Written by Super User
This quirky art mecca offers creative escape
By Charles Lohrmann
Even though Marfa’s population is small (2,400), the ideas are grand in this Big-Bend-region hideout, and like other “art towns,” Marfa can be mystifying for the newcomer. But don’t be intimidated! Even if you’re baffled by rumors of the latest behind-the-scenes art-world coup, you can get to know Marfa’s quirky personality on your own schedule. There are weekends, such as during the annual film festival in May or Chinati Open House in October, when the crowds can overwhelm the town. But there are quieter times when you might want to just bicycle around town and enjoy the leisurely pace of a West Texas village.
If you don't have an agenda when you arrive in Marfa for the weekend, a good place to ask a couple of questions is the Marfa Book Company. MBC owner Tim Johnson, who took over the bookstore a little more than three years ago (but worked there for years before), holds to a belief that the bookstore (on Highland Avenue, the town’s main street) serves as a community hub and creative crossroads. As such, the MBC frequently hosts films and gallery events along with presentations by artists and writers. Stop here for a quick glimpse into what’s happening at the moment. And, of course, browse the excellent inventory, including sections on art, regional travel, history, and literature.
“Our philosophy is that, in today’s world, a bookstore needs to be more of a cultural center,” Johnson explains. “I’m always happy to let people know what’s going on in the different realms of Marfa, whether it’s James McMurtry playing at Padre’s, a punk band playing a backyard show, an art event in a non-traditional space, or something else unexpected. I draw a ton of maps for people to find out-of-the-way places.”
Johnson’s on-the-spot suggestions can be all the more important because of the rate at which both people and places change in Marfa: Galleries and restaurants seem to come and go, or keep odd hours that can change unexpectedly.
As a contrast to the ephemeral nature of life and commerce in Marfa, one of the institutions that keeps the town afloat, creatively speaking, is the Chinati Foundation. Established more than 30 years ago by Donald Judd, the foundation occupies the site of Fort D.A. Russell, a former military base first established in 1911. Judd remodeled some of the military buildings to create exhibit space for his own work and that of other artists he admired.
I’d planned a tour of the Chinati site (an essential experience of the world according to Donald Judd), but before driving over, I decided to take in the view of Marfa from the top floor of the Presidio County Courthouse. From that vantage, it’s possible to see the edge of town and the open country beyond. With the panorama of the Chinati and Davis mountains in the different distances, the view offers a sense of perspective about your place on the planet. And, the view emphasizes how compact a settlement on the high desert plains can make itself.
Dining in Marfa offers unexpected pleasures, from a spicy
burrito for breakfast (or lunch) at the sometimes boisterous Carmen’s or a
sumptuous, multi-course fine dining experience at Cochineal or Maiya’s. Given
the seasonal variations of the town’s commercial attitude, always double-check
hours of operation and devise a workable Plan B. One morning, I was surprised
when Carmen’s was closed,
but that gave me the excuse to indulge in Swiss chocolate and a croissant at squeeze-marfa near the courthouse.
Marfa lodging includes curious choices as well. For the retro-minimalist-desert experience, seek out the now-stationary trailers at El Cosmico. For local history and classic Southwestern architecture, the Hotel Paisano is the easy choice. Even if you don’t stay in the Paisano, visit the shops in the lobby and see the room dedicated to the 1956 film Giant. James Dean, Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, and other stars slept at the Paisano while filming nearby.
And it’s hard to resist seeking a glimpse of the Marfa Lights. The lights, which appear like erratic headlights in the mountainous nightscape, are attributed to many sources, but it’s the anticipation that counts, and it is a ritual to be observed.
Whether you decide to track down all the alternative-space exhibits or simply wander around this high-desert oasis, expect a mysterious response to the landscape and a new appreciation for eccentricity.
Unless you’re from Waco (or are a Baylor Bear), you may not have frequented this Central Texas hub off I-35. I decided to spend a day in Waco and explore beyond the access roads.
Lawndale Art Center spotlights modern design
Thanks to the nearly 20 museums, galleries, and other attractions in Houston’s lively Museum District, visitors can immerse themselves in topics as diverse as weather, butterflies, art, and design from around the world. But you don’t have to travel the world to find creative design, and Houston’s Lawndale Art Center aims to prove it during its first annual Design Fair 2010 (April 21-25), an event that brings new life (and a Texas focus) to Lawndale’s 20th Century Modern Market.
