Sunday, December 7, 2008

Downtown Bryan, Texas, Art Deco

A decade ago, historic downtown Bryan, Texas, was a pastiche of excellent locally owned restaurants, an intriguing international import shop, an unfinished furniture store, several thrift shops, a homeless mission, but, more notably, a number of abandoned main-street style storefronts, some roofless, some boarded-up, others without even the dignity of plywood covering the gaping windows.

Today, downtown Bryan is a destination, a vibrant city center, with a monthly Friday evening gallery tour and live music attracting throngs of citizens and tourists. The import shot relocated to a gorgeous storefront, several new, and some upscale, restaurants have opened, there's a massage therapy studio, and a scattering of antique shops sitting cozily beside some very high-tech neighbors.

A bit longer than a decade ago, the City of Bryan procured a community block grant to refurbish the Hotel LaSalle, which converted from a derelict hulk into a charming inn.

A group of citizens worked hard to transform the old firehouse into the Children's Museum of the Brazos Valley. Old Bryan Marketplace hosted a tea room along with an Texas-eclectic antiques collection.

(The concrete reliefs are art deco details are from the First State Bank and Trust Building, downtown Bryan, Texas.)

I am crazy about art deco, and downtown Bryan offers some great examples. The tallest building in downtown and the most flamboyantly art deco is Varisco Building. Bottomland cotton farmer Biaggio Varisco, an Italian immigrant, so loved his adopted home that he changed his first name to Brazos, after the county and its river (Brazos de Dios). In some essential way, the Varisco Building resembles the Empire State Building in this photo taken at Empire State Building: 5th Avenue & 28th Street.

The Varisco Building now houses a Tier IV data center, offering data storage and disaster recovery services to corporations, mainly in the Houston area. Fibertown grew out of the location of a fiber trunk routed through downtown Bryan. Fibertown offers bandwidth management, "an advanced data center with backup power, a high-speed managed network, high-capability services, and high-security biometric and RF building controls." (aboutTown Press, October 2007). The Fibertown "campus" has expanded five historic downtown buildings.

Main Street, downtown Bryan, looking north, with the Varisco Building in the distance.

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