The Unusual History of the Brazos River Bridges

I was recently able to collaborate with Youtuber Scott Dailey who has made some interesting and unique videos around the Houston area. We made a trip out to Simonton where an old San Antonio and Aranssas Pass bridge still stands, providing a connection to a railroad which was abandoned nearly 20 years ago. I was able to provide some history, and got some footage using my drone.

The bridge, and rail line were purchased in 1992 by Metro with plans for commuter rail.

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My take on a “Broken Chain”

And Now For Something Completely Different

To kick off the new year, let’s try something new. We’re going to take a look at a Broken Chain. I was inspired to do this by my friend Zap Actiondowser who runs the blog Broken Chains, which I highly recommend all my readers go check out. A while back he featured a blog post on the Frostop Root Beer chain of restaurants. Admittedly I had never heard of the chain prior to Zap’s post. After reading his description of their root beer I was immediately hooked on the idea of getting my hands on some. I was able to try and love the bottled version sold at Rocket Fizz, I knew I had to get some from a fountain.

The Frostop in Baton Rouge

As luck would have it, my fiancee and I were invited to Mobile, Alabama to visit some friends over Christmas. The drive to Mobile required us to drive through Louisiana, and thus a stop at Frostop was in order! Checking Google Maps I found that there was Frostop was right off of I-10, in Baton Rouge. This would bode well as we had a deadline to meet for hotel check in. Approaching the building, I noticed that this particular location was still sporting their original mug sign. You could tell that the place had seen better days. While scouting out the location, pictures from earlier this year indicate the signage was in better shape earlier this year.

Maybe a bad storm dented the cup?

Making my way towards the building, I noticed something peculiar. Rather than an exact date the signage sports a “Since The 1950’s”. Frostop Root Beer has a history on its own website tracing the company back to 1926. While I understand that this location may have originated in the 50s, I still found it odd. Looking around the building, exterior features had been updated in a patch work fashion. Only giving attention to the spots that truly needed it. This would make it easy to believe to the casual passer by that Frostop was not a chain, but rather a single restaurant.

We made it to Frostop at around 4:30 PM. The inside was pretty quiet, with only a few diners. The menu features some curious additions to suit local tastes, namely the Po-Boys and Fried Fish dinners. Which I doubt showed up at the original Springfield, OH location. To keep things simple, I ordered a Chili Dog and my fiancee order a Chili Cheese Dog, we split an order of fries, and a large root beer. The order was taken and put into a modern POS system. Which printed a receipt at the grill for the cook to start. Despite the luddite-esque exterior the interior was jammed pack with technology, including multiple tablets for Uber Eats and the like. We were given our root beer told to have a seat, and that our number would be called shortly.

For Decoration Only

I tasted the root beer, which despite the photo above, was served out of a modern Coca-Cola Fountain. The root beer was served from a mostly unlabeled dispenser, which someone had cut a Barqs tag for leaving only “Root Beer” behind. I was immediately concerned about not being served the authentic Frostop Root Beer. There was something different about it from the bottled root beer. The flavor was still the same. However, it did not come across quite as strong as the bottled. I’m guessing this is down to someone not properly setting the syrup to carbonated water ratio.  After waiting for a few minutes, I got antsy and in the interest of time decided to take some quick pictures of the dining room, rather than waiting until after the meal.

This is called Terazzo flooring, and, I had to look the name up.

With plenty of time to wait, I found bits and pieces of the old restaurant starting to show through. There were many decorative root beer barrels, one of which was pictured above. However, none were original Frostop barrels. The laminate tiles were worn down in places like the front of the counter, and near the doorways. The seating was tired and torn up. Being just a few blocks North of LSU you would think that this was a popular college destination. However, for the most part we only saw small families or single diners throughout our time here. After about 20 minutes, a family who had ordered after us, received their food. Upon going to the front counter to find out where our two chili dogs were, I was told they had “completely forgotten about that”, and they’d get it out ASAP.

Well ten minutes later, our food finally emerged. Spending 30 minutes at Frostop was definitely something we did not plan for. Meaning I had to wolf this chili dog down. The Hot Dog, and the bun were delicious. The Hot Dog tasted like it may have been a full beef dog, and the bun was toasted on the griddle. The Chili however was another story. It tasted basically identical to any other fast food chili you could imagine. The closest analogue would be the hot dog chili served at fellow root beer based competitor A&W.  We ended up taking the fries to go, they were just standard kind of chunky fries. They could have absolutely used some salt.