Lawndale’s executive director, Christine West,
transformation: “When we started Modern Market in the mid-1990s,
Modern design was collectible, but it wasn’t as popular as it is now.
there are other similar markets around the country; mainstream
like IKEA and West Elm are making knockoffs and reproductions; and the
television show Mad Men has influenced taste in fashion and furniture.
items have gotten expensive as the period has become more mainstream. So
decided to broaden the focus to incorporate the exciting things
'We’ll showcase the best designers in Texas, while we focus on both Mid-Century design and what is modern today.'
The event kicks off with a free public lecture on
then continues with a benefit preview party and sale on April 23 (tickets: $75), during which participants can enjoy first dibs on the fair’s furni-ture, glass, ceramics, lighting, books, metalwork, textiles, and fashion.
Design Fair continues on Saturday and Sunday with two floors of items on display (and for sale) by artists and designers from throughout the world. New for 2010: the Texas Co-Op, a presentation of furniture, glass, ceramics, lighting, books, metalwork, and fashion by Texas designers, curated by Houston retail legend Mickey Rosmarin. “We’ll showcase the best designers in Texas,” says West, “while we focus on both Mid-Century design and what is modern today.” Call 713/528-5858; www.lawndaleartcenter.org.
Near Downtown: The
Trinity River Audubon Center turns trash into treasure
a Piece of the Grove: A Central Texas village destined for new owners
The Trinity River Audubon Center turns trash into treasure
I take a boardwalk over a stream of shallow, tea-colored
water and follow the trail to a small wooded area. Under a wide, blue, North
Texas sky, bees buzz around hives tucked into the trees, and lizards sun on the
path. I negotiate a large puddle and hear the splash of a frog jumping into the
water up ahead. Tall cattails rustle in the breeze and blue dragonflies patrol
the surface of a small pond.
I feel miles from civilization, yet downtown Dallas lies less than 10 minutes away.
The 120-acre Trinity River Audubon Center, which opened to the public in October 2008, represents the first step of an ambitious plan for parks, trails, bridges, and other improvements on the river, together known as the Trinity River Corridor Project. While flood-control levees hem in the waterway west of downtown, here to the south, the river meanders through the 6,000-acre Great Trinity Forest, North America’s largest urban bottomland hardwood forest.
If 6,000 acres of natural land aren’t surprise enough, there’s this: The Center occupies a former illegal dump site. Once cursed with 1.5 million tons of construction waste, it has been transformed into a rolling landscape covered with Texas prairie grasses. Four miles of trails traverse woods and circle ponds and wetlands, where shorebirds wade in the shallows. The main building, designed by architect Antoine Predock, has a vegetated roof, a rainwater-collection system, energy-efficient heating and cooling systems, solar panels, and was built of sustainable materials that include Forest Stewardship Council-certified cypress walls, bamboo flooring, and recycled denim insulation. Floor-to-ceiling windows slant toward the ground to prevent bird strikes. Outer walls sport concrete made from locally quarried gravel and sand. Dramatic angles rise above the floodplain to a soaring point, evoking the image of a bird about to take flight.
Owned by the city of Dallas and operated by Audubon Texas, the facility serves as the flagship for the organization’s Texas education and conservation initiatives.
“Our intention is to give people access to the Great Trinity Forest and a close-up look at the river itself,” says Director Chris Culak. “But it’s also interesting to see what a landfill can look like once it’s cleaned up, to see how the property is being restored to its native state—part blackland prairie, forest, wetland, and ponds. Looking at it now, you’d never think it all had trash sitting on top of it.”
The Dallas Parks and Recreation Department hopes to
connect the Center’s trails to a network reaching downtown Dallas, making it
possible to hike or bike here from the heart of the city. For now, the Center
offers evidence of nature’s resilience and the power humans have in reversing
ecological damage. On your next trip to Dallas, spend some time at this
still-developing jewel. Grab a sandwich and soda in the gift shop and picnic on
the outdoor deck, watching for some of the 120 different species of birds
identified here. Just make sure to properly dispose of your trash.
- Buy a Piece of the Grove: A Central Texas village destined for new owners
- Object Lesson: Lawndale Arts Center spotlights modern design
Texas village destined for new owners
It is rare to find an entire town on the market.
But such an opportunity is coming up because The Grove is on the auction block: Its general store, blacksmith shop, and saloon—and all their contents—will be offered to the highest bidder during an event set for the weekend of April 23-24.
