Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Reed McDonald Building

It's game over for Dulie Bell, but another generally unloved building has been getting some facade work recently. Reed-McDonald Building, the long-time home to the Battalion (it was there 15 years ago and years before that) and a current place to store grad students. Built in 1967, as of winter 2013, this has been getting a repaint, getting some blonde tan, covering up the battered and faded red paint (which is apparently was used/is being used as a primer) and slightly less battered dark tan color. As of this writing, it's mostly done.

Older Aggies that went here prior to 2006 may notice that something's missing: the Bus Stop Snack Bar, which sold things like sandwiches and chips. Regrettably, I don't have any pictures of the missing building, but you can discuss it here.

ALSO! We went added and added a newspaper article for the opening of Weingarten (College Station) location. You know, the one that lasted two months and never even became a Safeway?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Culpepper North

A brief stay as "Food City" (after a repaint). There is a tiny picture of this store as an AppleTree on Yelp. (Source: Stalworth Online)

In 1986, the downtown Safeway moved to 2001 Highway 21 to anchor a new shopping center, Culpepper North, presumably as a smaller companion to Culpepper Plaza. Unfortunately, it never gained more than a few stores and has been living with Family Dollar (not the original tenant) and another store space that has changed a few times over the years. As for the former Safeway, it was one of the last group of Houston Division Safeway stores to be built, and the very last AppleTree store to close. Read more about it on Safeway & Albertsons in Texas Blog. Today, the space is split between La Michoacana Meat Market and A&M Furniture.

Updated 9/19 for new focus on strip center.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Dulie Bell on a Rainy Day

Another historic A&M building bites the dust.

Built in 1942 as the USDA Building, this building survived just over 70 years before meeting the wrecking ball. While it was definitely a landmark at its prime location at University and Wellborn, it wasn't loved but still operated as classrooms and offices into fall 2013.

While I did go in fall 2013, I didn't take any pictures (to my knowledge and eternal regret), but I enjoyed the "treats" I did find: the bathroom featured separate taps for hot and cold water.

I'm not entirely sure of why they demolished Dulie Bell. It was old, to be certain, but it had gotten a fresh coat of paint and relatively new carpets, and given it was just replaced more parking, there was some serious problem with the building itself that was unable to be fixed without major investment, like plumbing, electrical, or foundation (Special Services Building was razed for that reason, and never utilized again until over a decade later when a basketball court was put there).

Since the front of the building directly fronts the ramps to University and is difficult to get a picture of, I'll have to resort to other pictures. The top one was from the official map of TAMU, the bottom one is from Historic Aggieland.

[Small Updates Made February 25 2019]

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Torchy's Tacos

Once again, my phone's camera interprets red neon as having a harsh orange effect. (September 2014)

I originally wrote this post about 1037 Texas Avenue South in January 2014. At the time, it was the recently-closed Sully's Sports Bar & Grill, and the restaurant had some difficult times in recent years with a revolving door of restaurants over the years. Sully's (née Fowl Digits) had been one of many, many failures over the years and was somewhat of a "cursed" location. But now that Torchy's has been here for almost a decade and still draws consistent crowds, did it break the curse? Probably. But how old is the building anyway?

Here's a bit from The Eagle from its 1962 groundbreaking as "Coach Norton's Pancake House", the first restaurant in the spot.
Coach Homer Norton, coach of the 1939 Texas Aggie national football champions, and his wife expect to break ground Monday or Tuesday for a $200,000 restaurant on Highway 6 in College Station. Norton, 56, was in the city Wednesday and today, making final arrangements for the groundbreaking of the establishment to be known as "Coach Norton’s Pancake House." The approximately 200-capacity edifice will be constructed on the corner of Highway 6 and Kyle Street in College Station. The former Aggie coach has a similar business in Rosenberg—-gathering place for members of the '39 champs when A&M is playing football in Houston. Norton officially announced the new B-CS restaurant, which is to be completed in about four months, today. R. B. Butler is general contractor for the restaurant. "I've been looking forward to this for a long time," Norton stated. "Actually I feel like I’m coming home. We have many close, dear friends in College Station, Bryan and throughout the state. So many of them travel in and out of College Station it’s going be a great chance to visit. Actually I dreamed of this long before I quit coaching," the white-haired Aggie mentor said. "I always wanted to do two things; own a motel and a real high class eating place." After a 14-year tenure as head coach at A&M, Norton resigned the post in 1947 and opened his motel business in Rosenberg, "This place will be my big prize," he added, "and I imagine it will be the largest and finest of its kind between Dallas and Houston." The 200-seat restaurant will feature 25 varieties of Norton’s nationally famous pancakes as well as steak, shrimp, chicken and other foods. Completely carpeted throughout, the pancake house will provide the finest of kitchen equipment and fixtures, according to Norton, with all-around parking and an eight-foot covered walkway on the sides and front. Norton indicated a manager would be in charge of the establishment, as in Rosenberg, and that he would commute from Rosenberg. Coach Norton stated he would probably spend most of his time in College Station, however. The building was to be lined off today and set on the lot for construction to get under way immediately.

Sadly, Norton would not see his new restaurant for very long, as Homer Norton would pass away in 1965, but his legacy still stood (the motel in Rosenberg existed as the Homer Norton Motel for many years, though around 2016 was renamed as the Lone Star Inn). The Pancake House in College Station had a much shorter life. Without Norton at the helm (and the hopes for a chain restaurant dashed), it ended up closing around late 1969 or early 1970. The building still stood, however.

A phone book advertisement for Coach Norton's, showing the original sign. Note the triangle-shaped sign base.
One of the first restaurants to reoccupy was Fontana's Italian-Mexican Restaurant (we'll come back to this later). The first reference to Fontana's appeared in 1970, not long at all after the demise of the Pancake House. Like the later incarnation, Fontana's would specialize primarily in Italian and newspaper references to Fontana's would continue into the late 1970s.

