Friday, June 22, 2012

Northgate: University Drive

Flickr photo from "treyerice", showing Northgate as it was. Regrettably, they took out on-street parking a few years back.

This has always been one of the posts I originally wanted to make for a long while, cobbling together various pieces and trying to decide what I wanted to do. At one time, I considered "Northgate: Urban Core or Student Wasteland", and a SEPARATE one for College Main. I also wanted to call a post "Requiem for a Loupot's", too, and the Loupot's building stayed on the page before it got its own page as one of the "post script" posts. Eventually it ballooned into a full fledged post on almost everything that was bounded by Wellborn, University, College Avenue, and the Bryan city limits, but it got too unruly and I eventually started to re-focus it to the University stretch. Even that got out of hand, so check out the new directory page. The result will be just a shell to be able to make comments on the page, though I will likely write full posts for those that have more information than little more than a picture (so, something like one of the bars with constantly change, likely, Chipotle, likely not). Please note that because of this change, there are a number of items here that are out of date. You can write comments saying that things like Notes-n-Quotes, Schotzi's, or Basil Whippet's are gone...I am aware of this.

One of the items I found after this post was originally published, was a copy of "Northgate Historical Resources", which cleared up some misunderstandings on where everything was.

This post goes west to east on University Drive from Wellborn Road to College Avenue and begins at the underpass. Most of us can't remember life without it. It was the first (to my knowledge, and do correct me if I'm wrong) railroad bypass project of the county, but it wasn't always that way. Originally it was "Sulphur Springs Road" (not to be confused to the one in Bryan), and had a railroad spur paralleling it. The overpass was added in the 1960s, after the abandonment of I-GN Railroad (that's why the railroad is dead-on to you when approaching from the south). I wanted to add a photo from Project HOLD of the overpass when it was being built, and there is one elsewhere on this blog which I'll add at a later date.

For me, a trip down University Drive usually involved zipping down the long Yield lane down toward University (which is no longer, even more so since they wrecked Dulie Bell, passing the Deluxe Diner, which often included its menu in the quasi-dining guide I got from the George Bush Library (you can see a recreation of it below), passing by the large building that later had Schotzi's (plus "Skybar", which is owned by Schotzi's) and Zapatos Cantina. Years ago it once had a large DoubleDave's advertisement but DoubleDave's has moved on. Although there are no longer DoubleDave's off campus easily accessible (best you could try for is Texas Avenue Crossing way over at the golf course end), there are DoubleDave's in Texas and beyond.

The first building on this stretch to still exist is Chimy's Cerveceria at 203 University Drive, which was formerly the aforementioned Deluxe, as covered by our new (1/16) post. The numbering starts at 203, since what would be 201, "Boyett Distr. Co." was demolished for what would be the overpass. Looking at a site like Historic Aggieland shows what appears to be a gas station, and apparently it was indeed a Magnolia Oil gas station, which was the origin of the "Pegasus" logo of Mobil.

The "Onion Ring"

Next to the Deluxe Diner is a building with metal siding, 205 University. While it was an eatery called M&M Grill (not to be confused with A&M Grill of the distant past) in the mid-1990s, it was later the flagship location of DoubleDave's PizzaWorks, until it moved off of Northgate for good in 2006. Today, the old DoubleDave's sign can still be visible under the new Schotzi's bar name, with the "Sky Bar" above. You can see in pictures on Yelp, it used to be Skyybar. Schotzi's has live music, which it usually advertises.

Directly next to Schotzi's was The Ranch (209 University), which actually filed in the New Development as "Aquarium Bar", but that never came to past. This used to be Aggieland Flowers & Gifts until around the mid-2000s.

Next to that was Zapatos Cantina at 211 University. Zapatos closed in spring 2013 after Chimy's opened (probably because it was better overall for a similar menu/theme) but one thing that many people don't know is Zapatos Cantina was in fact the original DoubleDave's PizzaWorks location on Northgate (but not the original-original, that is the modern day Coco Loco). Like Bill's next to it, this was once "Don's Barber Shop" in the early 1970s.

A long time ago. I dare say the pizza rolls were better than they are now (Project HOLD)

There was also a barber, "Bill's Style Shop" at 215 University but eventually Bill retired and the space was absorbed into Zapatos Cantina, which eventually became Wobbly Monkey. The original Zapatos section (DoubleDave's) was not part of the deal, but Wobbly Monkey never lasted more than two semesters because the owner sold out. It is now Northgate Juice Joint, which will use part of the outdoor space for an urban garden. Interesting.

Before Bill's, in the early 1970s, this was "Andre's Bicycle Shop".

No alcohol served here, then or now.