Sitting in our booth in the back corner of the restaurant gave me some time to admire the view. The parking lot of Frostop literally backs up to these two houses. I also noticed that this location may have been possibly converted from a drive-in into a diner. My reasoning behind this is the distinctive slanted roof that Frostop used on their other drive-ins, and although I didn’t get a picture of it the bathrooms were very obviously originally outdoors as evident by the windows, and heavy doors.

Sadly the sign no longer rotates, although considering how often we get hurricanes in the Gulf Coast it’s surprising it’s still standing.

All in all, I enjoyed my experience chronicling a broken chain, and while I wouldn’t necessarily make a trip out to Baton Rouge, just for Frostop. I could see myself stopping to get some root beer. Once again, I would like to give a shout out to Zap Actiondowser and his blog Broken Chains. I really recommend checking it out, along with his Facebook page.

December Update

Greetings loyal reader, I’m glad you’re back! It’s been too long since I’ve written an update for the blog section of Houston Historic Retail. Fear not, as more blog updates should be on the way soon. However, that isn’t to say that updated have not been made to Houston Historic Retail. Most of the updates made were located in the pages section. You can access them through the menu above.

The updated include, a new database system that allows you to search locations of various chains, updates to information on certain pages like Rice Epicurean, Incredible Universe.  The creation of three new pages, Souper Salad  Kip’s Big Boy, and H-E-B Pantry Foods. Along with numerous updates to the back-end software which runs the site.

Go ahead, and have a look around. These are not the only updates made, but are the most major. If you have something you’d like to see featured on Houston Historic Retail, or just want to pass on some words of encouragement I always appreciate a comment or two! Also keep an eye out for what’s coming up next.

Welcome to Houston Historic Retail!

Welcome to Houston Historic Retail! If you’re here from the KPRC news article on Dying Malls let me introduce myself. My name is Mike, and I run this blog. If you’re interested in current going on’s in my research, and other modern retail topics I find interesting then scroll down this page. However, if you’re more interested in the history of Houston’s Retail Scene, click through the menus above.

If you enjoyed this please leave a comment, or stop by our Facebook page!

Former Big Kmart, Mercado 6

Around 2000 my family moved to the far west side of town. Getting from the loop area out to where we lived wasn’t an easy task. Your choices were basically either Westheimer or Richmond Avenue. Alternatively you could use highways like I-10 or 59. All of your options were linked by Highway 6. Driving up and down Highway 6 in the early 2000s was an incredible thing. One of the stores I would often pass was the Big Kmart at 7355 Highway 6.

Having a Big Kmart nearby was awesome, the variety of items they carried was incredible. At this point there were no Walmart locations on Highway 6 from I-10 to 90-A, save for a small non-super center location at Highway 6 and Beechnut.

Originally opening in 1992, this location closed in either 2001 or 2002. Likely due to a bankruptcy filing. I recall it sitting vacant only for a little while. It was almost immediately converted into its current use, a flea market.

Portions of the building have been converted to other uses. The indoor section of the garden center is a bookable event hall, and the out door portion is used as a patio for food trucks.

Aside from the front doors, all external access has been gated and locked. Including the loading bay.

Something interesting to note is that the Kmart sign is not used by Mercado 6, but rather an old billboard was purchased and converted to use as a sign.

As you may have noticed in the last photo the parking lot is quite lively in terms of new businesses. While the Flea Market looks dead in comparison, this is only due to the fact that it’s only open weekends. My next goal is to come back out and capture some interior shots.

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What’s Going on at the former Fuddrucker’s on Kirkwood

I moved recently! I relocated from the center of Houston, closer to my job on the west side of town. During one of my many trips moving things back and forth, I noticed a recently closed Fuddrucker’s at 2475 S. Kirkwood . I had been to this location a few times, when I was child. My parents had at that time also moved to the west side, and we would “meet in the middle” for lunch with my grandparents. We would sometimes go to Le Peep, often Luby’s, and every once and a while, this Fuddrucker’s.

Walking up to the building didn’t elicit any direct memories. I could make out that there was writing on the windows, but other than that the black paint did such a bad job of hiding the logo it looked like it was just faded out.

A close up of the awning shows that the logo still shines through. In addition to painting the awning, the sign on the building was removed, and the road sign was also painted over. Coming closer to the door revealed a Construction Permit.

This location was sold August 24th, and closed 4 days later. However, the permit still lists Luby’s Fuddrucker’s Restaurant as the occupant. The permit is for demolishing interior walls.

Upon looking into the restaurant, the interior walls had obviously been demolished, but many things were left behind. Including most of the kitchen equipment. This leads me to believe that this Fuddrucker’s may be coming back.

Even though looking at the building from afar didn’t bring back any memories, this rear dining room did. Specifically the awesome sloped roof! Along with the exposed HVAC equipment.

