Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Nightlife at Doux Chene Apartments

See those stairs leading up to the second level in the main office building? That's the focus today here. (Google Maps Picture)

By the time of Doux Chene Apartments' rename to "Flats on 12" in April 2015, the apartments had seen better days, having formerly been known as Doux Chene Apartments. Where do I start, though? Doux Chene Apartments were originally built in 1973 as a clone of the upscale singles-style apartment complexes that were popular in Houston at the time (though a 1980 ad doesn't indicate that it was singles only).

Mansard House advertised themselves as "country club apartment living", and trendy enough to be the first true mixed-use building in the City of College Station. From circa 1974 to late 1970s, it was "Mansard House". Mansard House, despite being the upper level of an apartment complex on the edge of town was one of the really nice places in town. Live entertainment, seafood, lobster, lamb, and more were all on the menu. The restaurant featured a large balcony on the rear of the building.

When I wrote this post originally I implied there were some Houston apartments like this, but upon doing more research, the "integrated restaurant" idea was rarer than I thought and I can't think of a true example. By 1980, while Doux Chene was still successful, Mansard House had closed and was replaced with Studio 2818, an actual discotheque.

Source: personal collection

Later night clubs included Dallas: The Night Club...

...and finally, Scandals.

Most of these are sadly relatively undocumented, only whispers across forums and other sources, including stories of ladies' nights with male strippers, with men being let in after the women had several drinks. Perhaps it's better that some of the craziness that went on is better left unsaid (I'm sure there were many regrettable nights). The most fascinating part is that Mansard House and some of the nightclub operations that followed left Doux Chene in the 1980s and opened what would be Hurricane Harry's in 1990.

In the original version of the post, I implied that the Doux Chene Apartments had fallen into disrepair, including a series of disasters...a tornado and a penchant for apartment fires as well, prompting a letter from management at the time, which is below.
"While your account of the history of the complex is mostly accurate, I take issue with the assertion that Doux Chene has not 'managed to upkeep itself.' While the property did fall into a state of disrepair in the late 80's to the early 90's, the current management has put a lot of effort (and money) into repairs and renovations and enhancements. While there is no hiding the fact that the property is 40 years old, it is in very good condition for a property of its age.

Doux Chene has indeed encountered more than its share of challenges.

A lightning strike destroyed 4 apartment units, severely damaged a dozen others. No injuries, a quarter of a million dollars in damages.

Severe hail required the replacement of nearly a dozen roofs, another quarter of a million dollars.

The tornado in 2006 actually destroyed two buildings, damaged several roofs, caused water damage in nearly 80 apartments, required replacement of over 160 central air conditioning systems. Total casualty loss, just over $4 million.

And then the small fire that happened shortly thereafter... The fire marshal initially indicated it was electrical, but upon further investigation it was found to be caused by a resident's cigarette butt rolling into a gap at the edge of his balcony.

Through all of this, we have been blessed in multiple ways. Firstly, there have been no injuries as a result of any of these incidences. Also, our insurance company has consistently paid in a timely fashion, and we have been fully made whole. We have also been given the reassurance, that no matter what we face, we will be able to come through it. I won't get all preachy here, but our faith in God has been strengthened through these difficulties.

Some ads were also sent as part of this, including Doux Chene hosting some wild parties (it's hard to imagine even the student-oriented apartments specifically hosting a keg party today). Sadly, they sent the low resolution versions.

As wild partying obviously upset the neighbors, a nearby apartment complex offered a shotgun as among the freebies you could get for signing a lease.

Having been around the apartment complex, the repairs are remarkable, the only difference between some of the apartment buildings is some different spackling on the sides of the buildings, something you wouldn't notice unless you were looking for it. In any case, shortly after the email, management sold out. In April 2015, the apartment complex was rebranded as "Flats on 12", which despite some big promises was the typical games played: change the name, give a repaint, cheap remodel, jack up the rent, while the apartments are the same low-grade pieces they've always been. This also added a lighted sign on the front of the building, changed the entrance to the former restaurant/nightclub area, and replaced the tennis court with a sand volleyball court. It now houses an exercise room and other amenities, but the balcony is still there. Also, I should mention that the address did change at some point. It used to be 1401 FM 2818 but later became 2101 Harvey Mitchell Parkway South.