At the corner of Boyett and University, where a new stoplight is being built to be the "main entrance" of Northgate, it's a pretty trashy intersection as it stands now. As of this writing, Boulevard 217, the latest in a revolving door of trashy dance halls, and besides, that nasty wood siding replaced the finest (and only) example of Art Deco this city ever had. Read more there for the history of that building.

The other side of Boyett holds a Citgo, which used to be an E-Z Mart. Read more about that here.

One of the cool things about the core of Northgate is that it resembled a bit of an "Old Western" town. Unfortunately, since it was built in the 20th century as mentioned before, FM 60 was not a land of horses, shootouts, and the occasional hanging back in the old days, but as a kid growing up in College Station, it gave it some semblance of something different. Unfortunately, in 2012, the city slapped up a cheap-looking pedestrian barrier, making the area less appealing to the eye.

Information on the current "The Backyard" restaurant and the former Fitzwilly's can be found here, the 303 University tenant.

305 University
Next to The Backyard is a Northgate staple, the Dry Bean Saloon. Like its name suggests, the front resembles something from a different time: a time of horses, shootouts, and the occasional hanging. The ugly pedestrian barrier brings down the appearance of the whole area (as if Northgate wasn't already a bit unsightly).

A shot bar that doesn't allow anyone under 21 in, the building wasn't Dry Bean Saloon until the early 1990s, as prior to it was Sticky Chin's, an ice cream parlor which opened sometime in the late 1980s (and was still open in 1990). At one time, this was a hobby store ("Hobby World of Texas", '72)

307-309 University
"The Chicken" has been a Northgate fixture since 1974. Prior to that was the ""Aggie Den", a pool hall, where (supposedly, since we only have a forum thread mentioning this) you could buy and sell pornographic magazines (they covered the walls, after all), watch porn, or smoke (the last one being a bit of a no-brainer, of course, everyone smoked inside back in the day). It was bought, cleaned up, renamed and played country by Don Ganter. It soon served alcohol, and the rest is history. There was a bar next door (Miranda's, a fern bar), the only major remnant of being it was a painting not covered up by wood (near the snake cage). This was added in 1982 where Dixie Chicken started serving hamburgers. Prior to this expansion, the Chicken only served cheese and summer sausage. Miranda's was at 309 University and the older of the two buildings.

The Aggie Den was not just a nickname for the Adult Arcade, an adult-oriented establishment in the upper level of the Loupot's building, which was raided (illegally, as it turned out later) by the DA. This I remember reading about in a newspaper archive, but the Adult Arcade was a much sleazier place (as in, almost exclusively X-rated films). It was indeed in that place since the late 1960s or early 1970s (as confirmed by a phone book), but did serve some sort of food, possibly summer sausage and cheese like Dixie Chicken did.

Between Dry Bean and Dixie Chicken is "Bottlecap Alley", a small area strewn with thousands of bottlecaps, many of which have rusted into dust due to rain (and urine).


311 University
Home to Duddley's Draw, owned by the same company as Dixie Chicken. It replaced a beer-and-pizza place called Ralph's Pizza back in the 1970s, and is known to be less of a "redneck" place than the Chicken is. This used to have the address of 313 University.

315-317 University
A bit more complicated. In the late 1980s, the space of 317 was Cow Hop (owned by Gideon's, see below), which had by then expanded to the adjacent (tiny) space of 315 University. However, it closed and moved out to University Square, leaving the combined space to a large bar called The Bullseye, which by 1995 closed and became two bars: "The Alley" (315) and "King of the Roadhouse" (317). Soon after, The Alley would become a bar called Coupe de Ville with the Cow Hop returning to its original space (by 1999). Both closed soon enough: Coupe De Ville was crushed by a lawsuit filed in the early 2000s when a young man who turned 21 died from alcohol poisoning. As it turns out, Coupe De Ville's drinks were extremely potent: all of them had names that bragged about how high they were in alcohol: names like "Bad Mother****er, Liquid Cocaine and DWI" (as says the Houston Press--and no, in the real bar, there were no blanking out obscenities). The Flaming Frog's Ass was mostly Everclear (190 proof), and a few contained 151-proof rum (three shots each). By the time police found him that morning, the man's blood alcohol level was .48.

Eventually, both became bars: there was "Bar 315" which closed in March 2012, and Mad Hatters, which remains today. Many an Aggie in the 1980s and 1990s remember getting a "Cow Pie with Fries" from Cow Hop. TABC records mention a place at 317 called "Big Pauly's Garlic Room" (Goodfellas reference?), but I don't think it ever opened (voluntarily cancelled TABC license--would've opened sometime in late 2001 or early 2002).

Sure, this is for the spin-off at Culpepper Plaza and not actually of the Northgate original, but it's a better copy overall from what I have.

