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Forum Field Trip: Historic Brownwood, Texas


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#1 John T Roberts

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Posted 06 February 2005 - 01:46 PM

On February 5, the Fort Worth Forum took a field trip to Brownwood, which is about 135 miles southwest of the city. Almost the entire downtown is made up of beautiful historic buildings. Some have been restored, while others are awaiting restoration. This is a beautiful town with some very picturesque buildings. At one time, they had eight theaters in their CBD. We saw four of them, and one of them we were able to tour the interior.

We met at the Turtle Restaurant, which is owned by Mary Stanley, known here as Zootwoman. The restaurant is in the last storefront on the right of the one story building. This is a shot of everyone looking at the building.
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Next door, is the Montgomery Ward store.
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The Stanleys have purchased the building and they allowed us to look inside. This is the view when you walk in the door.
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This is the view from the front mezzanine looking toward the back. It appears this mezzanine was for the accounting and store manager. The back mezzanine was a sales level.
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One of the light fixtures still remaining. The fans are also original, but I didn't get a picture of one of them.
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Second floor with the staircase.
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Third Floor.
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This is a view looking up Center Avenue. The street bends where the two grids in the city come together.
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At the opposite end of the block from the Ward's store is Hamilton's. This building burned and it has been brought back to life. The style of this building is Streamline Moderne from the late Art Deco period. It was built in 1947.
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Diagonally across Center Street, is an old theater that is now a frames shop. The little one story building with the modern facade on it is actually the remains of an early 1900's historic hotel that was originally built three stories, then two floors were added on top. The building was destroyed by fire and then the remaining first floor was left in place and later remodeled.Posted Image

Another restaurant in downtown is Steve's Market and Deli. Steve was also one of our tour guides.
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Another block up Center Avenue is the old Lyric Theater, with an intact interior.
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The interior of the theater:
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Behind the Lyric is an interesting building that has an arcade along the street.
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This building was an old bank and it is being restored with offices on the ground floor and two loft apartments are being built on the second floor.
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Across the street from the bank, is this building. Many of the structures in downtown Brownwood are sandstone.Posted Image

As we went back to Center Avenue, we approached the point where the grid shifts. This is the little building at the turn and an old theater has been converted into a furniture store on the right. They still used the old sign for the theater. This furniture store has closed and the space is for lease.
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As Center Avenue turns, two other streets come in from the east. Each one aligns with a different grid. This leaves a very small triangular block where a building was placed.
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The Brown County Courthouse is interesting. The exterior as we see it was completed in 1917, but hidden inside is an even older stone courthouse.
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This is the old Jail. We were allowed to tour the inside, as well.
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This alley was interesting evidence of previous remodelings on the adjacent buildings.
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Toward the end of the afternoon, we returned along Center Avenue. This is looking south at the old furniture store/theater at the grid shift.Posted Image

The city's tallest building is the Hotel Brownwood. It has been vacant for many years, but serves as a reminder of how prosperous the city was at one time.
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This old building has been converted into residential for the elderly. Another nice old building.
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By the time we arrived back at the Turtle, it was starting to get dark and it was time to head back to Fort Worth. Before I end this thread, I have a group shot I took. From left to right are: Steve, one of the Brownwood tourguides, Zootwoman, AndyN, Dismuke, Brenda McClurkin (from Historic Fort Worth), and Bryanr.
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#2 Dismuke

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Posted 06 February 2005 - 08:43 PM

I very much enjoyed the trip. Several building owners and Brownwood residents met with us and were extremely kind and generous in showing us their buildings and telling us about their visions and dreams for bringing that city's very beautiful downtown back to life and its former grandeur. I very much admire their determination and their struggle against a mindset that apparently is still prevalent in that part of the state that anything old is bad by virtue of the fact that it is old and must be altered or destroyed - a mindset which is, ironically, becoming increasingly antiquated itself.