The Grove, about 15 miles northwest of Temple, first came to life in 1917, when the general store and Lutheran church were built to serve the community. After the highway was moved because residents didn’t want to pave over their well, The Grove grew ever quieter.
Then, beginning in 1972, the village regained some energy through the indulgence of Moody Anderson, a retired National Guard colonel and inveterate antiques collector. Ever since then, Anderson has restored, renovated, tinkered, and shaped a sort of living museum.
'(Moody Anderson) really brought vitality to the community, and his collections are so visually rich that students and young filmmakers are drawn to it. The general store is organized in such a way that it helps you take a step back into the past"
“This has been Moody’s playground and his passion,” explains Lori Najvar, who documents history on The Grove (and other Texas culture) through her nonprofit PolkaWorks.org. “He really brought vitality to the community, and his collections are so visually rich that students and young filmmakers are drawn to it. The general store is organized in such a way that it helps you take a step back into the past,” she adds.
Indeed, there are household and veterinary products from “the old days” on the general store’s shelves. The smithey’s tongs and hammers rest near the bellows in the blacksmith shop, scary period instruments await a patient in the dentist’s office, and a fabled bar-back sets a western vibe for the Cockleburr Saloon. Some of these pieces are famous in their own right because Anderson often rents props to film and television productions, including Lonesome Dove.
“Many of the artists who live here have statewide reputations; some are nationally known.”
By Nola McKey
Recently, I decided to explore the peaceful-looking village of Salado. I found its claim to fame—Best Art Town in Texas—intriguing. Was this Bell County community (population 3,600) really a bellwether of the arts?
As I drove down Main Street, admiring the historic buildings and attractive storefronts, I realized that if a scenic setting is a prerequisite for attracting artists, then Salado fills the bill, in spades. The rippling waters of Salado Creek flow through the heart of downtown, slowing the pace both literally and figuratively.
Just downstream from the Main Street Bridge sits Salado’s famous bronze of a legendary maiden-turned-mermaid, titled Sirena. Local sculptor Troy Kelley donated the work to Salado in 1989 and recently added a bronze of the magical catfish said to have changed Sirena into a mermaid forever.
Prellop Fine Art gallery owner Larry Prellop gave me his take on Salado’s arts scene. “For the size of this community, we have one of the most impressive collections of artists and galleries in the state,” he said. “Many of the artists who live here—and there are a lot—have statewide reputations; some are nationally known.”
Prellop, who paints distinctly realistic seascapes and Hill Country scenes, represents more than 30 artists who work in oils, acrylics, watercolor, glass, and metal, including metal artist Charles Allen, whose “botanical sculptures”—life-size, three-dimensional depictions of flowers with minute details—caught my eye.
Hershall Seals, chairman of the art department at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in nearby Belton, says “Salado has a unique arts community,” Seals told me, “and I don’t mean just visual arts. The Silver Spur Theater, in the old Grain & Seed building, presents first-class vaudeville-type performances, and the Tablerock amphitheater offers programs almost every month.”
A Schulenburg museum pays homage to local inventors
By Danté Dominick
Long before a renovated dance hall and tours of painted churches put Schulenburg on the map, the name was printed on thousands of boxes of Stanzel Company model-airplane kits that were shipped to kids from Maine to California. Today, the Stanzel Model Aircraft Museum is more than a hobbyist’s paradise; it shows anything is possible if you follow your passion.
The main building features 30 displays highlighting the groundbreaking achievements of brothers Victor and Joe Stanzel, who would eventually own 25 patents. While baseball-card collectors have their Honus Wagner, model-airplane enthusiasts have the Tiger Shark, and the original prototype is on display here. The Stanzels unveiled the Tiger Shark in 1939, the first control-line model-plane kit in the world. Previously, model airplanes were carefully built, painted, filled with fuel, and set off for their maiden—and usually final—flights. The Stanzels would continue their innovations in motorized control-line flight with models capable of speeds well over 100 mph.
The adjacent factory museum was the Stanzel Company’s original manufacturing facility. Neatly tucked among giant pieces of ma--chinery is one that’s not so giant: an antiquated Maytag wash-ing machine used to adhere the stickers on model wings. In the 1950s, the Stanzels shifted to pre-assembled toys without skipping a beat. Victor’s imaginative toys and packaging—like the Electromic Scoot Air Car and Space-Kraft Star Raider—are the Holy Grail for collectors of kitsch.