In the early 1970s, 315 was "Sound Shop" and 317 was "Burger Hut".

319-327 University
Freebirds World Burrito, Wells Fargo, and Texas Aggieland Bookstore occupy the next building over. At 321 University, there was the original location of "Charlie's Grocery", the first grocery store in College Station. Also known as "Luke and Charlie's", the grocery store wouldn't impress anyone today, and by the time it disappeared in the mid-1980s, it was a joke compared to supermarkets such as the Skaggs Alpha Beta down the road. It was also becoming increasingly irrelevant as similarly-sized UtoteM convenience stores sprouted around the area. Some space was ceded to Texas Aggie Bookstore (327). At one time in the 1980s prior to Freebirds, there was a bar/restaurant called Billy Jack's (319), which also fed off of the old space from Charlie's. Freebirds World Burrito arrived in 1991. Briefly, Texas Aggie Bookstore assumed the old Charlie's space, before it became Wells Fargo. Today, Texas Aggie Bookstore is the Texas AggieLand Bookstore, forced by a name change.

In the early 1970s, they were all small tenants: 319 was Godfrey's Restaurant, 321 was still Charlie's Grocery, 323 was Varsity Barber Shop, 325 was Jeans n Things, and 327 was Texas Aggie Bookstore (much, much smaller).

329 University
Beyond that is Basil Whippet's Pub & Apothecary Lounge, a bar that opened in 2010. Basil Whippet's used to be, briefly, the rap-oriented BMO's in 2009, and before that The Library. While having a bar with a name like that is a classic pun and a convenient excuse to go out drinking, The Library closed in 2008 or 2009 due to poor sales. It also had problems when allegations of racism surfaced. That being said, The Library had a surprisingly long life for a non-"main strip" bar, opening in 2000. Before that, it was "Crooked Path", before that before THAT it was "Equinox" (early to mid 1990s, I'm told) and before that, Northgate Café. Northgate Café did have live music.

From at least 1980 up to the early 1990s, it was Farmer's Market Sandwich Shop, a limited menu version (it later became full line) of Farmer's Market Bakery and Delicatessen in Bryan. It sold sandwiches, soups, salads, and fresh baked goods before becoming Gideon's Farmer's Market (adding catered meats to the Bryan location and pasta, pastries, and beer to the Northgate location--free delivery to dorms, too), and then closing the Northgate location, which became Equinox (the Bryan location closed later). It was somewhere in the long history of being Gideon's/Farmer's Market that it absorbed 331 University, the next to last home to On the Double copying. The building has had a few exterior updates; unfortunately, I don't have pictures I can readily show you (yet).

Mid-1970s, too!

Prior to Farmer's Market, the space was a place called "The Tavern", with the upstairs split between an insurance company and brokers.

As of November 2015, coverage of the Loupot's that was on this page can be found here.

Across College Main is the Sparks Building. Information on the Sparks Building can be found here, in the post linked.

409 University
There's a building that contains a Starbucks Coffee, Potbelly Sandwich Works, and Domino's Pizza, from right to left. Up until around the mid 2000s, the entire building was the University Bookstore (ANOTHER bookstore, yes). According to MyBCS, it closed in February 2006 and was replaced with the new stores by years-end. Though apparently Starbucks had replaced a jewelry store.

Summer 2013.

Just past 409 University is A&M United Methodist Church (417 University), which we'll take a closer look later on (even then, not much more than photos).

Aggieland Credit Union at 501 University Drive has been there for a long time, but it used to be Pizza Hut (yes, even though Pizza Hut is still there at University and Texas). Cycles Etc. (505 University Drive) used to be a different bicycle shop (Cycle Spectrum, apparently), though Cycles Etc. has been in the same place since '98. FedEx Office (509 University) used to be FedEx Kinko's, and before that Kinko's. It also looks like part of the building was demolished and rebuilt later. Apparently it used to be a large patio for a Mexican restaurant/bar that used to be here. I do have pictures of at least some of these, but I'm choosing not to add them for now.

601 University Drive
This once was a more interesting building. As of this writing, this is now a very large Subway, but it wasn't always that way. From what I can tell, this place was built in the late 1980s. In terms of recent history, this was once the home of Rusty Taco, which used to be Papa John's until about 2009-2010. I snapped this picture in 2011 that has some sort of "Treats" listed. The Subway has always been there. Rusty Taco on the other hand, was a 24 hour taqueria, but the summer hours were severely restricted in summer 2012, turning it into a mostly lunch-based option, and it closed around the time the fall 2012 semester started.

Prior to Rusty Taco's move in

I don't have a menu of the Rusty Taco (I remember seeing it on the Internet, but can't find it).