I have always enjoyed visiting places like downtown Brownwood because, underneath all of the lame, tasteless post World War II remodels that were thoughtlessly slapped on top of many buildings. exists beautiful remnants of what, to me, seems like a grand and glorious lost civilization which, sadly, all too many people are not fully aware ever existed. Like virtually any culture, the early 1900s were not without certain dark sides. But in terms of all things aesthetic and in terms of its can-do spirit and boundless optimism, it was one of the most remarkable periods of human history and is certainly a refreshing alternative to the aesthetic blandness and ugliness of recent decades.

Next time you find yourself in that part of the state, if you can, plan on taking some time to stop and look at the some of the remarkable buildings which survive in downtown Brownwood - and, if you can, visit and patronize the downtown restaurants and shops which are trying very hard to bring it back to life.

Below are some of the photos I took that do not duplicate the ones that John has already posted.

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Details of the ornate tin ceiling inside the old Montgomery Ward building. In their day, such ceilings were mass produced and commonplace. But compare them to today's typical bland drop ceiling tiles. Back in the early decades of the 20th century, even mass produced items had a sense of style to them.

The pipe that can be seen is for the fire sprinkler system - the very first one which was installed in Central Texas.

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One of a number of the store's original 1929 ceiling fans


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Here is something that everyone who went on the tour is now seeing for the first time: the bottom of the elevator shaft in the Montgomery Ward building. This picture was taken when we were in the basement and the only source of lighting was a flashlight. I simply pointed my camera in the direction of the elevator shaft and the flash was able to capture what we couldn't see. Look at those two giant springs.

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The view from the arched windows of the fourth floor of the Montgomery Ward building is quite nice - except for the ugly modern-type architecture on the City Hall building directly across the street.

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Inside Steve's Market and Deli From left to right, John Roberts, David Stanley, Mary Stanley, Andy Nold, Steve, Brenda McClurkin, Bryan Richhart

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Same cast of characters as the previous photo except Steve stepped out and took one with yours truly in it.

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The original lighting panel back stage at the Lyric Theatre. The panel's electricity is still "live" so a protective cover has been placed in front of it to keep people away. Because of the cover, we could not see the panel - but I was able to place my camera lens in an open crack and, thanks to the flash, we can now see it.

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The old boiler inside the theatre. The brand name on it says "Moncrief." Hmmm. Perhaps the Fort Worth mayor's family was once in the stove business????


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The theatre was built in 1913 to house vaudeville and movies but was drastically remodeled and given a somewhat art-deco interior during the 1930s. Here is one of the art deco lighting fixture shades displayed on a table in the lobby.

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A similar art deco lighting fixture still intact.


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Looking from the stage area to the front of the theatre. There is plastic sheeting over the front of the balcony. All of the theatre's seats have been removed.

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This gives at least some idea of the detailing on the side walls of the theatre's auditorium.

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Look at what some brilliant genius with a typical 1970s era total lack of taste has done to a couple of once very nice looking buildings.

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The late 1800s bank building that the Stanleys' are bringing back to life and which John shows in one of his photographs once had a very beautiful marble banking lobby according to an old postcard view we got to see. Here is the only surviving remnant of the building's once grand interior.

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Very old wallpaper remnants can be seen on a wall inside the bank's old vault which is still there.

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The upper floor of the old bank building is being turned into loft apartments.

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Whoever ends up living here once the lofts are complete will have a nice view of several old buildings.

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This beautiful late 1800s building can be seen at the end of Center Avenue in the photo John took. In the late 1800s, the upper floor of this building housed a brothel - and supposedly there are remnants of it still intact.

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Doorway inside the old jail building which now houses a museum. Note how thick the walls are.

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Old telephone switchboard on display in the old jail/museum. I tried to say "hello" to the lady at the switchboard - but she totally ignored me and continued to stare off into space!

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We got to see the old cells on the second floor of the jail. Not very pleasant place.

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The prisoners' restroom fixtures were located on the back wall of the cellblock hall. Yes, I know....."Thank you, Dismuke, for showing us such a lovely photograph."

