Monday, November 26, 2012

Two Chinese Restaurants and Brazos Square

An early 1990s advertisement for one of my favorite defunct eateries

This post concerns a number of stores between Manuel and Brentwood on the west side of Texas Avenue, starting with one of my favorites, Confucius Chinese Cuisine. For reference as to where we are in College Station, I've drawn up these images (fixed from their original state) for MyBCS a while ago. Example A: how it was. Example B: what it's like now.

While I sadly do not have a picture for Confucius Chinese Cuisine (2322 Texas Avenue), it was housed in a building at the corner of Brentwood and Texas Avenue. I still remember how cool it looked on the inside and out. It had a curved Chinese-style roof, the sign had one word in orange, one in green, and one in red. And those were lit up at night. I don't know what the history of it was. All I know was that it was open in 1989 but the building pre-dating it for a few years courtesy of an even older Chinese restaurant called "Jade Garden".

Inside, to the right you had the restrooms, a mural was toward the front, with small bald-looking people playing (or something--it was sort of weird). The restaurant was mostly red and gold, you could hear the aquarium bubbling (there was an eel, but I don't think he was ever used as a dish).

It was my family's go-to place for Sunday after-church dinners. The buffet was a single line with some of the best egg rolls my sister had ever had. I know what you're thinking: Chinese food buffets, a place of flavorless food, poor health standards, and morbidly obese people. Well, this wasn't one of those places (except for the "health standards" part, which all buffets tend to have).

It closed around 2001-2002 when the owner, Jimmy Chang, retired. I suppose it's better that the restaurant closed instead of selling out to new management: it never saves restaurants, just leaves a "bad taste" in people's memories of how good the food was.

Just two doors down was another restaurant, Imperial Chinese Restaurant, which moved there sometime between 1993 and 1995 (it was in the place where Wolfies is now, which was Ninfa's by '95). This one had declined from its early days, and outlasted Confucius Chinese Cuisine. The place in between was a pawn shop. The pawn shop and the empty Confucius Chinese Cuisine were demolished, with the pawn shop moving to a space at Manuel and Texas. After Imperial succumbed, the pawn shop moved back to the place where Imperial was. Where the two buildings were demolished, a Walgreens was built.

The Brentwood stoplight was added in the late 1990s or early 2000s, meaning it didn't last long before the road was widened.

Brazos Square, a little strip center that has been in continual decline is here.

At one time, both Play It Again Sports and Once Upon a Child were located here (both of the same parent company with the similar "recycling O") but a few years back PIAS fell by the wayside. The current pawn shop is where Imperial Chinese Restaurant was (which moved from a Harvey Road but NOT the same restaurant as a modern same-name restaurant where Tony Roma's was). The original pawn shop and Confucius Chinese Cuisine were of course demolished (the pawn shop moved across the street, but that was demolished for a TB&T bank)

At the end of the strip center was a Fuddruckers, but it moved out a decade ago and was replaced with "Asian Cuisine & Tea House" which closed quickly and deteriorated. There's an All-American Sleep & Mattress, but that became Fatty's Smoke Shop even later. This used to be Advanced Wireless Inc., a cell phone store with a neat looking logo, but ironically, as cell phones increased in popularity, AWI folded and disappeared. The sign looked worse and worse until it was finally dismantled.

In fact, the strip center has a look of a third rate wasteland. To illustrate: between the smoke shop and the pawn shop, there's the "Loan Depot" and to the right of the smoke shop, there's ANOTHER pawn shop (or at least in the last few years, I haven't kept up too closely with what's there and what isn't). Either way, it's a dump and soon as I get some pictures, I'll post 'em so you can judge for yourself. But it wasn't always that way. For years, REX TV was here, additionally, there was a toy store and a gourmet tea place. For example, in 1983, PrioriTEAS opened a second store here. As an aside, I'm impressed that they managed to spell "espresso" correctly when it was less known and you could get away with writing it as "expresso", but they called themselves a "desert bar".

And if you were in a kid in that era, Toys Plus might have been more up your alley.

Updated July 2014 with another title and new Brazos Square info

Thai Taste - First discussed here. The "reincarnation" of this restaurant is discussed here.
Sgt. Pepperoni's - Discussed on Two Way Roads
Spice Bowl - Mentioned on the Texas Avenue post

Saturday, November 3, 2012

University Apartments

Nobody's home.

During my time at A&M, I was thankful that I had enough sense to photograph many buildings on their way out in terms of demolition or extensive renovation. I didn't get enough pictures of the old Scoates Hall, and no inside shots of Dulie Bell, but did get pictures of The Commons, Zachry Engineering Center, Read Building, G. Rollie White, and of course, these.

Today, these are largely gated off as new parking garages and structures take the underutilized space, but this is about the space that was there, University Apartments. In here, I may mention Southside, which in previous versions of this post was presumed to be at the northeast corner of College Avenue and University, may not have been the case. I explore this in a section at the bottom of this post, and will talk about it at the end of this post. All the other mentions of Southside will be as my research has shown, thanks to research at the Cushing Memorial Library.

Originally rows and rows of two-level Army-style barracks filling up the diagonal-row roads in the early 1950s, with two complexes, College View and Southside, a federal grant in 1957 (to the tune of 2.5 million dollars, which would be about 20 million today) allowed more to be built.