The Rusty Taco, as mentioned above, lasted from about October 2011 to September 2012, and Yelp! is the best resource if you'd like to read more (and it pictures of the front, too!). It was a cheap taco place--cheaper than Fuego--and it showed--the tacos were $2-$3 each and were full of meat, with the flagship item being the "Rusty Taco", a taco filled with reddish-colored meat. It was a chain that had locations in the Dallas area (and has two in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, oddly enough), and put in the old Papa John's, even incorporating a garage door in the restaurant in lieu of windows, creating a hybrid open-air restaurant. The beer was cheap ($1 Pearl), and it was open 24 hours.

According to a guy who worked at the Daily Ruckus (not anymore since that also closed), Rusty Taco's pricing was such that breakfast tacos were cheaper (usually egg-based than meat-based) but the profit margins were much thinner. Not that they were grotesquely overpriced--the tortillas were small and tasted no better than what you could find in a grocery store--but for whatever reason, it didn't work out. Hours were severely cut back in the summer of 2012, and it perished shortly after school started for the 2012-2013 year.

The intriguing part is the fact that this building was once known as (on paper at least) as the University Food Court (from the New Development listings). Since two restaurants (much less one) is hardly a food court, the building once had THREE options: Baskin-Robbins, Little Caesar's, and Subway. I did recently recover a black and white photo that had all three. It should also be noted that Smoothie King took over in the late 1990s ever so briefly (also a bit funny since Papa John's and Smoothie King have Underground outlets), but that eventually disappeared. I don't remember being inside of Papa John's, did they have an eat-in area?

609 University
The Shell used to have the "old Shell" logo. It also has gas priced ten cents higher than elsewhere. The Zip'N here has been around for many years.

701 University
Notes-n-Quotes has been in its current location since 1992. It used to be an Exxon station, and that was still listed in a 1989 directory (as "Dean's Exxon"). Behind it is Jin's Asian Café and Lippman Music. It's possible that the Exxon suffered and/or closed due to a road widening.

Next we have the late BB&T site, its legacy finished after decades of bank use, the the Rise at Northgate (that's a link back to our post on it, not their website) and its CVS at the bottom of it, and across the street, a Taco Bell, which we covered here.

Behind Taco Bell lies what was University Square, a shopping center largely untouched from its groundbreaking in the early 1970s, until very recently. Texas A&M students lost the opportunity to eat at Fat Burger or Hebert's Cajun Food, an incredibly sad double blow, since both had been there since the early 1990s.

There's a McDonald's, which includes a studying area part of the restaurant (well, DESIGNED for studying anyway--it's basically a different dining room) and built on the site of the first McDonald's in the area, and a Chipotle, the last building in the block not owned by University Square/Legacy Point. The Chipotle (815 University Drive) used to be a Mobil gas station until its demolition in the late 1990s/early 2000s for a Chipotle. I always thought it was cool back circa 2003 how McDonald's owned both the McDonald's chain and the Chipotle chain (they later spun it off). This we do not have a picture for.

This is worth noting because Chipotle and Freebirds started out very similarly, except it was Chipotle who had the angel investor (McDonald's) that turned into a national brand. One wonders if it was Freebirds, not Chipotle, that McDonald's bought.

There's even a Chipotle on University Drive East, near the bypass, but they're the only two in town.

And that's it. Sure, a good other portion of Northgate isn't covered, including Church Avenue, but we did cover Boyett. College Main businesses I have put back up (and it was expanded), and Church Avenue is covered elsewhere (that did have originally-cut material).

v53 (9/20/16): Removed the entry for what was the BB&T due to another article outsource.
v52 (1/22/16): Rebuilt intro paragraph to outsource Chimy's and some other things.
v51 (11/1/15): Removed Loupot's as it received its own post.
v50 (9/20/15): Removed 609 University (the Shell) to be on the new directories page, announced further cuts.

For the rest of the updates that used to be listed here, please visit this link.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Der Wienerschnitzel

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

501 South Texas Avenue

The Wienerschnitzel (called "Der Wienerschnitzel" in the early days) on Texas Avenue is definitely a relic. That is a good thing: there are simply too few A-frame Wienerschnitzels left in the wild. I don't know this particular restaurant's opening, but I saw it in local newspapers (The Eagle, of course) back in the early 1970s, and this type was no longer built after 1973. There's no interior seating (only a few concrete seating benches inside), the drive-through is low and narrow, the storeroom is accessed on the other side of the store (they load food supplies in the second level), and it's slightly overpriced for a hot dog, but it's AWESOME. I even got a shot of the kitchen when no one was working there.

Here's the only photo that's not mine, a photo by Greg D. of Yelp:

There used to be a Wienerschnitzel in College Station, near Walmart but it no longer exists.

