the 409 area code we had until circa 1997, plus the receipt I used to clumsily cover the address.