In 1980, Mama's Pizza moved from 609 Texas where Oakridge Steakhouse had been (the building was eventually demolished in the mid-1990s for the shopping center).

Here's where things get complicated. Mama's Pizza left sometime in the late 1980s for the end cap restaurant space at Culpepper Plaza, 1601 Texas Avenue, and from there, the building would have a revolving door of restaurants. In the following sections, I will try to best address what I can find and how long they lasted.

Rockyano's Pizza, which later was shut down for tax evasion reasons, opened in August 1991 (it seems the building was shut down for a few years), though because it was shut down for tax reasons, it's unknown when exactly it closed. (relevant post on TexAgs).

In mid-1992, the building finally stopped being a pizza restaurant when it became Shanghai Restaurant (later renamed/changed hands to Shen Zhen Restaurant sometime in mid-1995) but closed by the end of the year. This is another point of contention--a 1993 directory (but not a 1993 phone book) lists "Shanghai Chinese Restaurant" as well as a 1996 directory, however, a TexAgs poster claims that it was open for a "week or two", which seems to be a gross exaggeration. Did Shen Zhen serve sushi like the forum thread implies? Probably not. A lot of places and times get transposed when it comes to this.

When it moved in around early 1996, successor restaurant Porky's Hamburger & Onion Ring Company officially was in business for three months but had already moved twice since its founding in 1994 in Fredericksburg, first to Round Rock, then to College Station. Officially, the restaurant only operated for about three months but eyewitnesses report it was only open for "six weeks" (after all, Front Porch Grill didn't last a long time either).

Snuffer's opened in February 1997 per ribbon cutting information from the Chamber of Commerce, a branch of the Snuffer's restaurant chain out of Dallas. Unfortunately, not too long after that, that part of Texas Avenue began widening and within eight months, they got "snuffed out" by the construction.

Nearly a year after the closure of Snuffers, there was El Arroyo (1998-1999). Following this, there were two restaurants and I'm not sure either of them opened. I've found listings for "Gin Seng Garden" that only lasted for a month as well as "Nari Inc." (unknown to what the restaurant was).

La Familia del Mar, a Mexican seafood restaurant that operated in spring 2001, was operated by the same owners of La Familia Taqueria. This is the one in the TexAgs post, that refers to "maybe something-Del Mar".

Another buffet, the Hong Kong Buffet would follow, in late 2001 and early 2002 (no confirmation here)....followed by El Ranchito Mexican Restaurant (again, no confirmation).

Cazadores Mexican Restaurant (#4, actually had other locations including Houston) was here from 2003 to 2009 was the next one here, but actually making it a few years was an accomplishment.

From Fontana's Facebook page, which itself was from, which has since taken down this image

Fontana's Authentic Italian Food operated from 2009 to 2011. This was actually the same owner of the "first" Fontana's here that opened some 40 or so years earlier but it was too little, too late, to work off any nostalgia.

In early 2012, a restaurant called Fowl Digits opened in the building, now fifty years old. Fowl Digits looked to be different than the other restaurants. Stucco was added to the building, the "triangular" sign was restored, there was a huge marketing blitz, there was the whole promoting the business as part of "Chicken Strip Row" (with Layne's and Raising Cane's on either side of them), was a huge failure. Part of the problem was they didn't know their own marketing—a drink coozie I still have states that it's a "sports bar disguised as a chicken finger place"...and the prices were more expensive to match (inflation of course makes Fowl Digits seem cheap in retrospect) but it was too expensive, and the only other thing it had was dozens of televisions with different channels (not just sports, one was on Boomerang which even then was showing 1990s programming during daytime hours). That's not even mentioning its failure as a bar as well, beer was only served in plastic cups.

Around October 2012, Fowl Digits closed and was retooled into "Sully's Sports Grill & Bar" with another new coat of paint. That seemed to do better for them (even if the name switch seemed pretty desperate) as the menu expanded to add things like hamburgers. It still wasn't enough to gain a following (and reviews were mixed). In the end, Sully's closed in December 2013, once again, becoming another failed restaurant in the spot. I was able to get a few pictures during this time--you can see the Fowl Digits/Sully's patio shortly after it closed in late 2013 with side view.

Enter Torchy's Tacos. Based out of Austin, Torchy's did extensive work to the property. After the rumor of Torchy's was confirmed in early 2014, in summer, the demolition of Sully's commenced. It wasn't a total demolition (nor was it the "everything but a few walls" demolition that happened to the Deluxe Diner or Egg Roll House) but did strip off nearly every element that the Fowl Digits/Sully's owners added on, including exposing the Fontana metal siding before replacing that too. It also dismantled the 1960s era triangular sign for the purposes of more outdoor seating, instead opting to have a large sign facing Texas Avenue with a huge colorful neon sign with the "baby devil" logo. It officially opened October 16, 2014 to huge crowds and has been here for nine years, more than any restaurant had been there in the twenty years prior.
Torchy's September 2014. Almost the exact same view of the Sully's side view above. Compare and contrast!
Looking in
A closer look at the red and white. These are road reflectors!
Inside--the soda fountain dispensers.
For some reason, the menu boards were replaced before opening.

UPDATE 06-24-2023: After previously being updated September 2014 (new title, photos, and substantial information), July 2015 (further integration), and August 2016 (part of site upgrades), this latest update is a major rewrite which adds more information on the Homer Norton Motel in Rosenberg, some more defunct restaurants, and so forth. The post title was renamed to simply "Torchy's Tacos". UPDATE 02-16-2024: A few tiny updates. Integrated address back into the article.