EDIT July 8: It is quite possible that this is the oldest continuously operating restaurant in Bryan, but there's Pepe's, and Martin's, operating since maybe the 1940s. Although since Martin's is sometimes closed seasonally, I guess it could arguably be Pepe's.

EDIT May 12, 2013 - Updated to new format, removed then-current preview materials, one of which alluded to the Northgate post, and a "barrage of material for the fall", which amounted to about a dozen posts in varying quality.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

At Park Place and Harvey

Editor's Note: The reason this post is what it is has been due to a change in formatting. It was formerly known as "Tales of Defunct Restaurants IV", and originally featured others. Crazy Cajuns' can be found on this page. with Souper Salad at Culpepper Plaza's page. Jin's will come back soon.

Long John Silver's
What was later a strip center with the restaurant in the next entry, LJS's resembled the one in Bryan further up Texas Avenue, except it had a problem. It was shut down circa 2004 when it was discovered it was a front for a drug operation (not like the Gumby's, which only looks like one). A few people remember it besides me, but I can't remember the newspaper article.

Doc Green's
Doc Green's, a soup/salad/sandwich chain out of the Atlanta area, made its first stand in Texas here in late 2007 (and in Austin a few months later). Unfortunately, neither one did particularly well. The Austin one closed up in less than a year due to back taxes being owed, and the College Station one puttered out within a few years. The space is now a sushi bar Naked Fish, which tends to get lousy health reviews.

I vaguely remember Mazzio's. It was a pizza/Italian place that closed around 1997 or so, after only staying in business for about ten years. I haven't seen too many Mazzio's lately in other areas, but Mazzio's was replaced by local place Harvey Washbangers, which has stayed in business since at least 2001. Washbanger's main gimmick was doing laundry while eating, and surprisingly, through some ups and downs, is still doing well. The current incarnation is known for craft beers and good, often unique, hamburgers.

Around 2011 or so, a new commercial building was built behind the existing buildings, but only holds a generic "DIY Dogwash" and the new location of SysTek (formerly located next to Doc Green's/Naked Fish), which became a cash store. The commercial building at Park Place and Texas Avenue also holds a Verizon.

To the north is another strip center that used to hold a Blockbuster, and now holds a used video game store (which I do like), Yogurtland, and a few other service-oriented tenants. The space on the left (Game X-Change) used to be Texas Avenue Cigars, which moved not too long after its owner, Jess Fields, became a councilman on the city. The strip center appears to be built at the exact same time as Mazzio's, as the brick and awnings are the exact same.

The Harvey Road/Texas Avenue stoplight is not quite elevated over Wolf Pen Creek, but it's close. At the southeast corner is a church, the northwest corner is JJ's Liquor. The JJ's Liquor has been in operation since the early 1970s as simply Discount Liquor Store. JJ's bought it in the late 1970s or early 1980s, and even today, under its current owner, Spec's (which kept it open, despite a nicer, newer, and larger store across the street), it still looks very much the same as it did before.
Southbound on Texas Avenue, March 2014.
Southbound on Texas Avenue, March 2014. Another view.

[Update 8/12/14: imported JJ's to the page]

Thursday, June 14, 2012

[Side Stories] Texas 47

Texas 47 was a highway of the 1990s, a short stretch running in west Bryan beginning sometime around 1997 or so. (Wikipedia says '87, but it didn't EXIST even in 1995)

First off is how it works: it's not really a "full" highway, either in the limited access state or even how to get on. It's mostly to get from College Station/TAMU area to the I-35 corridor area (Austin, New Braunfels, San Marcos, Temple, Killeen, San Antonio). That's why there are full ramps heading west out on 21 and west from FM 60, and ramps headed in those opposite directions. There's access turning eastbound from 47 and westbound from 47 to FM 60, but not any heading into 47 from those opposite directions. But I'm sure that if you're reading this blog, you're probably familiar with it, and not much more needs to be said.

What's neat about 47 is that's theres trees and rolling hills, making it a great no-sprawl gateway to A&M. There was one overpass built at Villa Maria (which extended out that area in the 1990s, replacing a part of Jones) built about 2009, but don't quote me on that.

But forces are underway to change that. The city of Bryan (and possibly College Station) tax based on zoning. Zoned commercial, you pay commercial taxes, which are higher than residential. Unfortunately (and very much UNLIKE SimCity, for instance), the city can zone property as commercial under someone's own property.

On Villa Maria and TX-47, someone (who my family knows, and thus, by extension, me) owns a large piece of property. It's some beautiful wooded area and there's even a metal-cut Reveille near the entrance. It's one of the sprawling areas on 47 that make it the "garden entrance" to B-CS, and those aren't my words.