Coming to the back of the restaurant, it was obvious that people had been working. The lights and fans were all on. Also worth noticing is that not only were appliances and fixtures, like this sink were left behind. Things like flatware, prep containers, and even dish washing supplies stuck around.

This building was constructed in 1983, however Fuddrucker’s did not move in until 1988, or if they did I can’t find any mention of it. I’m relatively sure this back dining room replaced a patio. My indications were the door frames in the walls, the separate slabs, and the need for a separate A/C system as seen in the next photo.

Moving on from the wonderfully industrial HVAC equipment, some corner booths were left behind. I’m not sure if this location ever received the “full remodel” that many other Fuddrucker’s locations received. However, these round booths were generally the only thing left after one was finished. If Fuddrucker’s isn’t coming back it would be a little strange that these are still here.

Looking at the rear dining room, it makes the theory that this was an addition even stronger. Including the exterior A/C units. There was a relatively large rear parking lot. Also noticeable in the picture, is a rear door.

Taking one final look at the building, it really seems like this was a converted building. It’s a nice restaurant, and it doesn’t seem like Fuddrucker’s is leaving for good. Hopefully they either come back to this building or Luby’s tries out a new concept here.

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A Haunted H-E-B

I recently had the chance to stop by an H-E-B that I had heard from a friend might be, haunted. I’m not the biggest believer in ghost, ghouls, or goblins. However, I thought it would be fun to stop and take a look. This is the Royal Oaks location 11815 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77077. I wasn’t really expecting to find anything, but boy was I wrong.

I stopped by on a chilly night in late October. From the outside the store seemed pretty normal, if a bit dark. The store had obviously been there a while, you could by the huge trees which fill the parking lot.

Getting up to the doors, I noticed something strange. The entrances were blocked off! It was like someone was trying to keep me out of H-E-B. Someone or… something.

When I finally managed to make it into the store, I found a pretty normal looking H-E-B. It was a little dated, but it seemed nice for the most part.

I could tell that something was off though. I wasn’t sure exactly what it was, but knew I hadn’t ever seen a fresh cut fruit sign like this before.

Then I noticed something… the store was trying to communicate with me. At first the messages didn’t make any sense… “Fired Up Slice” of what?!

Suddenly it gave me a phrase which made sense, but I couldn’t figure out the context. Did it want me to contact Zack and Cody??

All of the sudden, the messages got really playful! It was lost on me though, I didn’t bring a deck of cards to the store.

“Nobody Does it Fresher” was this some kind of threat against me? I wasn’t sure, and I was about to run out of this H-E-B.

Until finally, I noticed this sign. The store wasn’t evil.. it was just hungry! Happy Halloween everyone! Normal serious posts will return soon.

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Checking out a former Cici’s Pizza in the shell of an old Burger King.

First off, welcome back loyal reader(s)! I’m sure there’s gotta be at least two of you. Sorry for the delay in updates, but I’ve been extremely busy lately. During my recent hiatus I continued to take photos, and I’m only now working through the backlog.

 

One of these photo sets was taken during a visit down S. Post Oak. I’m always interested in this part of town due to the history of the canceled Bay City Freeway. One of Houston’s few canceled freeways. On this trip, I found a former Cici’s Pizza which was obviously a reused fast food restaurant.

The Cici’s lineage was especially easy to make out thanks to the lablelscar at the top of the building. While, I could tell that something had been there before, I had trouble figured out what it was, mainly due to the addition of what looks like space for an indoor playground. Generally I can tell from something like a sign, but this sign proved to further the mystery.

Although a bit difficult to make out in the photo, the interior space was obviously part of the entire dining room by the point Cici’s vacated. They likely demolished the playground, and separating wall.

The next thing I noticed, was these half covered doors. The doors had obviously been welded shut, but the hinges were left on. Making this a bit harder to remove in the future.

The Drive-thru looked like it had possibly remained in service. This wouldn’t be the first Cici’s I know of to utilize a Drive-thru window for a pickup service.

From this angle, you can finally make out what restaurant used to be here. It was very obviously a 70s a Burger King. The single Drive-thru window with a canopy, the short mansard roof with the red ring, and what would have been the side entrance.

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Houston’s vegetarian friendly restaurants from 1995

Well after an impromptu hiatus I am glad to say I’m back. The post I’m bringing you this time is not picture based, but rather text based. Sometimes when researching things, you go off on a tangent. Most of the time this leads to two half written articles. However, this list what too interesting not to post. I found the following list, heavily heavily buried, while looking for On the Border Grill and Cantina’s original locations. I have decided to repost it, to help preserve it. The list looks to have been originated on Usenet, which was a group newsgroup which predates the modern internet. The full list can be viewed here. I have made some edits and additions to the content, which are represented in bold font.