Miranda Lambert's store and winery brings music fans to Lindale
Next time you’re motoring through East Texas on Interstate 20, don’t dare pass the Tyler/Lindale/Mineola exit. There’s plenty to enjoy in Tyler—the famous Municipal Rose Gardens, the Caldwell Zoo, Dewberry Plantation, Tyler State Park, and much more. To the north about 15 miles on US 69, the venerable town of Mineola awaits with the Select Theatre, a railroad depot/museum, Lott House, 99.9 country KMOO-FM, a nice nature preserve, and historical markers galore.
However, I found a feel-good surprise in between Tyler and Mineola— country music singer/songwriter Miranda Lambert’s hometown of Lindale. On a recent trek, I stopped in at the Miranda Lambert Store & Red 55 Winery—named after the first truck Lambert owned, a red ’55 Chevy pickup. This former funeral parlor at the corner of Hubbard and Main offers wines (like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a sweet, white Muscat Canelli; and Red 55, a smooth Cabernet Sauvignon) from LouViney Vineyards in Sulphur Springs. The wines’ names honor Lambert’s hits, prized possessions, and career highlights.
It’s relaxed, friendly, and comfortable here. The store/winery also doubles as a cozy lounge/mu-sic space with a stage, sound system, and Miranda memorabilia—posters, magazine covers, and gold records. There’s karaoke on Thursday nights; live music on Saturday nights. And, the store is the source for licensed Miranda merchandise—CDs, DVDs, T-shirts, caps, et al. Manager April Lewis takes phone and online orders from all over the world. Main Street banners proclaim: Welcome to Lindale—Star of East Texas.
The Miranda Lambert Store & Red 55 Winery is at 100 E. Hubbard in Lindale. Open Mon-Sat. Call 903/882-9305; www.mirandalambert.com. Miranda Lambert’s latest CD, Revolution, is now available from Columbia/Sony Music Nashville.
Historic Sengelmann Hall's reopening revitalizes Schulenburg
By Danté Dominick
It’s easy to believe the rolling countryside around Schulenburg doesn’t look a whole lot different than it did in horse-and-buggy days. But make your way to Schulenburg any weekend, and you’ll have to look a little harder than in years past to find a parking spot in the historic downtown area. People come from surrounding counties, as well as Victoria, Austin, Houston, and San Antonio. They come ... to dance.
They’re dancing on the same majestic dance floor that Schulenburg residents did more than a century ago: the 115-year-old longleaf pine of Sengelmann Hall. The upstairs dance hall in this resplendent, two-story building had gone the way of Miss Havisham’s mansion, filled with cobwebs, peeling paint, and even party debris from its last hurrah nearly 70 years ago. But, of course, this isn’t a story of last hurrahs.
First constructed in the late 1870s, then rebuilt in 1894 after a devastating fire, Sengelmann Hall had been closed since the early 1940s until it underwent restoration and reopened to a packed house in June 2009. Today, Sengelmann Hall hums with a vibrant energy as tangible as its stately brick walls. Family-style seating keeps the street-level dining room and saloon alive with banter Thursday through Sunday. To see the crown jewel—the actual dance hall—go through the inviting beer garden and head upstairs, where precious little has been altered. Nationally touring bands from throughout Texas (especially Austin) motivate hundreds of dancers around the spacious room. Young lovers two-step alongside couples who have been married for decades. The two groups smile at each other; love is not a generational thing.
On the dance floor, young lovers two-step alongside couples who have been married for decades.
Two-step country, Western Swing, and even Louisiana boogie enliven Friday and Saturday nights. On Thursday nights, honky-tonk piano man Earl Poole Ball, who played with Johnny Cash for more than 20 years, has a weekly gig in the dining room. Sunday afternoons are reserved for polka.
Every aspect of Sengelmann Hall, in fact, embraces this region’s Czech and German heritage, as well as owner Dana Harper’s family heritage. His great-great-great-great-grandparents, Charles and Wilhelmina Kessler, were among the earliest settlers, arriving in the 1850s. Their granddaughter, Lillie Cranz, met Harper’s great-great-grandfather, oil wildcatter and Houston philanthropist Hugh Roy Cullen, in Schulenburg, where the two most certainly danced a night or two away.
While Harper went to great lengths during the restoration to preserve the original structure, the spiritual rejuvenation of the space received equal care. “It’s a Texas cultural legacy we’ve been handed,” says Harper. “This whole place is about tradition and roots, from the food to the drinks to the architecture, the music … and family.”