Unfortunately, some folks at Bryan decided that the land would make more money as a commercial pad, possibly a gas station with fast food. They didn't have the right to force her and her family off the property, so they just zoned her land as commercial and started to bleed her dry because of taxes. That land is now for sale as of about a year ago: I don't know what's it's like now.

We should not use taxes to force people off land, or destroy good-looking rural parts in favor of more money. Can you imagine the riots if Bryan used this "tactic" on poor neighborhoods in Bryan? The way that you can re-zone ground under other's feet is wrong and while the people doing this may be within the law, it's a horrible thing to do.

The other thing notable about 47 was that it changed the way Riverside Campus was accessed. Prior to its building, there was an may have had a stoplight, maybe was before my time.

I also like to imagine that the railroad was still connected, or at least had remnants. Maybe overgrown trackage on either side with those overhead lights (but no gates!) popular with older Texas highways.

Today, the "original access" to Riverside Campus is nothing more than a forgotten dead end.

One more the 2000s (I think its finally overgrown) there were tire treads where instead of turning and going over 21 in preparation to merge, one unfortunate soul went forward and went off the steep end.

UPDATE 8/11/13: Updated to Side Stories format, removed some of the colorful language originally

Friday, June 8, 2012

[Side Stories] Millican and the South End of Wellborn Road

Millican is one of those places in Brazos County that is neither College Station or Bryan, which is a refreshing change in pace.

The great joy of the few times of driving down Wellborn Road (back when College Station ended at Graham Road/TX-40 and Wellborn was seemingly a charming urban oasis) was Millican.

Unlike the sad fate of Wellborn, Millican IS incorporated, so the biggest threat is becoming a bedroom community to College Station.

What makes Millican interesting is...a few reasons. For one, it's got one of the few places south in Bryan to make use of the railroad, a small fertilizer plant called American Plant Food Corporation, though unlike El Dorado in Bryan, doesn't seem to be much more than a huge warehouse. Secondly, FM 2154 tends to peel back from the railroad, still paralleling it, but at a distance of about a block away, to get things like a fertilizer plant in there. Secondly, it used to be far bigger than it used to be. Today it's around 100 people. Back in the Civil War days (1864), when it was the railroad terminus, the population was 3,000. This dwindled when the railroad expanded and hit Bryan in 1866, which caused Millican to lose the distinguished "railroad terminus", and just within a few years the population was in sharp decline. By 1867, there was yellow fever running through town, and by 1868 race riots had cost more lives, and by this time it already had less than half of the population it had four years prior (1,200). The last chance for Millican came when Phillips Petroleum Company dug a 17,000-foot well, but no oil was found. So, when the highway bypassed Millican in 1930, that was essentially the last straw and it got to the state it is now.

The other cool thing about it is that FM 2154 is that there's a large stop sign and a blinking light (or at least there was: a 2008 Google Street View image has the stop sign but no light on the sign...or maybe I was just imagining the blinking light on the sign) at FM 159, which if you travel north, the next stop is at Wellborn, and if you go right on FM 159, it will turn into Rock Prairie (eventually).

While it is kind of depressing that it shrunk so much (at its peak, it wasn't much smaller than Hearne and Caldwell are today), and of course it died before it got a chance to construct a "real downtown", it probably had to be done to allow Bryan and College Station to become larger. After all, had the railroad not extended out to Bryan, A&M would've been placed in Navasota, and history would be altered. Or if the oil well had struck gold, Navasota would be remembered as some dinky little community with a collection of houses and a graveyard, and maybe where Robert de LaSalle was killed (which he was). Millican would be the one with a downtown, fast food, a few hotels, a small high school, a Wal-Mart, and a Brookshire Brothers, and would become a bedroom community sooner than it would be.

Going a bit farther than Millican and entering Navasota (the ETJ, anyway: and yes, Millican is served by the NISD) we reach the end of FM 2154, which is not Wellborn Road at this point.

The current Wellborn Road ends on the first interchange of Brazos County, as Highway 6 (I use "Highway 6" and "Texas 6" interchangeably around here, so bear with me here) is limited access. It's also in the Navasota ETJ. For years, Highway 6 was an extremely dangerous highway past Greens Prairie, as there were no turn lanes or frontage roads. The many driveways, the slight hills, and the propensity for wildlife to suddenly come darting out of nowhere, were a significant danger to drivers, and the FM 2154 intersection was no exception. Sure, it was the only road in the stretch to have a dedicated left hand turn lane for the road, and that saved people's lives. Everywhere else was a death trap, with some horrifying accidents coming from it. I plan on covering Texas 6 at some point.

