Wednesday, July 31, 2013

McDonald's at Northgate, The Area's First

From The Eagle, courtesy John Ellisor

Almost anything is interesting when you find enough to it, and today, we're looking at the original Northgate McDonald's (and its replacement).

Opening in December 1973 at the northeast corner of Spence Street and University Drive built by Philip Springer, the original McDonald's in Northgate was in many ways one of a kind with the only McDonald's in the area until 1977 when the Manor East Mall location was built. The Northgate location actually won a landscaping award (local only) when it opened when a 1976 article described that the McDonald's cleans up all the trash in and around the area, with "small pines, evergreens and grass [comprising the landscape]". It's a far cry from the island it is today surrounded by concrete.

Later on (and I have a bit of a picture to prove this), it added a little curved "solarium" window much like a Wendy's would have.

This I remember being demolished and rebuilt in the very early 2000s, though I can't remember if it was rebuilt with the new "front" or not. I think it was. I vaguely remember the little "ATM" flags flying over it (as Wikimapia reports), which were after the rebuilding but before a renovation. I can't tell what that thing is in the pictures post-demo pre-remodel (which happened around 2007, as it points out). Looking from a side-view aerial looks like it's some sort of covered playground area, which must have a post-rebuild touch, but it doesn't matter because it was demolished for an expansion of the eating area (and featuring a study area). Actually, a MyBCS thread reveals it was to be used for live music, which, unsurprisingly, turned out to be a failure, so it just became outdoor seating.

From a University Square lease plan

Two things that also made this a bit cooler than the average McDonald's, both of which are gone:

#1: This McDonald's did delivery. Yes, I know that a select number of markets did it in the 1980s (featuring a commercial which has unfortunately been removed from YouTube for some reason or another), it's being done in other countries, and they want to do it again (newspaper articles from April 29-30 2013 too numerous to link to). From what I could tell, it was a franchise-specific thing, and of those, only this location. This ad was from 1992.

#2: This McDonald's did tours as well. Here's a bit from a "Things for Children to See & Do in the Bryan-College Station" guide from the mid-1970s. This was back when it and the Villa Maria location were the only McDonald's locations in town. They definitely don't do this today anymore.

801 University Drive


Monday, July 29, 2013

Grins at 4410 College Main

Find the error with the times of operation!

Grins was another quasi-Northgate establishment further up College Main in Bryan, and reportedly hosted some great live entertainment acts in its day. I've heard that the only "drinking" opportunities they had was Coors Light, so I'm guessing the food wasn't too fantastic either. The above advertisement came from November 1979. By 1984 (may have been as early as 1982), it was Dr. G's, unrelated to the later Mr. G's, Dr. G's ("The Remedy", it advertised) offered live music, soups, salads, burgers, sandwiches, and Mexican food (likely beer, too, though the ad didn't mention that). Still later it became Brazos Landing Seafood Grill & Bar (seafood, salads, and burgers--the ad mentioned swordfish, hamburgers, grilled shrimp, blackened chicken, salads, "and more").

Other tenants that I could find and confirm included: Venetian Blind Hospital (or Sturdi-Craft Co.) (1947). I haven't found anything else yet.

Today, the spot is Junction Five-o-Five, which despite its name, isn't a bar or other entertainment establishment. A picture of the current building was taken in June 2014 by me, and current Street View.

4410 College Main

updated june '14 with new photo and some new info

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Saber Inn

Saber Inn had a restaurant as well.

We mentioned Saber Inn with the Grapevine the other day, so it's high time we got started on this.

Sadly, if it wasn't for the fact that this had an attached restaurant that advertised to more than just who stayed at the hotel (Holiday Inn advertised the Mongolian House, later incarnations like Bronco's or Beckendorf's, not so much), we might not have known as much about it. Saber Inn (which, by the way, didn't have the Grapevine inside of it) was never very large. Its address was 701 Texas Avenue (a detail that didn't get in the scan for whatever reason), which is the same pad that Taco Cabana sits on nowadays. Thing was, the pad that Saber Inn sat on was the same size as Taco Cabana, which is of course quite small. I don't know when Taco Cabana showed up or when Saber Inn was razed...I'm guessing that it was built at the same time Two Pesos (a suspiciously similar Taco Cabana knockoff chain, which closed all stores after a successful lawsuit) closed. Two Pesos (not "Dos Pesos", as previously thought) wasn't located too far away (it was at the former Fitzwilly's).

