Published: Thursday, September 20, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 20, 2012 02:09
The evolution of Northgate is a tale of stark transformation, a story of stories. What now presides as College Station’s hub of social interaction and entertainment wasn’t so in its beginning, transforming as fluidly and radically as the University it serves. Before it became the premiere entertainment district of Brazos Valley, Northgate was widely considered College Station’s downtown area.
Royce Hickman, Class of 1964 and president of Bryan-College Station Chamber of Commerce, recalled the days when Northgate was more of a shopping center than entertainment district.
“I remember Northgate back when it was a little strip of stores,” Hickman said. “My grandmother managed an apartment building for 45 years that is now Fitzwilly’s.”
In addition to Fitzwilly’s, a number of other buildings used to serve vastly different purposes on Northgate. For example, Loupot’s present-day location — now known as Traditions Bookstore — was a drugstore with a pool hall located above it. Loupot’s was previously located at the Dixie Chicken’s current location.
The Dry Bean Saloon was formerly a dry cleaning service where cadets would get their uniforms cleaned, the Corner Bar & Grill used to be a photography shop, and Texas Aggieland Bookstore was Charlie’s
Most notably, the main street that connects most of Northgate is known as Church Avenue, a name some find ironic because of the area’s reputation. But, that street has its name for a reason. The area occupied by the Northgate apartment complex The Tradition was a Presbyterian church, and many of
College Station’s prominent churches were — and still are — located there.
“It was all churches,” said Clifford George, a general manager at The Dixie Chicken. “All the churches were lined up on this street.”
Former A&M system regent W.C. Boyett sold lots around the northern side of A&M to Rev. King Vivion of First Methodist Church of Bryan for $1000 each in 1919. At about the same time, the southern portions of the lots were sold to the A&M Masonic Club. When word spread that the northern lots were being sold to churches, several new churches established themselves in the area north of campus, including a Baptist church, Presbyterian church and Catholic church.
Next to the churches, the first downtown district was slowly rising. By 1932, a strip of small stores emerged, including a shoemaker and tailor shop, Boyett Butcher Shop, Lipscomb’s Pharmacy and Hollick’s Boots. College Station became an incorporated town in 1938, and the Northgate district began to fit the mold of city center.
Cadet Judson E. Loupot established a store at Northgate that would sell books and even provide lunches for the cadets at the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas. Cadets could also take a break and stop by for snacks and refreshments over at Luke’s Campus Grocery or at the soda fountain at Aggieland Pharmacy.
Currently standing at the corner of University Drive (formerly Sulfer Springs Road) and Boyett Street, Daisy Duke’s used to be The Campus Theater, which helped solidify the downtown feel of Northgate providing “the most modern movie equipment available” of its time.
As time passed, business came and went, leaving the legacy of memories to those who spent their time there. It wasn’t until 1974 that bars began to move into the district, as the opening of A&M for women and non-military students led to Brazos County revoking its dry county status.
The Dixie Chicken was the first bar established on Northgate. Dudley’s Draw followed suite in 1977.
“Over the years, popularity kind of grew and grew,” said Jared Mariott, a general manager of the Dixie Chicken.
The transition of Northgate from more of an eating area to a bar district is roughly analogous to the changes that Texas A&M went through around that same time period. There is one thing that most former students can agree on about Northgate’s transition over the years, and it is one thing that describes any changes to College Station in general that have taken place in the past 40 years.
“It’s been an interesting transition,” Hickman said.
Some students said Northgate, as it currently stands, brings life to College Station.
“It’s way better now, because it’s a good place to go once you’re done studying and taking tests,” said freshman business administration major Hailey Koch.
Koch further compared the changes to Northgate, from shopping strip to bar-center entertainment district.
“It would be nicer if it had more shops … the vintage store on Northgate is really cool,” she said.