The current picture from Google Earth, showing both the current Wellborn Road, the older Wellborn Road segment until circa 2007, and a very old segment that connects Wellborn Road directly into Highway 6, lacks one important detail that made that area kind of special. There was a gas station, which I vaguely remember as having a small convenience store but many pumps. It was built after 1995, apparently, and torn down in less than a decade than when it was built. I don't think it was even any brand name.

A poster thinks the gas station was called "Victoria's" but I have no way of knowing that. On June 14, 2012, I changed the name of the post to read "South End" of Wellborn Road to coincide with a post I'm updating. May 31st, this got a Side Stories label.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Campus Pointe

My apologies if you found your way here. I removed this page until more real information comes or something.

You likely found your way here from University Apartments, which are doomed as of this writing. Sure, they weren't the nicest apartments in town (they at least had concrete foundations, something which most other apartments of that era lack) but they did have other amenities.

For other "doomed structures", you can check out this piece from Houston (our only Houston post, by the way).

The University shouldn't have destroyed the MSC, either. Well, we still have it, but it's been gutted and rebuilt.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Ramada Inn / University Tower / Plaza Hotel

410 Texas Avenue South

Out with a bang! (The Eagle)

410 Texas Avenue South

Joe Ferreri built a tower for College Station, the tallest tower between Houston and Dallas. His dreams went unrealized when it opened right before a recession, and just over three decades later (also in a recession), he helped destroy the tower you built and saw his creation, a 17-floor tower, crumble into a heap of concrete.

That building was the Plaza Hotel, but it wasn't always that way.

The story goes that Joe Ferreri was a successful restaurateur in town, and James Earl Rudder himself (long before getting a tower, a high school, a dormitory, and a freeway named after him, but after becoming a World War II hero) approached him with a business proposal.

Rudder explained that he was having trouble recruiting faculty to A&M because professors’ wives thought the town was boring. The solution, Rudder proposed, was a hotel across from campus with an Olympic-sized swimming pool, a banquet hall and a faculty club.

Ferreri wasn’t so sure. But the former Navy soldier said he knew he couldn’t say no.

“When a general says, ‘Do this or this,’ you say, ‘Yes, sir,’” Ferreri said.

Imagine seeing this beautiful sight traveling down Texas 6! Doesn't it look nice on a postcard?

At the corner of FM 60 and State Highway 6, College Station's first chain motel (maybe?), Ramada Inn, opened, complete with a tall, lit "Uncle Ben", Ramada's mascot. It delivered on all of Mr. Rudder's wishes and opened circa 1965. Replacing much of the Gorzcynski's Meadowland subdivision, the hotel thrived, eventually being the genesis of multiple hotels being opened on that part of Texas Avenue.

In the early 1960s (1960-1964, I was unable to nail down an exact date), when the Ramada Inn opened, it was the fanciest thing in town. Replacing eight homes that sat on the property, and outstripping the MSC in class and elegance, the Ramada had both motel-oriented rooms and hotel oriented rooms. It was also the only place to drink in town due to dry laws. Like many fancy hotels, during the 1970s, it held a few small retail tenants besides the restaurant, a travel agency and a hair salon (The Hair of Affairs)

When the Ramada was getting consistently full on a nightly basis, it had to expand, so parking was placed behind Meadowland (replacing more homes, of course) and a 17 floor tower was built in 1980-1982. The construction involved demolishing the east end of the hotel and enclosing the swimming pool under a huge glass skylight. The top four floors were sold out as loft-style housing to wealthy Aggie alumni, all of which got rich off of the oil boom.

"I thought I was doing something for the city and the college by going up with the high rise to indicate that this is now not a town but getting ready to be a city. That is the image I was trying to create,"

College Station had survived the 1970s recessions and was quickly becoming a major city. The city had expanded well beyond the "far end of town" (FM 2818) and was quickly expanding south. In 1982 the city gained a modern (if small) shopping mall, and it seemed College Station would keep growing. In 1984, a Hilton opened further down University Drive.

Beefeaters: The restaurant in Ramada in the mid-1970s. What exactly is "heavy beef"?

All about this time, the oil bust came. Houston and College Station were hit hard. Jobs were lost. Banks closed. Real estate plummeted. Joe Ferreri lost practically everything he had in bankruptcy in 1987, including his hotel that he ran and managed. Ramada Inn ended up pulling the plug on the hotel and moving to an existing hotel further south on Texas Avenue. Ferreri ended up going back to restaurants and opened an Italian restaurant in the former Ira's in the Kmart parking lot.