In 1960, the Hensel Apartments (later Hensel Terrace Apartments) were built, and originally not air-conditioned (until likely the 1970s). The new College View Apartments, built in 1969, were built facing FM 60 and according to The Battalion were "cool, comfortable, and complete", being climate controlled at 70 degrees. The old College View apartments were later disassembled. Interestingly, because the new College View apartments were much denser, a good portion of the land was NEVER utilized again.

In 1989, Texas A&M acquired some 1950s duplexes in the Oak Terrace neighborhood, north of the University Square shopping center, with the buildings being on Dogwood, Cross Street, Milam Avenue, and Culpepper Drive. These were the "Tortilla Flats" duplexes (likely named after the run-down district in Tortilla Flat), a dilipidated collection of duplexes which were going at half the rate of the rest of the housing in the area (rent was $200/month) and in terrible condition: sub-standard plumbing, leaky roofs, rotting floors, and one can only guess how bad the wiring was. In 1991, Texas A&M evicted all 110 residents and demolished the homes soon after. They also said that the 13-acre tract would be put to use soon, and if not, sold. That didn't happen. It would be eventually leased to developers to build U Centre at Northgate, which would open in fall 2014...nearly two and a half decades later!

As time went on, the Married Student Housing became known as the "University Apartments", as it started to become known for international students as well. The maintenance of the apartments declined and the apartments started to deteriorate, but there wasn't any major trouble. Piecemeal improvements were made to the complex, including the addition of the Becky Gates Children's Center, a 1997 addition on Hensel that would have childcare for students married with children. Later on a community center and playground were built as well. However, it was an incident in 2004 that did change the University Apartments forever.

One day in July 2004, residents complained about a smell of natural gas in the Hensel Terrace Apartments. The maintenance worker responded but decided to not repair the leak until the next week (in fact, they told residents to close their windows, thus making the smell inside worse). Saquib Ejaz, a resident of those apartments, lived with his wife and daughter at Hensel Apartments. His parents were visiting from Bangladesh. While his parents, wife (who was pregnant with another child), and daughter were home, the gas somehow ignited and fire consumed the apartment's interior, severely burning all four. His wife and father survived, but his daughter and mother did not. Other apartments were damaged, as well, however; the structure itself survived.

Lawsuits were filed, and by 2005, a number of new improvements were announced, including new stoves, new detectors, and much better maintenance. This still wasn't "enough" maintenance, as the apartment complex was still falling apart, with the College Avenue Apartments on Ball Street having unleveled floors.

However, by fall 2006, a plan was approved to add the Gardens at University, which, instead of building it on the Tortilla Flats land, or the area closest to Meadowland, replaced Hensel Terrace. When I first wrote this article in 2012, two-thirds of the Hensel Terrace Apartments (including the rebuilt apartments where Ejaz's apartment was), had been torn down and replaced with the Gardens. Nothing else had been altered since then. One of the last pre-Campus Pointe demos came in 2011, when the College Avenue Apartments started to come down (finally "leveled", it seems--yes, bad pun).

In early 2013 Campus Pointe was trotted out again and approved. College View Apartments, Hensel Terrace Apartments, and Avenue A Apartments were marked for destruction--all residents had to move out. There were even stories of the mattresses being moved out first, so many had to make do with sleeping on the floor. Despite (presumably) assistance, the apartments all near campus had much higher rent, and both Northgate and Southgate had undergone some degree of gentrification.

The demolition for redevelopment seemed to take a long time, for months, the abandoned apartments (speckled with graffiti) stood, then for many more months with just vacant land. Sometime during all of this, Campus Pointe was renamed to Century Square.

A friend and I took these in May 2013, soon before eviction in summer 2013 (the picture at the title is also from that):
Avenue A Apartments, which has eight units per building, four of which are seen here.

There is so much open space here, great for large group games or tossing a Frisbee around. Too bad this will go away...

College View Apartments. These face University Drive.

Hensel Terrace Apartments. Most of these are already gone, including the unit that exploded in 2004. It's worth noting that the building wasn't actually destroyed. The apartments have concrete foundations and despite being old and run-down, are better built then similar apartment complexes of the same era.

The Gardens at University Apartments. These will stick around.

Interesting vents on the University Apartments Maintenance Building.

Special Thanks to the Cushing Memorial Library for archived news articles
NOTE 12/3/12: A footnote in Project HOLD ("Brazos Valley Chronology") mentions the last of the old Army surplus barracks were removed in '82...these were almost certainly the Southside Apartments.

NOTE 2 5/2/13: Minor updates

EDIT 3: 2015 Updates included Southside information, new intro paragraph, rewritten to past tense


There's been some confusion about where "Southside" is/was. I've flip-flopped on this issue sometimes, but I believe that "Southside" probably really was at University Apartments (my original opinion), with the reasoning being this.

There were originally houses at the corner of modern-day Wellborn Road and George Bush Drive, but they were far older than the post-World War II grants. They were the "project houses" built in the late 1930s for poorer students, allowing them to raise livestock (pigs, chickens) to pay their way through college (there was an article on this on one of the TAMU-affiliated publications, but I just can't find it!). According to the chronology linked, they were torn down in the late 1980s, which is why there exists a color picture of demolition in front of pre-2015 Kyle Field (R.I.P.). If the last of the army barracks were removed in 1982, then that means that those couldn't have been from Wellborn and George Bush. The reality is, I just don't know, and would appreciate if anyone could give definitive information one way or another.