EDIT 6/9/14: I discovered that by 1983, Saber Inn was gone and replaced with "Baker Street Restaurant & Bar".

Further Edit (7/24/14): Saber Inn lasted from 1957 to 1982. It had a clover-leafed swimming pool as well. Cleaned up post a bit and linked back to the Fitzwilly's post, but that's in need of a revamp too.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Grapevine

A bit off the beaten path, but the fence wasn't here when it was a restaurant.

201 Live Oak Street

To clear up a few rumors that still float around even today, the Grapevine, a defunct restaurant near the intersection of Texas Avenue and University, was not and was never at Saber Inn down the street (EDIT 6/12/2018: actually, that may have been right all along--more later). It was, however, not located at its current place, from 1974 to 1980 it was at 315 Texas Avenue, a long-gone address that was shared with Senter-Piece Flowers.

In 1980, the current restaurant was built and owned by Patsy Perry (Zobel), running up until 2001 when Patsy (now Patsy Zabel) retired retired after nearly three decades [archive]. The restaurant briefly reopened under new owners (as mentioned in the KBTX article) and it did in fact open (in the original 2013 version of this article there was a Battalion article from 2004 entitled "Fresh from the Grapevine", but they removed it and I can't get an archived replacement article), if briefly, probably gone by mid-2005, if that.

Normally we would just put up an ad (as seen above) but today, we're presenting (and this is something I've worked out) real recipes from The Grapevine. The dressing, the potatoes, and the cheesecake have all been released on a Facebook group, and they're here now. (Yes, I got permission and yes, the link does in fact work!)

I also acquired a partial menu from late 2000 (with the last price increases in place--a typical entree held a cost of about $8.50) but I decided against putting it up except on request.

This blog reports it was "Lighthouse Christian Church" for a while after the closing of the Grapevine. The blog talked about said baked potatoes in great length, which I have reproduced here. I was going to leave a comment, but comments are closed on that post. Their loss, I suppose. I don't know how long Lighthouse was there, the blog was published in June 2007, but June 2007 happened to be when the current tenant, the Rohr Chabad Jewish Center, opened its doors for the first time.

Updated July 2017 with new photo taken this month, clarification of when the current restaurant opened, redoing links, further details on chronology, and integrating the October 2013 update.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

4405 College Main

Be honest, have you ever seen a "Grand Opening" ad for a common laundromat? (from The Eagle)

4405 College Main is a bit in an odd place, an area that is both Bryan (technically) and Northgate (colloquially). Today, it's completely abandoned, but it wasn't always that way. The building was built in 1985 according to Brazos CAD and was divided into two suites.

For years, 4405A was the laundry (College Main Wash & Go) as the main tenant and hung on for a bit until it closed at about the time they started rehabbing College Main (which to me was a pointless project since, because they closed off the vital portion between Patricia and University Drive, it went nowhere. However, since it was Bryan's project, they can't help it if College Station botches their end of the road. By 2014, it was converted into the i-Stop convenience store but within a few years, i-Stop had shriveled up, leaving the center completely empty.

While I don't have phone books for the late 1980s (except 1989) readily available, it appeared that before the more well-known Thai Taste (which occupied B for most of the 1990s), "Carrie's Kitchen" was at 4405B in the 1980s. Details on Thai Taste are still sketchy, but I seem to remember from reading on forum postings that Thai Taste closed in the mid-2000s on College Main, but the name was bought and it reopened on University Square for a few years. Then it became Vietnamese Taste (dunno when it opened, but it was around in 2006--this also kept the "Taste" part of the old sign). Vietnamese Taste closed in May 2012 (roughly) and reopened as "Vy's Asian Kitchen Cuisine" behind Taco Cabana a few months later. So far it's gotten decent reviews, but I've never eaten there (still, it was there for more than 5 years so it must be doing something right).

Updated August 2017, formerly "4405 College Main: Thai Taste, Vietnamese Taste, and a Laundromat". The rewritten article features a new photo, a new restaurant, new information, and a confirmed opening date. It also removes parts referring to then-contemporary articles.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Captain's Half Shell Oyster Bar / The Boat / Shipwreck Grill

206 West Villa Maria Road

I don't have a contemporary picture on file, but that shouldn't be too hard to find. Ad from The Eagle, October 1985.

Shipwreck Grill, as you may know, advertises on extensively on, is relatively popular, has been since fall 2009, and the owners, Wade and Mary Beckman, and eventually opened a second restaurant (Amico Nave) directly across the way where a hair salon had occupied an old restaurant for years. (perhaps there's hope for NailSpa?)