UPDATE 05-16-2024: Extensively rewrote from last update as seen here.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Former Luby's Cafeteria

For a number of years prior to closure, the sign had read "Luby's Drive-Thru"

Opening in February 1977, Luby's Cafeteria (4401 South Texas Avenue) opened at a time when cafeterias were more plentiful, but much like the clientele they tend to service, they've been dying off. No more Piccadilly Cafeteria stores exist in Texas, and even Luby's has been continually closing restaurants left and right, even the one closest to its headquarters. All this before COVID-19 hit in earnest!

Unfortunately, I have no photos of this Luby's when they were opening and operating, because it was only a Luby's, and the Luby's closing took many by surprise. It closed in April 2014 a few years shy of its 40th anniversary, as it was sold to a mystery owner, soon revealed to be the Eccell Group.

This would be the new home of Café Eccell, after the drama surrounding it at Church and Wellborn Road. After renovating the inside and repainting the outside (it was originally white, which Eccell repainted to tan), it opened in August 2014 after renovating it.

While Café Eccell has updated a bit (mostly by repainting the drive-through end of the restaurant and opening it as the sub-restaurant La Bodega Express, as well as making it share the roadside sign), it wasn't the one with the history behind it. Even the Eccell name would go away from the sign, as after being forced to close in spring 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic, the owners revealed their intention to rename it. Originally planned to be "The Local", it reopened July 1, 2020 as "Public & Main" with a new menu (no word on the La Bodega Express restaurant-within-a-restaurant).

Of course, Luby's was the one with the history behind it. A full page ad had been taken out for its opening, describing the restaurant that didn't have waiters or waitresses.

You'll feel good about Luby's... selection... Everyone likes what they get, because everyone chooses their favorites. Snappy fresh fruits and crisp garden salads. Hot and hearty entrees. Piping hot vegetables. Home baked rolls and breads. And the taste-temptingest selection of homemade desserts you've ever seen.

This was the only Luby's Cafeteria in the area. There was also one in the mall that opened in 1996 but it closed after a while (lasting about five years, or less).

Enjoy the pictures I took in and around the restaurant shortly after closing (and after Eccell repainted it), taken May 2014.

UPDATE 04-11-2022: While some other updates have been made in the past (2019 to account for a few new things, including La Bodega Express, the Post Oak Mall location, and others. A second update in 2020 rearranged the article and updated what happened to Café Eccell), KBTX has reported that Public & Main has closed for good. No other changes have been made to the article, but [COVID-19] has been replaced with [defunct].
UPDATE 08-03-2023: The next restaurant here will be Sushi Masa, though as of June 2023 the signage still reads Public & Main.
UPDATE 09-08-2023: Sushi Masa is now open, [defunct] removed.
UPDATE 05-10-2024: I should mention that as Public & Main it featured So-Fly Hot Chicken to replace La Bodega Express.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Texaco at Highway 6 and Highway 21

Today, a Texaco store stands proudly here. This picture and the others below are from the author, September 2016 (except for the Circle K Truxtop picture).

Funny story--I originally had wanted to do this post back in September 2016 (the rewritten version of course, as the "date posted" is from well before that) when Alimentation Couche-Tard announced it would buy CST Brands. In layman's terms, Corner Store, the convenience store commonly associated with Valero (though independent since 2013) would be turned into Circle K (which unfortunately recently did away with its classic or at least classic-inspired logo for a new, worse one). With that in mind, I felt it was high time to cover one of the Circle K stores that did grace our fair city before a wave of new Circle K stores come in adjacent to the Valero stores (if not taking them over entirely). This is of course a "rebranded" post originally posted as "Two TETCO Stores" many years ago.

But not to be outdone, there was news some months later that Sunoco, which had bought Stripes a few years back (resulting in new Sunoco gas canopies), was selling its convenience stores out to 7-Eleven, which would ultimately be the boost that put real 7-Eleven stores back in College Station-Bryan.

There is one other TETCO store that used to be covered on this blog, and that would be the one at Harvey Road and Texas Avenue, which has difficult access (parking was never accessible from Culpepper Plaza) and has been operating for years as an Exxon. That one has been operating for years as an Exxon (since the 1980s, though unfortunately I don't have a lot of info on it, it seems like there was more of an emphasis on auto parts), and would eventually go under the Speedy Stop name (but still an Exxon). I believe the SS name has been in place since 2000, as evidence seems to point that the original Exxon was auto repair-oriented but the rebuilt Exxon was not. I don't remember the old Exxon, personally, but I did take two pictures when it was Speedy Stop.