Steve Dean, former manager of the dance hall, finds the family aspect especially fascinating. Dean is cofounder of the nonprofit Texas Dance Hall Preservation (www.texasdancehall.org) and has spent six years researching Texas dance hall history. “Back in the old days, you’d get four generations in the dance hall,” Dean says. “They even had sleeping rooms sometimes where you could put the babies down.”
Dean’s exuberance in bringing this way of life back to life represents the feelings of all who are involved with the project. The everybody-knows-everybody chain of small-town life steered the quest for a high-caliber chef to Schulenburger Kenny Kopecky, who flourished for seven years at restaurants in Austin and Houston.
Kopecky collaborated on the Sengelmann Hall menu with Harper’s wife, Hana Hillerova Harper, a native of Prague. The resulting cuisine has been dubbed “pul-a-pul,” Czech for half-and-half—a nod to its Czech and German influences. Hillerova family recipes featured on the menu include the topinka (an appetizer made with homemade rye bread, skillet-toasted in duck fat, and spread with garlic paste), potato pancakes, a hearty goulash, and duck with bacon dumplings.
'It’s a Texas cultural legacy we’ve been handed. This whole place is about tradition and roots, from the food to the drinks to the architecture, the music … and family.'
And while Sengelmann Hall itself warrants a trip to Schulenburg, this cultural treasure-trove awaits further exploration. Scenic, two-lane byways spoke out from Schulenburg with tiny, unincorporated communities popping up about every 15 minutes. The “Painted Churches” in these mostly Czech communities have been Fayette County’s calling card of sorts; they were even the subject of a PBS documentary in 2001. The buildings appear to be simple, country churches on the outside, but an explosion of ornate color adorns the interiors, with murals covering every inch of wall and ceiling space. A guided tour from Schulenburg visits four of the churches, and several more lie nearby. Any local will gladly give you directions.
Though not on the official tour, one of the churches sits peacefully nestled in Moravia, 10 miles southwest of Schulenburg, where you’ll also find the Moravia Store. Here you can enjoy the other staple of early Czech life: beer. To say the friendly watering hole, built in 1889, has some character is like saying Texas has some cows—an understatement. There’s dancing every Saturday night, but chatting with the amiable locals provides sufficient cause for a visit any weekday.
Schulenburg offers a number of B&Bs and hotels, but in keeping with the historic theme, check out the Texana Trails and Lodge in Hostyn, about 15 minutes north of Schulenburg. The land is delicately dotted with Spanish and pin oak trees, though it was almost crowded with legislators and lobbyists. One of the lodgings—the ca. 1835 Historic Stonehouse—displays a Texas Historical Marker that reads, “In 1838, the Republic of Texas Congress voted to buy this land and the adjoining [league] as a location for the new capital, to be named ‘Austin.’ But President Sam Houston vetoed the bill.” You can learn more from Texana Trails’ owner, Lennie Brown, the great-granddaughter of the statesman who proposed this site for the capital.
Brown has noticed an increase in travelers since Sengelmann Hall opened, an observation echoed by several Schulenburg business owners. More importantly, the project seems to have injected a revitalized spirit, one that is spreading. The Texas Polka Music Museum will open in early 2010, as will the reinvigorated Schulenburg Historical Museum, which showcases town history and Native American artifacts.
While most of the interstate traffic continues to whiz by, more and more people are taking the time to discover that Schulenburg is not only a halfway point between Houston and San Antonio—it’s a bridge between two eras.
An outlaw's nemesis (and a snappy dresser, too)
My God, boys! It’s the Lone Wolf! Let’s scram!” In the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s, those words echoed from Borger to Brownsville whenever wrong-doers caught sight of fabled Texas Ranger Manuel Trazazas “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas. Born in Cádiz, Spain, on July 4, 1891, to parents who were naturalized U.S. citizens, Gonzaullas became the first Ranger Captain of Hispanic ancestry.
Manuel dreamed of wearing the star growing up in El Paso, where he was awestruck by the sight of legendary Ranger John R. Hughes, the “Border Boss,” on horseback. That early desire to fight lawlessness was further inflamed as a teenager, when bandits killed his two brothers and wounded his parents. After stints in the Mexican army and the United States Treasury Department, Gonzaullas took the Ranger oath on October 1, 1920.