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More jail cells. I think I will be good and try and stay away from this place.

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The Birdsong Circus exhibit located in the old jail/museum. When the exhibit is turned on, it plays music and the various figures in the exhibit start moving. Someone obviously spent a great deal of time putting it together and it is rather charming.
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#3 pmburk

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Posted 07 February 2005 - 09:22 AM

Sorry we could not make it but it looks like everyone had a wonderful time. Fascinating buildings and great photos.

#4 webwide

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Posted 07 February 2005 - 04:02 PM

I can't believe I missed the Brownwood trip. Serves me right for not making this forum part of my daily routine.

Dismuke, those jail cell pictures reminded me of a restaurant in an old jail building. I'm thinking it was in Fredericksburg, TX but can't remember for sure.

#5 zootwoman

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Posted 08 February 2005 - 09:32 PM

I can't believe I missed the Brownwood trip.  Serves me right for not making this forum part of my daily routine.

Dismuke, those jail cell pictures reminded me of a restaurant in an old jail building.  I'm thinking it was in Fredericksburg, TX but can't remember for sure.

 


It was a lot of fun to host you all. Anyone who missed the trip and wants a personal tour may contact me. I was watching the movie True Stories the other night. David Byrne is the director and producer, also wrote all the great music and narrated the story. It's about a town called Virgil Texas, pop 40,000. At the end of the movie he talkd about how when you first visit a place or move to a new place you notice everything, the color of signs, the doorknobs, but that pretty soon you get used to it and then you don't notice anything anymore. He said that you had to learn to forget so that you could see again. showing you all around helps me forget.

#6 bryanr

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Posted 11 February 2005 - 04:58 PM

The Brown County Courthouse is interesting.  The exterior as we see it was completed in 1917, but hidden inside is an even older stone courthouse.
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From: A Walk Through Old Historical Brownwood
purchased from Brown County Museum of History, Inc.

Page 4.

...A new courthouse was built in 1884 on the same site as the one that burned, with the cornerstone being laid on October 30,1884. That is, however, not the courthouse you see here today. In 1916, the county decided to repair or remodel the courthouse, and in so doing, the courthouse was so thoroughly torn down and repaired that only the vault and a few walls from the 1884 courthouse survived. The remodeling was completed in 1917. The courthouse of today is known as"classical revival brick."

If you go into the present Justice of the Peace office, you will find the outside wall of the old courthouse, as the inside wall of his office. It curves back at an angle to the outside wall. ...


Bryan
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#7 John T Roberts

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Posted 11 February 2005 - 06:14 PM

Thanks for the update and clarification.

#8 AndyN

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Posted 20 April 2006 - 11:45 AM

Bump this thread back from oblivion.

Any of our Brownwood people posted lately? Curious to find out how progress is going on the bank building loft conversion, results of MW building lawsuit, survival of La Tortue slow-food restaurant, etc. etc.
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#9 patti jordan

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Posted 03 February 2008 - 10:30 PM

So fun to read about your tour of Brownwood. We will welcome you back with open arms again. Many of the people who introduced you to our downtown area are part of a community group called Preservation Partnership and work as a coalitian to promote downtown and preservation.
There has been progress since you visited. The loft in the old Coggin Bank building is rented and beautiful. The Stanleys have done a great job. They have also expanded the Turtle Restaurant...still slow dining and wonderful. They new chef came from the Ritz Carlton in New Orleans. They've also added a Gelataria, featuring Mary's handmade daily wonderful gelato.

Steve's Deli is always a great place for lunch too.

Several more buildings have now been rented and there is continued interest in downtown restoration.

The Lyric Theatre restoration got a large boost with a successful fundraiser in November that brought donations and pledges of over $500,000 toward the project. Ft. Worth's own and former Brownwood resident, James Allen Davis provided music for the gala fundraisers and his band was just great! All of the asbastos abatement has been completed in the theatre so we are able to see the theatre from the balcony.