To begin, who remembers UtoteM? It was a small convenience store chain that once had locations all over the area, and we've covered a number of them in this blog before. My records indicate that there was one at the current site of Jin's Asian Cafe (though I currently lack the phone book records for it), one at 301 Patricia, one at the current site of Northpoint Crossing, one at what is now the current site of Checkers there at Holleman and Welsh, one at 105 Walton (that link goes to the main Eastgate page, I've been wanting to separate those into different pages), and one that later became a bus station, and those are the ones actually covered here. (An extant example can be found at the corner of Old College Road and College Main, unless that has closed and I just haven't been aware of that fact yet)

As mentioned on this page regarding the gas station at Longmire and Harvey Mitchell, Circle K bought these stores and shut most of the original UtoteM stores down almost immediately afterward. They weren't all bad, though, because UtoteM did construct a few modern stores with pumps just a few years before it sold out. 3401 Texas 21 was one of them, and by the early 1990s, this would be branded as a Circle K "Truxtop".

OK, I cheated: this isn't actually from the Bryan store, it's from Skyline Products but I still imagine the Texaco sign looking sort of like this

As part of a sale in mid-1999, Circle K sold its stores in town to Duke & Long as part of a 142 store deal, which rebranded the stores to Everyday and gave all the stores Conoco gas pumps, but a few years later, Duke & Long filed bankruptcy, and from there, the stores went their separate ways. Many of the stores went to Speedy Stop, which in turn sold a few, like Villa Maria/Cavitt and Longmire/Harvey Mitchell Parkway sold to Handi Stop in the mid-2000s, becoming Diamond Shamrock briefly before switching to Texaco as Valero began to consume the Diamond Shamrock name. Others, like 1600 South College Avenue, went independent (it still holds a Conoco-shaped sign).
Note the oval-shaped sign, that's from Conoco

However, 3401 Texas 21 held onto its Speedy Stop name until it was the only one in town left (along with a second Speedy Stop not related to the Circle K lineage). I don't know if 3401 Texas 21 had a Diamond Shamrock branding in the mid-2000s, I'm 95% sure it did, but it did have Texaco gas by 2007 like the Handi Stop stores (and by that time, the Diamond Shamrock stores were well on their way to being replaced by Valero completely). Despite promises, the TETCO stores have yet to receive full 7-Eleven branding, perhaps when the Stripes deal is closed they will get the leverage to finally push it, as it will expand their holdings to 10 stores (in theory--I can imagine the Holleman Rattlers sold off for being too close and the former Chicks sold off for being too big). It would also put well above Circle K, which would only gain four stores in their deal, all of them east of Texas Avenue and none of them too impressive.

Hopefully this will receive proper 7-Eleven branding soon enough!

As of October 2019, the gas station now has Chevron as the name with the Chevron logo on the highway, but still with TETCO branding.

UPDATE 06-23-2021: New title (from "Circle K Truxtop"), new captions. [Diamond Shamrock] also added. Also some updates were made reflecting Circle K and 7-Eleven and their changes here.
UPDATE 04-18-2021: Somewhere around December 2021 the convenience store was officially rebranded as 7-Eleven. (The Conoco oval is now gone).
UPDATE 06-16-2023: Unfortunately, the Highbeam article no longer works. We'll continue to search for a replacement.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Circle Drive-In and The Things That Replaced It

I'd probably be facing the screen at this point (if a long way away). Picture by author, August 2019.

In the planning process of the blog's current layout, I had considered deleting this post in favor of the dedicated Circle Drive-In post I had written in 2012. However, I noticed that even though it was a later post, this page (originally on Newport Condominiums) had far more views, and thus better SEO.

The Circle Drive-In of College Station, Texas, was located near the corner of modern-day College Avenue and University Drive. Still whispered about on the Internet and unrelated to the Circle Drive-In in Waco, mostly intact but now a flea market, the Circle Drive-In was so named because (like its unrelated Waco cousin) a traffic circle was nearby (which is now gone). In the old Circle Drive-In page of the blog, I added three pictures from Mapping Historic Aggieland from 1964, 1979, and 1983. The address is officially unknown, some say 402 Nagle but I can't find a proof of that. More accurate is the opening from 1952, but even Cinema Treasures, which often lists the first movie(s) shown at a new theater, does not have much information on it.