Houston
——-

Vegetarian Restaurants:

Wonderful Vegetarian Restaurant, 7549 Westheimer (at Hillcroft),977-3137
– Vegan. Chinese Buddhist. Kosher. Very highly recommended. The only vegetarian restaurant in town. Many of the dishes may be too meat-like for some.
– Under new management in Summer of 1994. Menu is supposed to be revamped with an emphasis on healthier food.
-Closed some time after 1996

Anand Bhavan, 6662 SW Frwy, 977-0150
– Indian vegan. North and South Indian foods. Open 10am-9pm.
-Renamed “Shiv Sagar” in the 2000s

Quan Yin Vegetarian Restaurant, 10804-E Bellaire Blvd, 498-7890
– Lacto-vegetarian. Vegan-friendly. Run by a religious organization, The International Supreme Master Ching Hai Meditation Association.
-Still open as of 2018, not sure about the religious connection however.

Vegetarian Friendly Restaurants:

The Hobbit Hole Cafe was originally located at 1715 S Shepherd Dr
Photo Source: Keith Christensen YouTube Video

Hobbit Hole Cafe
– Rumored to be once all-vegetarian. Many dishes are lacto-vegetarian that can be easily made vegan. Also several vegan dishes. The black bean nachos are incredible. Special bonus is the Tolkien-related decor and recipe names.
-Still open, confirmed that the first 10 years of operation were with a completely vegetarian menu.

A Moveable Feast, 3827 Dunlavy (2202 W. Alabama?), 528-3585
– Macrobiotic restaurant. Casual, upscale. Innovative cuisine. Brunch on weekends.
-Was known as more of a Health Food Store, according to this article.
-Located at 2002 W. Alabama from 1989 until company’s bankruptcy in 2001. Was located at 3287 Dunlavy (now demolished former Weingartens) prior to that.
-Another location at 9341 Katy Fwy is still open as of 2018.

Whole Foods Market, 2 locations:
2900 S. Shepherd, 520-1937
11145 Westheimer Road, 784-7776
– Natural food store with small restaurant attached. Vegan friendly. Great salads and entrees. Highly recommended.
-2900 S. Shepherd was the first Houston Whole Foods, and the first outside of Austin. It was located here from 1984-2001, when it moved to its present location of 2955 Kirby.
-11145 Westheimer was the second Houston location to open, it operated from 1991 until 2016 at 11145.
-In 2016 the store moved across Wilcrest taking over the former Randalls at 11401 Westheimer.

Baba Yega
– Kinda like the Hobbit Hole but less veg. Serves a veggie burger.
-Still operating at the same location has continuously been in business since 1975.

Hungry‘s International, 2356 Rice Blvd, 523-8652
-Opened in 1975 as Hungry’s International Sandwhich Shop, has since renamed themselves to simply “Hungry’s”.
-The first location was in the Montrose Area, with the Rice Blvd. location opening sometime before 1995.
-Another location is open at 14714 Memorial Drive

The original hallway which Souper Salad replaced at Montclair Mall
Photo Source: Briscoe Center for American History


Souper Salad, 5460 Weslayan, 660-8950
-This chain slowly left the Houston City Limits, with only 2 left in the Metro area as of 2018.
-This location closed in the early 2000s.
-It filled in a what was originally a walkway in the Weslayan Plaza/Montclair Shopping Center

Star Pizza, 2111 Norfolk, 523-0800
– Have veggie pizzas.
-Still open (and popular) at the same location!

Macrobiotic Center, 2815 Garrott, 523-0171
– Not a restaurant, but caters vegetarian food.
-No longer in business, no details available online
-Was possibly run out of an apartment?

Seekers Natural Foods and Vitamins, 4004 Bellaire, 665-2595
– Natural foods store with 90-item salad bar. Includes organic produce. Vegan options on menu. *VRG
-Seekers went bankrupt in 1999.
-Location was purchased by and still operates as a Whole Foods.

On the Border, 2 locations:
9705 Westheimer, 977-9955
4608 Westheimer, 961-4494
– Mexican. Grilled vegetable fajitas. *VRG’;
-Both locations closed in the early 90’s. The company would try Houston again in the early 2000s.
– The 4608 location operated as Sullivan’s Steakhouse for a few years, and was demolished in 2018.
-The 9705 location 

Bombay Palace, 3901 Westheimer, 960-8472
– Indian. Daily buffet has vegetarian options. [Is it vegan-friendly?]
Open daily for lunch and dinner. *VRG
-Moved in 2000 when lot was cleared for Central Market.
-Relocated right across the railroad to 4100 Westheimer.
-Eventually closing in 2005, being replaced by Kiran’s.

