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Travis County Parks looks to remove historic Manchaca Gardens structure

Thursday, March 25, 2021 by Seth Smalley

The Commissioners Court fielded discussion Tuesday on the planned removal of structures at Manchaca Gardens; specifically, a former fire hall adjacent to Ladybird Montessori School. Charles Bergh, director of Travis County Parks, gave an overview of the property’s history to commissioners while Glen Gillman, park land manager, detailed some of the management processes the property underwent under county care.

The property in question was originally a fire hall, which was bought by the county in the late 60s, according to Bergh. As part of their fundraising, they served food, and eventually it was repurposed into a restaurant called the Manchaca Fire Hall Kitchen.

“The Fire Department itself built a new station, moved out and left the fire hall as a restaurant, and the restaurant continued to operate under a man named Clarence Vogel,” Bergh said.

While popular among connoisseurs of fried catfish, the kitchen reportedly also offered bowling alley food such as beans, hush puppies, coleslaw and beer. Honky-tonk music was the norm, according to a decades-old Yelp review, though “the acoustics weren’t great,” and the stench of the bathroom was “like stepping into the depths of hell.”

Eventually, at some point in the early aughts, the restaurant stopped operating. It was then determined all property underneath the fire hall was park property. The county has been dealing with it ever since.

“The main goal and objective we deal with when we take on a property is safety and security,” Gillman said. “So, cleaning up hazards and installing fencing, and then evaluating the property for utility for county parks or whatever the final disposition of the property is. That often involves the removal of structures.”

According to Gillman, the parks department was bringing the case to the commissioners because of the site’s rich history.

“We’ve had the site for two years. Maintained the mowing, did the tree work. We removed the cookhouse because it was in disrepair,” he said. The next phase is removing the actual fire hall.

“There’s a large pavilion at the site that is still in good repair that we’d like to keep. But the fire hall is in pretty bad shape. It was partially gutted to remove asbestos and hasn’t been maintained for at least 10 years,” Gillman said.

The pavilion, the well-house and the truck bay at the back of the building would remain on the property.

Commissioner Ann Howard, who had visited the site earlier, confirmed that the building in question seemed dangerous.

“I’m usually a pretty gutsy gal, but I took a look in and stepped right back out,” she said.

Howard also asked about preserving a rock building, formerly the restaurant bathroom, as well as the old fire pole, for posterity. Bergh confirmed the parks department would consider preserving the structure, but not as a bathroom.

“We could reclaim that as a storage space. It obviously does not meet ADA standards so we could not use it as a restroom,” he said.

A resolution was made to talk with the historical commission and reconvene next week before any further action.

Photo via Yelp.

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