Demolition Update: Game over for Garden Oaks Family Bingo, and the strange former Kroger it occupied

Howdy folks, and welcome back to a Demolition Update (This is not a full Demolition List, as that is still on hiatus due to lack of time). Today we’re taking a look at what was, up until a few months ago, the premiere Bingo Hall in Garden Oaks. Unfortunately, it seems that this former supermarket is about to meet the fate of a good number of the area’s original homes. Sitting at 641 W Crosstimbers St, Houston, TX 77018, the structure was built in 1974 by the Kroger Company. This was not Kroger’s first store in the Garden Oaks area, but a second larger attempt at the market. Their intent was to replace their existing Oak Forest store with a brand-new Superstore location. Let’s first take a moment to talk about the original store in Oak Forest. Opening in late 1965 at 1845 W 43rd St, Houston, TX 77018, this store would be one of the last small scale “supermarket” sized Henke’s (as Kroger was known in Houston at the time) to open in Texas. In 1966 Kroger would begin building their new arched “superstores” in the state. The tiny store was only 15,000 Square Feet, which even in 1965 was smaller than average for most grocery stores in the area. By 1975 facing mounting pressure to update their image as a grocer, Kroger decided to close their original Oak Forest location. The company did not announce any further plans for the area, but secretly were negotiating a new plot of land to build on. In the meantime, they would let the original store sit vacant, eventually selling it to a church by 1980.

The excavator looms next to the Family Bingo Center waiting to begin ripping down the structure

Getting back to the “new” store, land was at a premium, with most of the neighborhood being completed by 1970. However, there was one large open space left behind, the Pine Forest Country Club. In 1975 the golf course relocated to Northwest Houston, allowing Kroger to purchase one of the first plots in what was intended to become a new shopping destination. While little information was ever published on the “Garden Oaks Shopping Center”, other than that it was meant to compliment the existing Sears and JC Penney, the plans mostly failed to materialize. With developers taking advantage of access to the Houston Belt & Terminal Railway, to build out warehouse space instead. Despite this, Kroger pushed ahead with their plans for their new store, and it materialized with a grand opening taking place in early 1979. While the new store was an improvement over the old one, it almost immediately faced issues. Around 1980 Kroger began to face labor issues, which lead to striking, animosity against the company from both employees, and outsiders. According to one article I found, this particular store had its plate glass window shot out, break line and tires on company cars slashed, and a “scab” truck driver attacked and shot at, all less than a year after opening. By the end of 1982 Kroger had decided to cut their losses in Oak Forest, and shut this store down. This left Kroger with somewhat of a dilemma, they had invested a great deal of money into this store, and it was now sitting vacant.

This is where the plate glass windows would have been. It’s possible that they have been covered with wood since the Home Town days.

Without the motivation to stay in the market in this time around, Kroger began negotiations to lease this store to another grocer. In early 1984 the negotiations were made somewhat public with the announcement of the Weingarten shutdown. In the midst of local grocers snatching up the remains of the once mighty Weingarten, a new grocer was beginning to emerge. It was to be a brand-new supplier backed independently owned chain, Home Town Foods, and it would be supported by Schepps Grocery Co. The deal was made public when Schepps negotiated to purchase some former Weingarten locations, while noting that some non-Weingarten stores would also be in the mix. Schepps would purchase the properties, and lease them to independent owners who would run the store, purchasing their stock from Schepps. They would also provide advertising, promotions, and logistics for the chain. While Shcepps was already a large scale grocery distributor, this was their first entry in franchise grocery territory. Schepps was able to get about 15 stores under the Home Town Foods banner, but all used the owner’s name in addition. This store was known as Rainbow Home Town Foods. It was owned by an independent grocer who already ran a few other stores under the “Bluebonnet Supermarket” name. However, the Home Town Foods experiment wouldn’t last, and Shcepps seems to have lost involvement by 1985. From this point things get murky but it appears that the owner of Bluebonnet and the Crosstimbers Home Town Foods, purchased the name of the chain, along with two company owned locations (Renwick and Rosenberg), and then renamed their stores “The Food Store” managing to hang on for one more year. However, in 1985, only 6 years after opening, the supermarket would close for the final time as a grocery store.

While the outside looks closer to an 80s Kroger, this store was obviously full 70s on the inside.

Enter Family Bingo Center. The first incarnation opened in 1984, while Home Town Foods/The Food Store was still operating out of this building. It was originally situated next to the Ella Minimax at 1275 Pinemont Dr, Houston, TX 77018. In 1999 Family Bingo Center outgrew its old home, which was slowly being taken over by HCC, and found new digs in this former Kroger. While the building was modified to meet the bingo parlor’s needs, it was obvious that many of the 70s Kroger Superstore decor items were still intact nearly 20 years later, with 15 of them being unkept. If you’re unfamiliar with this era of Kroger decor, check out this Pleasant Family Shopping post. Some of the best kept examples include the mostly intact wooden shingle awning, and window frames above “Chuck’s Cafe” along with some other bits of wooden shingle used for paneling throughout the party room. While the majority of the building was remodeled, and the walls painted with somewhat questionable caricatures, this store still had many of the hallmarks of a late 70s Kroger. Stuck with the wooden shingles on the inside, but a new modern sloped roof on the outside, replacing what would have been arches ten years earlier. The design, which would later go onto influence the famous Greenhouse Krogers, would not be enough to win over the residents of Garden Oaks. Who know what exactly will replace it, but if there is a trend to be followed in the area, it will likely be a gated community of town homes.

The red tag is not the demolition permit, but rather a failed food department inspection. They also have not been picking up mail for quite some time.


One comment

  1. While I knew about the existence of this former Kroger, I didn’t realize this location had such an interesting history. With Kroger in Houston currently facing labor issues just like they did in the early 1980s and early 1990s, I guess it shows that some things just don’t change!