Assigned to clean up crime in the North Texas oil fields, it wasn’t long before Gonzaullas attained his nickname. The first known printed reference to his handle appeared in the Wichita Falls Daily Times on December 29, 1920. “Ranger Gonzaullas,” reported the paper, “who is known throughout the oil fields where he has been on duty as ‘Lone Wolf,’ was recognized by at least a dozen characters ... who approached him and said they were leaving for other places immediately.”
Lone Wolf’s presence inspired a similar exodus from other problem areas. Cool under fire and an excellent marksman, the Ranger arrested so many bootleggers, gambling operators, thugs and killers that he often had to improvise jail facilities. In Borger, outlaws and crooked cops alike were chained to a stout device that Lone Wolf called the “snortin’ pole.” In wide-open Kilgore, criminals were hooked to a massive chain called the “trotline.”
In addition to patrolling the oil fields, Gonzaullas’ long tenure included work on almost every headline-making case of the day. He hunted for the bank robbers—one of whom was dressed as Santa Claus—who shot up Cisco in December 1927. He was on hand for the “War of the Bridges” in 1931, when Oklahoma Governor William H. “Alfalfa Bill” Murray declared martial law at a newly built free bridge intended to replace an adjacent toll bridge. In 1947, armed guards and a state-of-the-art electrical warning system that protected illegal gambling at Arlington’s Top O’ Hill Terrace casino proved no match for Lone Wolf.
When Miriam Ferguson recaptured the governor’s office in 1933, she discharged many Rangers, including Lone Wolf. The Legislature then removed the Rangers from the governor’s jurisdiction and placed the agency under the control of the newly created Department of Public Safety. Reinstated, Gonzaullas became superintendent of the DPS Bureau of Intelligence. As an early advocate of forensics, Lone Wolf introduced the Rangers to ballistics, paraffin tests and other crime-fighting techniques.
El Lobo Solo was also admired for his sartorial showmanship. In Kilgore, for instance, he kept extra boots brilliantly shined so that he’d always have a fresh pair if he stepped in the omnipresent boom-town mud. The shootin’ irons in Lone Wolf’s hand-tooled holsters were intricately inlaid with gold.
It’s perhaps fitting, then, that after retiring from the Rangers in 1951, he spent five years as a consultant for Hollywood shoot-’em-ups. He had a business interest in the radio and television series Tales of the Texas Rangers, and exercised final approval of all scripts to ensure authenticity. After all, what Los Angeles scriptwriter would dare tangle with a man called “Lone Wolf” who could honestly remark, “I went into lots of fights by myself, and I came out by myself, too!”
Granbury weekend combines sumptuous lodging, architecture
By Charles Lohrmann
Granbury’s location, less than an hour’s drive southwest of Fort Worth on US 377, makes the town an easy weekend destination for Metroplex denizens. And because Granbury lies within another half hour’s drive of Glen Rose, Hico, and scenic driving tours, the town draws travelers from farther afield for a longer visit.
I’m typically more interested in Granbury’s historic district than the outdoors activities offered by Lake Granbury, so a late-spring invitation to speak at a writers’ conference had me anticipating a drive through Clifton, Meridian, and Walnut Springs.
The conference, called Writing Down the Brazos, is sponsored by the Dora Lee Langdon Cultural and Educational Center, an outreach facility of Tarleton State University. The two-story, columned, Victorian house that now serves as The Langdon Center’s office had long attracted my attention because of its unexpectedly abbreviated dimensions. The house seems too tall for its depth, and I assumed it was constructed according to an unusual Greek Revival design.
When I asked Langdon Center Director Janice Horak about the house, she explained that descendents of the original owners implemented a radical form of downsizing by literally reducing the footprint of their rambling house. They sliced off the back half and rebuilt the front section, creating a visually memorable result. The building, named The Gordon House for its original owner, now anchors a five-building, city-block compound near Granbury’s courthouse square.
Before arriving at the welcoming reception in the Gordon House on Friday afternoon, I have a few minutes to check in to the Iron Horse Inn B&B, where I’ll spend two nights. Owner and host Therese Martin, who operates the B&B with her husband, Paul, guided me on a quick tour of the two-story building, one of the larger historic homes in Granbury. Each of the spacious rooms, sumptuous--ly ap-pointed, connects to a private bath. I settle into the two-room Cogdell Suite, named for the house’s original owner, Granbury banker and businessman Daniel Cogdell.