Picture credit: Historic Aggieland

It disappeared entirely between 1979 and 1983 (probably closed soon after the time University Square came into existence, which had a movie theater of its own) and was quickly forgotten.

Both North Ramparts (400 Nagle) and Newport Condominiums (402 Nagle) were built in 1981. Newport met its end in 2013, either because St. Mary's bought it or because of questionable structural integrity (note in Street View, the siding is missing). Despite that, they were still leasing as "The Lodge at Northgate" a few months before demolition. The apartments were built on a modified pier and beam layout where the parking was below the building about half a floor down, which is admittedly somewhat unique for College Station, but buildings aren't worth saving on being unique alone. One comment I received (in August 2016) had some rather unkind words to say about the building, even back in the late 1990s: I lived in Newport Condominiums in 1998-99 [in] a three bedroom unit. The rooms were very small and narrow. The management didn't seem to clean the units for new residents. And it seemed like the management also did not like to repair things, paint either the interior or exterior, etc. The place was going downhill fast. I do remember it was cheap and the location couldn't be beat, as far as proximity to campus.

Some of the Street View pictures that were in the original version of this post can be seen below.

Most of the theater ended up becoming the "Mud Lot", a cheap dirt parking lot owned by St. Mary's, though when most of it was converted to actual parking for the church, the other half closed (and some of the land was never even used as parking). This would remain untouched for well over a decade until construction started on "The Stack at Legacy Point" (711 Church Avenue) which was in conjunction with redeveloping University Square (a project that is stillborn as of this writing), which seems to be relatively decent for those who actually lived there. The apartments have only one ground-level tenant, a MedPlus medical clinic branch ("MedPlus at the Stack") which opened in February 2014.

Updated August 2019.

UPDATE 01-21-2022: One more story--about where The Stack is today and stretching into the adjacent "The Field at the Stack" (site of the former Albertsons and adjacent stores), was supposed to be a 10-story Marriott hotel and convention center proposed by the city in 2005, but plans fell through.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Luther's Bar-B-Q

The sky really wasn't that overcast, I had to make some changes to make the actual subject lighter. Picture by author, May 2019.

The current BCS Tires & Lifts looks quite a bit different than its incarnation as a restaurant. While it didn't last long in its original incarnation, it was the home of Luther's Bar-B-Q, a chain out of Houston which at the time of its construction in late 1984 (may have actually opened in 1985) was operated by a company named Diversifoods, which owned a number of Burger King franchises and a few other chains. In 1985, Diversifoods accepted a buyout from Burger King's parent company Pillsbury (effectively ending a feud that Diversifoods and its predecessor company Chart House had with Burger King franchises) but it had the unfortunate side effect of halting Luther's expansion and closing a number of stores soon after. The Luther's in College Station may have actually been only in business for as little as a year.

In any case, Pop's Barbecue was the successor tenant here, serving a similar menu, though the different phone number suggests an entirely new restaurant and not just a disconnection from Luther's. Pop's had a more successful run until around 1995-1997 when it closed and became the new location of Epicures Catering. Pictures of when Epicures was here can be seen on Yelp since I lack pictures of my own. Epicures existed prior to moving here but located somewhere else (unfortunately, the phone books don't list the address of where it was) and over time, Epicures lost its luster (it used to be a big advertiser in local dining guides) and fell into disrepair until moving out to rural Brazos County. The original green overhang was replaced with a gold-colored one in the mid-2000s after the old one was too tattered.

After Epicures stopped operating in the spot, the building was extensively renovated and expanded to become a franchise of Conroe-based TireMax, opening in 2011. However, not too long after TireMax opened, the parent company went bust and it had to change its name to "BCS Tires & Lifts", so the sign didn't look quite as good after that.

One more important piece of information, as Luther's address was 2321 Texas Avenue South, and subsequent businesses used 2319, while Discount Tire (built in 1986) used the 2321 address. This made research of the building's original use confusing.

UPDATE 04-17-2022: While this post last received an update in 2020, another change is that BCS Tires & Lifts (also known as "BCS Tire Pros") had either been bought out or otherwise replaced in early 2022 by Big O Tires.