February 19, 2007

A wonderland in Wharton

The town of Wharton was founded as the county seat of Wharton County in April 1846.

Wharton, Texas is the Wharton County Seat, located near the Texas Gulf Coast. On Hwy. 59, it is 57 miles SW of Crazy Town (Houston) and 6 miles from Glen Flora. I arrived in Wharton after spending well over an hour sitting in a Friday afternoon, rush hour traffic jam in Crazy Town (Houston). I can't believe people endure it every day (some twice a day). I don't care how good of a job/career you may have, life's too short. But it was all worth it after I arrived in Wharton (via Rosenberg - a future "small town" post). Rather than present these pictures geographically and spatially (which is my normal method), these are ordered chronologically (starting on Friday night).

Coming from Crazy Town (Houston), I entered Wharton via Hwy. 59, the "old way" - State Hwy. 60. This route took me right by The Tee Pee Motel. It reopened in November, and if I'd known it was open, I'd have stayed there! I nearly ran off the road when I saw this:

Much more on the Tee Pee Motel in just a second, as I went back the next morning, at sunrise (remember, these are ordered chronologically).

But my focus this evening would be on Plaza Theater, where local boy Horton Foote's screenplay of To Kill a Mockingbird was being performed on its last night.

The Plaza Theater on the downtown square

Unfortunately, the red neon letters were all but gone (except for that "A"), but the green and blue neon shone brightly. In addition, the red arrows still travel up and down the theater's facade. It was beautiful, and the fact that "To Kill a Mockingbird" was on the marquee made this visit to Wharton a dream.

Wharton County Courthouse (under renovation)

Wakefield Inn

The next morning, I headed straight back for The Tee Pee Motel:

I managed to tear myself away from the Tee Pee Motel to return to the old Wharton downtown square to see what was there in the morning light...

Near the square is Dinosaur Park, where the Wharton Art League had done this beautiful mural on the side of this house:

The Colorado River Bridge on the left

abandoned service station across the street from Dinosaur Park

Primo's Food Store

On to the downtown square:

Note the courthouse shadow

Built on Wharton's Courthouse Square, the Plaza Hotel began circa 1904 as a two-story brick structure with a large dining room on the first floor and 20 rooms to let. A third floor added in 1929 expanded the rooming capacity of the hotel, and included a small opera house. Wharton's first radio station began in July 1933 and operated from the third floor. The lot on which the hotel stood was sold in 1941 to Long-Griffith Theaters. The hotel was gutted and a movie theater built within the brick shell in 1941, and a gala grand opening was held in March 1942. One of three movie theaters in Wharton, the Plaza Theatre operated until the 1970s, when it was closed. In 1990 the Community Theater of Wharton reopened the Plaza Theater to provide live entertainment for the region. (1997)

I came across several murals by artist Dayton Wodrich:

Wharton history mural

The Future of Wharton

Law and Order

The Six Flags of Texas

agricultural mural

I thought perhaps this shop's sign was missing a letter, until I turned the corner:

Although the yard was being kept up, this house appeared to be empty and abandoned. Only a block away from the downtown square, this must have been quite a place in its day. Can you imagine growing up there, say in the 40s or 50s?
Another beauty from the Wharton Art League. This one, a recipe for Texas pecan pie! Where once there was only a grey, metal shed...

Alas, it was time to be on my way, and as I left town, I stopped to get some shots of the Wakefield Inn's sign by day. The place had the semblance of Tiki. Perhaps it was only the palm trees.

And my journey to Wharton ended where it began, awed and overwhelmed by a genuine, vintage (albeit restored), roadside attraction:


Leslie said...

I have wanted to stay in the Tee Pee Motel since I was little - back then, each Tee Pee was white with the little top part and door painted to match and each tee pee had a different color theme. (I wanted to stay in the purple one.) But since we only lived 26 miles away, my constant begging got me nowhere...

I thought I had mentioned that it was re-opened to you before - my apologizes for not giving you that info!!! Supposedly a guy who won the lottery is who bought them and fixed them up...

Chris said...

I suppose your folks couldn't justify staying in any motel a mere 30 minutes from home! My only complaint about the renovation would be that the old Indian-esque designs on the tee pees have been painted over.

You did tell me about how Horton Foote's home was being renovated in Wharton. What a great thing to do with easy money (lottery winnings). They did a really excellent job. I hope it makes it! They were at full capacity by Saturday morning.

SamuraiFrog said...

I absolutely love these posts of towns. I think the dinosaur in the sunset is my favorite picture so far.

Chris said...

It makes me very happy to hear anyone likes them, samuraifrog! I think I'd still do them, anyway, but it is nice to know. I also like the "Brontosaurus solar eclipse" picture. You can almost imagine it's real.

ScottyB said...

I too, love these pictures. They make me sentimental for a time that I wasn't even around for. The abandoned house caught my eye in this series. The things you could do with a place like that! I guess realtors are right. It's all location....

Chris said...


I think you hit it right on the head. These locations stir in me a strange longing for things before my time, as well. I guess it's possible to feel nostalgic about something you didn't even experience personally.

The house is pretty cool!

PeterinScotland said...

just added quite a few Wharton photos to Panoramio.com

Chris said...

Peter, those are nice! Looks like they've completed work on the courthouse. It looks good. Great pics!

Angie said...

Just wanted to add a note here that the 'abandoned' house is not as abandoned as it would appear. The house is easily visible from the back of my building (I have Blue Moon Antiques on the courthouse square) and there are occasionally lights on in that house, but I must admit that in the nine years I have been on the square, I have never, not one time, seen anyone either enter or leave that house. The lights are mostly seen toward the back of the house, and only rarely in any of the front rooms. Makes a person wonder exactly who, or what lives there...

Chris said...

Thank you for that, Angie. I did think the yard was a bit too well maintained for the house to have completely abandoned.