While in the immediate years prior (maybe since 2004 to about 2007) it was "The Boat", a seafood restaurant, which repainted the formerly blue boat tan (as well as adding an enclosed bar area, apparently), it was originally "The Captains Half Shell Oyster Bar" back in 1985, with a rather limited menu (all seafood, something The Boat did but Shipwreck Grill does notably not do), and still held that name a decade later. Eventually the restaurant called it quits and the "boat" sat abandoned for a few years.

One more thing for you...according to tax records, just prior to Shipwreck changed hands to become "Melting Pot African-Caribbean Cuisine". Certainly sounds intriguing, but unfortunately, I'm sure they'd be out of business by now (and still in the boat?). Meanwhile, Shipwreck Grill, has momentum continuing even in the summer months even years after opening, and doesn't yet have the risk of the newspaper running a snarky headline of "Shipwreck Grill runs aground". Let's hope that doesn't happen. Amico Nave also was continuously full even in the slow summer months (and a pretty frightening lack of good lighting in the parking lot).

Slight updates 8/12/14

Friday, July 12, 2013

Mr. Gatti's on Northgate / Rao Drive Inn

One of the new restaurants of University Square was Mr. Gatti's (opening 1974), which had the tagline of "The best pizza in town (Honest)", and by all accounts, it was a decent pizza place. It had two levels, cold beer, and, as the ad above indicates, did have live entertainment (like a pre-fame Lyle Lovett). For nearly two decades, Mr. Gatti's thrived.

The "pizzamat", as indicated above, was a take-out pizza and beer building and had the address of 817 University Drive. It was roughly where the little drive-through ATM (First National Bank?) which was Mt. Aggie Snow Cones in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The pizzamat replaced, and had the same address as the "Rao Drive Inn", an extremely cool looking drive-in straight out of the 1950s, was closed and torn down in the early part of the 1970s.

"54" is scribbled on the side. Did it open in 1954? (from Historic Brazos County: An Illustrated Journey)

Anyone can tell you that for years there hasn't been a Mr. Gatti's on Northgate for some time, the building having been torn down and replaced by a Schlotzsky's circa 1997-1998.

Prior to dropping the "Deli" and adding Cinnabon. The patio has been expanded since then. From Stalworth's website.

By 1996, Mr. Gatti's (by now the only one left in town, the Bryan one having been closed for a time, it was now China Garden) finally was closed and replaced with Gattiland, as the ad below indicates (how do I know it's 1996? Check the bottom picture).

Gattiland wasn't anywhere near the old Mr. Gatti's, as it was in Bryan some miles up. It didn't even cater to the same clientele at all (though Mr. Gatti's arguably was heading this direction, a buffet wasn't offered in the 1970s), and the story of that restaurant from here on out would only get worse...

Edit 1/16/14: Added opening date, will make another update when Gattiland article is added.
2/14/14: link added

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Wickes Lumber

A full-service hardware store!

This has always been a building I've seen since my youth, operating as a business I can't remember anymore (it had six letters and appeared to be there for a while, given how faded it was) but originally, it was Wickes Lumber, operating since at least 1975 (likely built soon after the completion of the "West Loop"). Given the ad below, it seemed to be a full hardware store, even going with its own functioning railroad spur to bring in lumber directly.

I don't know when Wickes Lumber went out of business...FundingUniverse seems to indicate late 1980s or early 1990s, which makes sense and then somehow later down the line, Wickes was bought and operates in the UK exclusively, but such a thing is out of the scope out of this article.

You aren't missing much in terms of building variety.

After the closure of Wickes in the late 1980s or early 1990s (as mentioned before), about two or three other businesses tried their hand at the building. There was that faded sign with six characters in the early to mid-1990s (as far as I know that was the first tenant after Wickes) and something else as well later (or two), until finally coming to Moore Supply Co. and their "Bath & Kitchen Showplace" (initially with a tiny sign) sometime in the early to mid 2000s. Sometime since this post was last updated (2017?) Bath & Kitchen Showplace renamed to "Facets".