In fall 1989, the building was reopened as a combination hotel and upscale student dormitory. Gone was the Ramada Inn name, as the company was now in a smaller building further down on Texas Avenue. Rather than Joe Ferreri, control went to California-based financier Leonard M. Ross, who renamed the building (Ross isn't exactly loved or respected). UNIVERSITY TOWER shown from red neon to afar, but it soon fell into disrepair, partially because the hotel part disappeared more and more each year until finally becoming student dorms entirely in early 1994.

Despite what happened to the building, University Tower still put on an upscale face. (from the June 1990 InSite Magazine)

Horror stories of students living in the tower are still whispered to this day throughout message boards and real life. Tales of no hot water or broken down elevators live on and you'll be hard pressed to find someone who lived in and enjoyed the Tower after maybe the first or second year it opened.

Ross eventually converted more of the dorms back into regular rooms (with a gala in the top level suite, Buzz Aldrin as the guest of honor) and renamed the hotel as the Plaza Hotel & Suites circa 2004, which replaced the University Tower brandings with a large "P", but it just looked cheap and ugly. All during this time, Ross simultaneously hawked the site to the city in their quest for a convention center site while letting the hotel go to waste (it's worth noting, for instance, that Ross also owned the fourplexes at Meadowland, which were nasty enough to have the hotel at 104 Texas Avenue seal off its back entrance.

In 2007 (about three years after the Plaza name took over), a kid drowned in the swimming pool. In 2008, the kitchen scored a 47 on health reports due to no hot water, which almost never happens (in the University Tower days, it offered a cafeteria, which I bet was nothing worth talking about). After continued problems (and terrible, terrible hotel reviews) the hotel shut down for good in 2010 and sat abandoned for over a year.

It started to get reports of vandals and trespassers, and eventually the windows on the top level suite were knocked out and had to be patched with plywood. In in late 2011 the hotel was sold off as the holdings of Ross went bankrupt. I don't know if he's sold off his $165 million mansion in Beverly Hills yet, but there you go.

In January, the building was planned to be renovated once more as student housing, with the "design [being] complementary to the Texas A&M campus". But after some consideration: perhaps either what they wanted to do with the rest of the land, or the enormous cost it would be just to renovate it to make it up to code, much less make it attractive to students, so it was soon decided that the building would be flattened entirely, and it was announced that on May 24, 2012, it would be completely leveled. After donating the furniture (probably not the mattresses), recycling any material they could, and letting the police and fire departments use it for training, it was gutted, making the building resemble a parking garage (albeit a tall, narrow one) more than anything.

Thousands showed up to the implosion, crowding the streets, making it there quite early (or in some cases, extremely late). It was a diverse crowd: students that stayed for the summer, families, the old and the young alike. After a ten minute delay, 6:40 AM was the moment the quarter-ton of dynamite in the upper levels detonated and the building crumbled to the ground, with one of the four people imploding it Joe Ferreri himself, along with the mayors of College Station and Bryan, plus TAMU chancellor John Sharp (can't resist a chance at publicity).

People cheered, a massive dust cloud blew toward Bryan, and every car alarm in the public viewing area went off. Tons of videos were uploaded (the most views being someone dressed as the Joker, but the video was removed). Also, reader John E. of Southern Retail was in town soon after the demo and took a few shots of the tower, at least, what remains of it. Thanks, je!

There's also a great video on YouTube on the history of the building and the backstory of Joe Ferreri. There's great period music too!

After the last of the rubble was cleared away, the area sat as a muddy lot for the remainder of 2012. Of course, if you drive by today, you'll find new, huge structures on the site: Northpoint Crossing. Shorter, denser, and larger than the old Plaza, the former home of the tower has completely changed, along with the old Chevron, UtoteM/smoke shop, and Kettle in the area. It's unlikely that I'll cover Northpoint Crossing on this blog, but there's always a chance!

In a way, I'm a bit sad that the hotel had to go that way. Since the the Rise isn't an attractive building, I kind of wish University Tower had done something in the 1990s instead of letting it deteriorate. Rather than the boxy, "generic 70s hotel" tower (the former Holiday Inn/Days Inn/Heaven on Earth Inn in Houston had the same problem), they could've enclosed the entire building in glass, taken out the Gulf/Chevron on the corner of Texas and University, demolished the last of the original motel that wasn't part of the connected portion, closed off Meadowland Drive and turned the whole thing into a combo dorm/retail center, a la Dobie Center, so we could have something to compete with Austin in the 1990s, plus it would've filled in for any fast food establishments that WEREN'T on Northgate already. The downside to doing so would that it still would've been far away from the rest of Northgate (a long walk down past the University Apartments). Maybe it's best to just let life go on as normal.

EDIT 15 (July 2014): Updated parts about the Leonard Ross ownership, renamed post from "From Ramada Inn to Rubble", smoothed out some portions now that it's not 2012 anymore.