Archive for March, 2008
Don Pablo's seemed to be an up-and-coming Mexican restaurant chain in the Southeast during the 90s. They had this location at Columbia Mall, a location in Charleston on Rivers Avenue, one in Augusta off of the Bobby Jones expressway and several in the Atlanta and Charlotte areas.
I have always enjoyed "chain" Mexican restaurants more than "authentic" ones, but Columbia has always seemed to have a problem attracting and keeping them. We had Garcia's (on O'Niel Court, I think) but only very briefly, and never had a Chi-Chi's, Chevy's, Rio Bravo, or On The Border, and my favorite Cucos lasted only a few years. El Chico (which I do like) seems to be the only national player with staying power, but at the time, I didn't see any reason Don Pablo's couldn't be a second.
They had a very comfortable interior, with plenty of booths, and I enjoyed several of their menu items quite a bit. In particular, the cheese & onion enchiladas were very tasty and were covered with a nice brown sauce and the chile rellenos were really good as well. The standard salsa was a bit bland (though better than the completely kickless tomato gunk at "authentic" places), but they had a "macho" salsa which was a bit embarassing to order, but which was a bit more interesting. My father liked the place too, and we often ate there with my sister on weekends when I was in town (I was living in Aiken and working in Augusta at the time).
Unfortunately, the place came to exhibit several of the Signs Your Favorite Restaurant is About to Close including cutting back their hours. I mentally put Don Pablo's on the critical list, and sure enough I came by one evening, and the place was dark and empty.
I was disappointed, but there was still the Augusta location and the Charleston one which I could visit when I went down to see The Have Nots. I recall I was in the Augusta location on Election Night of 2000. On my way out (probably about 11:00), I passed by a TV in the bar and recall thinking very clearly something like "Man, this is going to be a squeaker!" -- little did I know..
Shortly after that, the Augusta location closed, while I was eating in the Charleston location, I noticed the Augusta manager making his way around the dining room, checking on the customers. He recognized me, and said he had always wanted to live in Charleston, and he considered himself lucky because the spot opened up just before the word came down that the ax was falling in Augusta. I guess his luck ran out soon after that as the Charleston location closed. (It's a "Wild Wing" now).
I don't go up to Charlotte very often, but I did find a Don Pablo's up there once, by chance but it was gone too the next time I stopped by.
I just spent three weeks working in the DC area (restaurants up there are very iffy on ice tea!) and found a DP still in operation at the Ptomac Yards mall on Jefferson Davis Highway. After several years with no experience of the place, it was a mixed bag. I think I went there three times, and once it was average, once it was very greasy, and once it was as good as I remembered. Looking around on the web, it seems that they had a corporate "near death" experience and have been bought by a new parent company at this point (which also seems to have "Hops", which still exists up there). We'll see how it works out.
In the meantime, the old Columbia Mall location now hosts The Charleston Crabhouse, and I wish them well, though I tend not to darken the door of seafood places.
UPDATE 17 July 2012 -- Below are some neon pix of the Don Pablo's logo from the streetside and front door signs at the Greenville Don Pablo's across from Haywood Mall. I've been there twice in the last month, and it was pretty good (as were the ones in Orlando and Atlanta that I've visted over the past year):
I should probably also mention here that the Charleston Crab House has closed.
What does it mean to say a park is "closed"? Well, the land could be sold and built, there could be a fence to keep people out, or as in the case of Forest Lake Park, it could just have been abandoned by its owners, whoever they were.
Forest Lake Shopping Center is on the corner of Trenholm Road and Forest Drive, directly across Forest from Threnholm Plaza and has had its ups and downs. Originally, the center was anchored by Campbell's Drug Store which was directly on the corner. Down from Campbell's on the storefronts facing Forest were my longtime barbershop, a hardware store and a lot of shops I've completely forgotten. The hardware closed fairly early on (probably by 1970) and at some point a 7-11 moved into that row.