The surrounding buildings that Wickes had were all sold off (they were owned by Wickes--during the right time of day, you can see a Wickes Lumber "labelscar" on the Boral Bricks building). Brazos Valley Turf occupies the building to the right of it (has been there for years), and Boral Bricks is in the back (probably originally something else after Wickes). The addresses are all different...Wickes Lumber had been 101 West Loop, but the current addresses include Moore Supply Co. as 1530 Harvey Mitchell, Brazos Valley Turf as 101 N. Dowling Road (which is strange since the same address is shared with Living Water Pottery), and Boral Bricks ("Boral Bricks Studio"?) is at 95 N. Dowling Road. Brazos CAD was no help in trying to get any information on the confusing addresses of these things, nor any old phone books. The only things that I gleaned from my resources was that Brazos Valley Turf opened in the late 1990s (which makes sense with what I remember), but even before BV Turf opened, the address of Country Grocery was 101 A N. Dowling Road, which suggests that even back in '96, there was a second address for that.

Finally, we have those pictures of railroad spur I mentioned before. It shut down around or before the untimely closure of Wickes Lumber, and a cell phone tower has been built on the site, but some of it remains today. These pictures were taken in June 2010 with my then-new cell phone camera, and I'm excited to show these, even if they are a bit low quality. It had been around since at least 1975, so it was likely built soon after the completion of the "West Loop".

UPDATE OCTOBER 2015 - Added in info about when pictures were taken and took out mention of then-contemporary blog happenings.
UPDATE MARCH 2019 - Minor updates to account for some changes.

Friday, July 5, 2013

McDonald's & Blockbuster

Opening in December 2001 as the first of its kind (remember, the "heady times" mentioned yesterday) and renovating circa 2008, the McDonald's features an adjoining Blockbuster. It used to be really cool at the time but also an odd combination: McDonald's and movies? (I guess the Redbox kiosks installed circa 2006 at most McDonald's fulfills a similar purpose). The 2008 remodel cut down on the huge cavernous feel of the original store for a separation into the three "zones" developed around that time, an area for kids near the Playplace indoor playground (which it always had), the "Grab n Go" zone, and the "couches" area. I didn't really like the post-remodel version. I remember when I went for a "McTeacher" night when teachers made burgers for charity in middle school.

The Blockbuster closed in spring 2013. I wanted to take a picture of the inside of the Blockbuster, for posterity (this site) last summer, but was stopped by a clerk, who no longer works there for obvious reasons.

I think it would be interesting if the Blockbuster side was filled in with some sort of new, I know that McDonald's divested itself from Chipotle in 2006, but sure would be awesome to see it occupy the other side, provide some competition to the nearby Freebirds, as well as giving those who don't like McDonald's another option...or perhaps another seemingly wild concept (McDonald's + haircuts?)...but in all likelihood it will be remodeled into an expansion of McDonald's.

UPDATE 1: As of July 2013, there's some McDonald's signage and decor on the outside of the Blockbuster side, which is cleared of all décor. It doesn't exactly look aesthetically pleasing.

UPDATE 2: Well, the "haircuts" might have come to pass...sorta. As of December 2015, it has become a location of Sola Salons, a chain of rentable salon spaces. Unfortunately (but understandably) it lacks a connection to the adjacent McDonald's.

1748 Rock Prairie Road (Blockbuster)
1750 Rock Prairie Road (McDonald's)

Thursday, July 4, 2013

George Bush Presidential Library & Museum

Presumably taken before September 11th, I don't think they'd allow trucks up there anymore (source)

Happy Independence Day!

I won't write a full post on George Bush Presidential Library, simply because it will read too much like a tourist guide or be politically charged (renaming Jersey Street to George Bush Drive before Clinton even finished his first term is a particular sore spot for many area non-conservatives).

Nor will I have any newspaper clippings or other material on it (there is literally enough material for a website in itself). All I have is some statements about the museum from 1997-2007 and a particular favorite exhibit of mine.

It was a pretty heady time to be living in Aggieland at the time (1997-2002). Although the Bonfire collapse and September 11th happened in this time frame, development was taking off in Rock Prairie Road, the University Drive and Harvey Road restaurant rows were building up, and many buildings--the new College Station Library, Reed Arena, and a few others all opened up.

At least the construction turned George Bush Drive West from a bumpy two lane road (similar to Luther St. West now, by all accounts) into a smooth, fast, four-lane avenue with a median.

1000 George Bush Drive West

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Brazos Blue Ribbon Bakery in Bryan

Happy July 2nd!

This is a beautiful full-color ad of the Brazos Blue Ribbon Bakery at Villa Maria and Briarcrest from a late 1980s Texas Aggies football program.