By the time the conference’s networking reception winds down that evening, a surprisingly blustery cold front has chilled the air. I notice that, in the brisk wind, a scattering of early daffodils around town seem to shiver as if they’ve forgotten their jackets. I join a group of my conference friends and walk the two blocks to Stringfellow’s restaurant on one corner of the square. A traditional menu here includes steak au poivre, a personal favorite. Our crowd quickly warms the room with lively conversation. In a few minutes, Stringfellow’s owner Dianne Rawls Davis joins us to share observations about local lore that suggests John Wilkes Booth survived attempts on his life after the Lincoln assassination and took up residence in Granbury as a barten-der, living under the name John St. Helen.
The conference starts early on Saturday, but Therese Martin breaks the Iron Horse Inn house rule of 9 a.m. breakfast to construct an omelette. After breakfast, I start a meandering drive through the center of Granbury, detouring to take a look at the new convention cen-ter with its near-by beach, des-igned to entice warm-weath--er visitors to take a dip. A few Canada geese have drifted into town with the cold front, and they’re well-suited to the frosty temperatures. I can’t help noting the irony of a literary con-ference near Lake Gran--bury because the lake is the result of the very dam that John Graves lamented when he made his 1957 canoe trip on the Brazos. That trip culminated in the Texas literary classic Goodbye to a River.
After the morning’s session, we break for lunch at the Inn on Lake Granbury, an eight-room bed and breakfast sited on well-tended grounds that feature a flagstone-lined pool. A capacious meeting space accommodates our group, and while the lunch arrangements are completed, there’s time for a stroll around the grounds. From the property’s edge, I enjoy a sunny view across the lake to Comanche Peak, the prominent geographic and historical landmark. After the salad, sandwiches, and dessert, Inn on Lake Granbury owners Cathy Casey and Jim Leitch offer a tour of the property along with a glimpse at a couple of the luxurious rooms. The owners explain that the Langdon Center also sponsors cooking classes each month in the same meeting room where our group dines.
Later that afternoon, we have more free time and, willing to challenge the gusty wind, I visit the Hood County Courthouse. The Historic Nutt House Hotel anchors one corner of the square and invites folks in. I browse through a bookstore and an antiques shop, and am tempted to stop in to D’vine Wine and take advantage of the proprietors’ offer of a tasting, but I have one more session left at the conference and the timing is not propitious. A sign on The Downtown Store assures me “there’s something for everyone,” but I’ll have to take a rain check on fulfilling that promise.
After the conference, I have a few minutes to relax on the porch of the Iron Horse Inn, where Paul Martin offers a glass of wine and I quiz him about his career in the U.S. State Department. As he describes posts in Italy, Russia, and Africa, I wonder if the quiet life of a B&B owner will hold his interest. He assures me he’s had enough of armored cars, fenced compounds, and security guards, and that he prefers the peaceful side streets of Granbury.
Sunday morning: Time for a visit to the square. The main highways around town are heavily trafficked, but the old town is quiet. A hand-lettered chalkboard outside The Nutshell Bakery announces blueberry pancakes, but I decide to wait for breakfast at the Iron Horse. At the breakfast table, I chat with Elise and Paul Porras of Arlington, who are celebrating their anniversary. They’re on their way to Dublin, 40 miles away, to stock up on the original-recipe Dr Pepper. That’s something I could do on the way home.
Beaumont’s former red-light district
When oil was dis-covered on the outskirts of Beaumont in 1901, fortune-seekers of all stripes flocked to town to do business with the exploding popu-lation. Today, some 45 structures—most built between 1901 and 1940—near downtown Beaumont contribute to the town’s restored National Register District. Here, you’ll find attractions such as the Jefferson Theatre, the Barking Dog Coffee Lounge, Suga’s Deep South Cuisine & Jazz Bar, and the Quality Café, a restaurant that dates to the 1920s.
Among the oldest buildings in the district is the former Dixie Hotel, home of madam Rita Ainsworth’s notorious bordello, which was finally shuttered in 1961 by the James Commission. Reinvented as the Dixie Dance Hall, the building today anchors Beaumont’s Crockett Street Entertainment District, where restaurants and bars draw an eclectic crowd.
“We’re kind of progressive,” says Dixie manager Billy Lynch. “We’ll play the ‘Cotton-Eyed Joe’ and then go straight into ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me’ by Def Leppard or something by Lady Gaga.”
The former red-light district still kindles Beaumont’s nightlife.