I don't remember much about the storefronts facing away from Forest except that there was a cloth shop at one time, and later some sort of clothing store where I was fitted for a suit once. Across the parking lot from Campbell's, was a small branch bank, denomination forgotten, where my mother often used the drive-through. Behind the bank was a creek, with a footbridge over it leading off into the adjoining neighboorhood.
The Campbell's block of stores was separated from another block by an access cut-through, and this other block was generally more important to us, as the main part of it (now Coplons) was a Colonial grocery store, my mother's favored place to buy groceries. I don't know exactly why this was, as even then, Columbia didn't lack for grocery stores, and there was an A&P right across the road in Trenholm Plaza. The thing I remember is that she was convinced that "Farm Charm" medium-sharp chedder was the only cheese worth buying (she convinced me as well) and "Farm Charm" was available only at Colonial or Big Star groceries. (There was a Big Star abuting the K-Mart on Fort Jackson Blvd). The block of stores with Colonial also held Forest Lake TV, where we had our sets repaired several times, and Sakura Japanese restaurant, which is still there, and must be the oldest Japanese restaurant in Columbia.
Colonial folded (I think) in the late 60s (leaving us to go over to Big Star for cheese..). I don't recall how long it was before Coplon's moved in, but I'm pretty sure it was there before they knocked down the whole Campbell's side of the shopping center (dispossessing my barbers) and put in the new First Citizens and Talbots there. The branch bank had closed by then, and its space is now taken over by a gallery/frame-shop with the outbuildings being sucessfully run by an enterprising garden store.
What does this have to do with the park? Well, my impression always was that the park was run by Colonial as a place for kids to go play while their mothers' shopped. (Yes, in those days, as long as it wasn't across a major road, you could send the kids out of sight to play!). When Colonial went under, the park stopped being maintained. Every now and then, there might be a minor repair, which I imagine the (mostly hard-luck by now) shops being dunned for, but in general there was nothing. The last major thing to happen was the carting off of the swingset, which had been swing-less for years.
Today, there are 3 fixtures. Here are two, the bench and the monkey bars:
Here's a closer look at the monkey bars:
I have a particularly vivid memory of these. Once, when my mother was shopping at Colonial, and my sister & I were playing in the park, I had one of those ideas that seems good at the time and decided that I could probably hang by my knees off of the bars across the top. As it turned out, I could. What I couldn't do, being little more athletic then than now, was get down again. After several increasingly anxious minutes of contemplating a drop onto the ground or the other bars, I sent my sister into Colonial to get my mother, who (the situation probably having been conveyed to her in a garbled manner to sound more alarming than it was) abandoned her cart and came racing around the corner. In the event, I had just figured out how to get down anyway...
Gills Creek forms the backdrop for the park, and I'm a bit surprised that no restaurant on either side of the creek has ever had a creek deck. It's rather peaceful and pleasant:
Here's Gills Creek on the other side of the bridge from the park:
Eightmile Branch forms the back boundry of Forest Lake Shopping Center and here's where it runs into Gills Creek:
Here is the park's third fixture, a merry-go-round:
Of course there is a drawback to having a park (or shopping center for that matter) bordered by creeks: Creeks rise.
Sometime back in the 90s, we had a 100 year flood in Forest Acres. At that point, a lot of Gamewell Drive was under water with parts of Sylvan Drive innundated as well. Given its position at the confluence of Eightmile Branch & Gills Creek, a good bit of Forest Lake Shopping Center was under water (most of the Garden Center area) as was all of the park. One of the local stations, I believe it was WLTX, had a crew in the parking lot shooting footage of the flood. I had to tell them they were looking at a park (I think I got on TV, but I can't recall for sure). At that point, the merry-go-round was completely invisible under at least six inches of water. For some reason, I was walking around in my flip-flops, having parked my car a good ways off. I considered wading out to the merry-go-round to ride a turn around on it to give them a good visual, but decided I wasn't going to risk my feet on who knows what washed up detritus without something more substantial shielding them. I know I took some flood pictures myself, if I ever find them again, I'll get them digitized and post a few.