Empress of China, 5419 A FM 1960, 583-8021
– Chinese. Vegan-friendly. Exquisite. It doubles as a routine Chinese restaurant for lunch and at night transforms to one of Houston’s most elegant, word of mouth, high cuisine restaurants with extensive wine selection. Scott and Mae Chen provide wonderful atmosphere. Mr. Wong’s kitchen staff are versatile and it’s far, far cleaner than my compulsive pathologist wife and I can keep our kitchen at home. Call in advance and arrange business meetings or banquets. Can match the appearance of continental east meets west flavored and decorated dishes so you can take non veggie guests for a gentle introduction to veggie food in a wonderful setting. Truly culinary ART! Does exquisite vegetarian banquets on request. I’ve studied Chinese food for 20 years and I can’t begin to touch the art of preparation I’ve seen this kitchen routinely turn out for the past two years. Open Mon-Fri from lunch to 10pm, Sat dinner. Closed Sun.
– I have an inkling this place may not have been as good as the original author claimed. It was out of business prior to any modern internet listings.

Red Pepper Restaurant, 5626 Westheimer, 622-7800
– Chinese. Many unusual vegetarian (vegan?) options. Open daily. *VRG
-Still open, still serving many vegetarian options.

Asian Restaurant, 3701 Weslayan, 850-0450
– Chinese/Vietnamese. Separate vegetarian menu. Vegan options. *VRG
-Can’t find any info on this one.

Guilin Chinese Cafe, 4005 H Bellaire, 661-1963
– Chinese. Some vegan options. Counter service. *VRG
-Can’t find much info online, other than the fact that it closed.

Thai Pepper, 2049 W. Alabama, 520-8225
– Thai. “Best Thai food in Houston.” Accommodating staff. *VRG
-Still there and highly regarded!

Paddy Thai, on Westheimer
– ‘Vegetarian’ in Thai means ‘substitute tofu for flesh’. Be sure to insist on no fish sauce or other animal products.
– Closed sometime between 2005 and 2009.

Health Food Express, Bayou Park Club, 4400 Memorial Drive, 861-2800
– Natural foods. Food delivery business supplies a week’s worth of food. Lunches at cafe itself Mon-Fri. *VRG
– So far as I can tell they changed names to Epicurean Lite and discontinued cafe service.

Natural Foods Stores:

Whole Foods Market
– An excellent chain of grocery stores. Not entirely vegetarian, but lots of good stuff veggies look for. Excellent selection of organic produce.

Seekers Natural Foods and Vitamins, 4004 Bellaire, 665-2595
– Natural foods store with 90-item salad bar. Includes organic produce. Vegan options on menu. *VRG

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Random Retail Photos

This week’s post is a bit late. However, it’s unique! It’s a collection of Random Retail Photos, I have taken over the summer. I’ll try to provide a bit of background for each photo, but there’s no overall theme. Let me know if you guys enjoyed this. I’ve always got tons of Random Retail Photos I never post.

Timmy Chan Restaurants
2606 Fannin Street | 3700 Buffalo Speedway

I snagged this photo of an old Timmy Chan’s Advertisement. Neither location is still operating. I believe the Mid-Town location is the original. These locations closed some time in the 70s or early 80s, and were definitely closed by 1984. The chain still survives, and is more infamous than famous due to the quality of their food. However, the taste is great!

The Wild Kitchen located at 8806 Stella Link Rd, Houston, TX 77025 is a very obvious former Pizza Hut.

This former Builder’s Square in San Antonio is now called “Texas Thrift”. 7500 IH 35 N #104, San Antonio, TX 78218

A former CVS which started life out as an Eckerd. I can’t find the exact location but this is near the La Porte area.

This converted Corner Store location gives an idea of what may come when Circle K remodels their Houston area stores. This one is located in San Antonio.

I also wanted to get a shot of the new design Valero is using on their gas pumps. Many of Valero’s older design features grew out of recolored Diamond Shamrock designs.

This was another location which was converted from a Corner Store. This spot also has a Subway Cafe, which still sells specialty coffee and pastries!

Finally, a long abandoned drive-thru menu. This McDonald’s on Richmond Ave. closed some years ago. It sat vacant for a while, until the mansard roof was covered. This was done by a new tenant “Chinese Cafe”. Chinese Cafe, who had a successful shop up the road near Post Oak for many years, lasted only a few years here.

 

If you enjoyed this random set of retail photos, please let me know! I’ll consider doing something like this again.

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