Circa 1998, BBRB moved to College Station and this location became a Must Be Heaven, which survives today. I was never impressed with MBH (Must Be Purgatory, perhaps) but I admire its willingness to stick out in a difficult location.

Sadly, those kolaches are now just a memory, but there are some decent kolaches at Village Foods down the street. That sign is also gone, it's now just a rusty metal frame.

1136 Villa Maria Road

Monday, July 1, 2013

Post Oak Mall, Part One - The Anchors

Because Post Oak Mall is such a confusingly long subject--originally one of the "extra huge posts" that I'm actively trying to do away with, I'm breaking it up. This isn't a final-final version of the article, as there are still pictures to be posted and refinements to be made in the original article to try to transition to this one, but here it is.

This is about the "anchors" of Post Oak Mall. I even hesitate to call them department stores, since they're so small compared to "real" stores. Last March, I had a chance to visit the moribund Northwest Mall in Houston. The former J.C. Penney was serving as an antique mall, and even though most of the décor had been stripped and the upper floor closed off, it still felt far larger and grander than anything ol' Post Oak had to offer.

Foley's was originally planned to be Joske's. This was actually on early plans and stated (by me) on the Wikipedia page, but the person who hijacked the page (and put in a bunch of wrong information, like the cinema's closure date) removed that. The Foley's opened in 1984 (according to the 2011 Macy's Factbook), and was only 103,000 square feet, which was alright because by that time because by that time, Foley's was already starting shed departments to being not much more than clothes like it was later. In 1987, it shed departments when Federated Stores sold to May Department Stores, and in 2005, it was sold from May Department Stores back to Federated (but it was a different company than the original Federated, which is a story in itself), and 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 (if I remember correctly) 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. The pictures below are from the post-Macy's era but before they did the renovations.




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 already pretty much just a brand name shared with other May Company department stores.

Here's an October 2, 1985 article from The Eagle on how Joske's later admitted that not opening a store was a mistake, and that mistake would not rectified for another two years at least. Probably a smart move in the end: by 1987, Joske's would be sold to Dillard's, which there already was one in the mall.

Originally at the end of the mall, Baton Rouge-based H.J. Wilson (Wilson's, and do read up on there: that's Forum 303 Mall, which I would happily cover if I lived in Arlington, not College Station) was here from 1982 to 1985, which populated many malls in the South up to being acquired by Service Merchandise in 1985. In 1999, Service Merchandise closed at the mall during a round of spring 1999 closings and was replaced by "Dillard's Mens & Housewares" (later Dillard's Mens/Home) circa 2000. Confusingly, this isn't stated on the outside. Briefly (2010-2011) this also had the Kids departments.

Despite all this, it did offer electronics back in '85 (pix link). The same month that this ad is from, Dillard's added a third level to its Valley View Center store in Dallas, adding a cookie and candy counter (which our store probably never had, as after expansion, the store was over three times larger than the store at Post Oak Mall)

For a few years, this was only women's clothing (see above). That's right, in a place where once you could get an Apple IIc in addition to a bunch of other items, there was only women's clothing. What a sad change. And I bet they even kept the same décor.

It should be mentioned that vintage Mac/Apple is another of my hobbies, and that the Apple IIc wasn't the best of the Apple II family. For me, it would be the IIe (classic Apple II series only), or the IIGS (doesn't really count, since it was so different).

Unlike Macy's, Dillard's still keeps its parquet (and original name!)

Cluttered and messy, the Sears has been here since day one. While it was never very large, it was full line and has lost a number of departments over the years (Optical was scrapped circa 2008-2009, Portrait Studios shut down recently). I won't get into what Sears needs to do to change, but it needs love (and someone in charge who's not bleeding the company to death).

Bealls (pronounced "belz") is not related to the Bealls of Florida and points north/west, but the store here hasn't changed much (besides logos and interior updates, and of course the merchandise selection) since day one. As mentioned at the Manor East Mall page, the Bealls here was "stolen" from downtown Bryan. Manor East Mall kept theirs, which survived the transition to Tejas Center.

The store received a few updates under the controversial Ron Johnson era, but has also mostly gotten minimal updates since it opened in late 1982 (full-line JCPenney stores were being phased out by then).

There's a grassy spot next to Bealls that was planned to be a seventh department store, but what it was planned to be has never been revealed. There's a 99% chance that Mervyn's or Montgomery Ward was supposed to come on board, but that didn't happen, and will never happen since they've both gone bankrupt.