We hope you will come back to Brownwood and visit our new Great State of Texas Transportation Museum that opened during September this year. It is a very impressive structure next to the restored Santa Fe Depot.

#10 mssuzieq

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Posted 29 June 2015 - 11:31 AM

Yes I know this is a long dead thread but I wish I had found it sooner.. Brownwood is my hometown. I wish you had gotten to walk the Weakley Watson store downtown... still had the creaky wood floors.. It is the oldest sporting goods store in the US. Unfortunately they were recently bought out and the new owner moved them to a fancy new store out on 377... I am sure it would take tons of dollars to revitalize the old HPU dorm building (the tallest one downtown) but it would make fabulous senior living.. Unfortunately the downtown area has taken a bad economic turn and businesses are leaving in droves again... 


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#11 McHand

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Posted 29 June 2015 - 04:11 PM

I've been a member for 10 years and somehow missed this thread, which is a shame, because as a kid I spent a lot of time in Brownwood.  My grandparents lived in nearby Bangs, and Brownwood had the good shopping.  I also met Mr. H while at Baptist church camp on Lake Brownwood. 

 

Was Underwood's BBQ still there when you went? If so, I hope you had some. 


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#12 John T Roberts

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Posted 29 June 2015 - 07:22 PM

Even though there have not been postings recently, thanks for reviving this thread.  I went back through Brownwood in 2010.  I have been passing through several town west and southwest of here over the last few years and all of them have seen a serious economic downturn.  Some of the smaller towns out west are nearly ghost towns.

 

It seems that Underwood's was still open when I last went through there, but on that trip, we ate in San Angelo.



#13 dangr.dave

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Posted 17 May 2017 - 08:26 AM

I stopped in Brownwood last weekend.  Here are some photos I took:

 

Weakley Watson Sporting Goods

33870510174_988a05baa5_z.jpgWeakley-Watson Sporting Goods by Dave Matthews, on Flickr

 

The Browntowner:

34712628285_17e460ffcf_z.jpgThe Browntowner by Dave Matthews, on Flickr

 

A photo similar to one of yours above.  The abandoned theater/furniture store is now a fitness center:

33870524454_f62e84518d_z.jpgDSC_9227 by Dave Matthews, on Flickr

 

The First National Office Building:

34328567020_3b947dd2bd_z.jpgFirst National Office Building by Dave Matthews, on Flickr



#14 Austin55

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Posted 17 May 2017 - 08:54 AM

With the exception of this thread and maybe a few mentions on traffic signs and weather reports, I don't think I've ever heard anyone talk about Brownwood.

#15 Doohickie

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Posted 18 May 2017 - 06:02 AM

As Jeriat no doubt knows, Brownwood is a place to go to lose football games.


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#16 JBB

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Posted 18 May 2017 - 06:47 AM

When I was in high school, we were in the same district with Brownwood for 2 years.  In year 2, we played in Brownwood we won the game to clinch district.  It was glorious.  They absolutely destroyed us at home in year 1.  We were clobbered in Stephenville the next week and they went on to win state that year under the leadership of Art Briles.



#17 dangr.dave

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Posted 22 May 2017 - 08:44 AM

A couple more photos from my time in Brownwood:

 

The old depot, which appears to be 'yuge':

34645163782_154585cd65_z.jpgThe Brownwood Depot by Dave Matthews, on Flickr

 

The Browntowner with the Weakley-Watson Sporting Goods store:

34009347153_5c189e3f25_z.jpgWeakley excuses by Dave Matthews, on Flickr

 

Morgan's Guns and Ammo:

34656019382_6934614643_z.jpgMorgan's Guns and Ammo by Dave Matthews, on Flickr

 

A side street:

34819111585_042523b78c_z.jpgSide streets in Brownwood by Dave Matthews, on Flickr

 

The Union Presbyterian Church:

34807801665_8bd2967a6f_z.jpgUnion Presbyterian Church by Dave Matthews, on Flickr






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