Anyway, if you want to sit on a bench, climb the monkey-bars, or take a spin on the merry-go-round Forest Lake Park is still there for now..
UPDATE 15 May 2010 -- Here's a pointless quicktime video of the merry-go-round in motion from 26 Aug 2009
And here's Forest Lake Park in the snow from 13 Feb 2010:
UPDATE 10 Feb 2011 -- In April 2010, someone cut down a honking big pine tree, and put the segments around the merry-go-round:
UPDATE 4 April 2013: Tragedy!
I'm guessing that with the continuing renovations at the old Dobbs House/Forest Lake Spirits/Carolina Paws building, somebody noticed the park and the merry-go-round and decided it was a huge liability issue. At any rate, both remaining park fixtures, the merry-go-round and an old park bench have been torn out and the park is now just an empty lot except for the ring of buried bricks around where the merry-go-round used to be:
Here's two shots from my first and only TV interview at the park on 1 March 2011:
Capitol Centre is a hard-luck strip mall directly across from Columbia Mall (it shares access from the loop road around the Columbia Mall parking lot). It has never prospered, and as Columbia Mall has declined, it has done even worse. Most of the places there that have come and gone, I didn't care about at all, but there were a few that caught my notice.
The Capitol Centre Theatres were one such place:
This was a typical multiplex, built before the current fad for stadium seating, not bad not great. I think its main problem was that being only a parking-lot away from the (twice dead and resurrected) Columbia Mall theaters, it was hard to establish a unique identity or to make it the default theater of habbit for locals. Back when Pat Berman was still doing movie reviews in The State, she did an interview with a local theater manager at a time when several local theaters were going under, and asked him if the market were overbuilt. He replied that no, it was "under-fannied" (too few fannies on seats). I think circumstances conspired to make Capitol Place Theater under-fannied.
You would think that working movie projectors would be valuable and salable assets, at least until the digital switchover of the last few years, but apparently not:
Not much of a theater without projectors in the auditoriums, but it wouldn't take much to put the lobby back in service:
This lets us date the closing to no earlier than 28 Jan 2000 when Eye of the Beholder opened:
It also lets us pinpoint the proximate cause of the theater's closure: Robin Williams
Like Crazy Buffet, the Black Bull was a new tenant in an old steak-house building on Knox Abbot Drive. I never got around to eating at there, though it was somewhere on my "to do" list. It appears that may no longer be an option. The signs on the door suggest a remodeling, but in my experience of restaurants, "remodeling" is like open-heart surgery: You hope for a good outcome, but say your goodbyes anyway. And that's genuine, planned remodeling. The other signs suggest this came on very suddenly, and in fact the Black Bull web-site has no mention of the place being closed at all.
UPDATE 18 February 2014: Added Western Steer to the post title based on comments for the follow-up operation Hard Knox Grill.
It seems to me there have always been fabric stores on this part of Forest Drive. Even with Rogers Brothers move to Divine, there's still Forest Lake Fabrics across the street near the former Frans. I do think there are fewer in general nowdays though. I suspect people (and to be non politically correct, women mostly) who can sew are a declining breed. When I was little, a fabric store was about the lowest place on the food chain of "stores my mother drags me to". Maybe paint stores with their endless color chips were lower. I haven't been in a fabric store in years, so I don't know if this is still true, but at the time, all the dyes on the fabrics were somewhat volatile so that your eyes would start to tear up almost immediately as you walked in. I don't know how people worked there; I guess they developed immunity. About the only thing to do while my mother looked at bolt after bolt of fabric, was to play under the tables, which for some reason generally seemed to all have a raised platform under the table top. In the cases where the table also had a skirt, you could go under the skirt and sit on the platform and pretend that you were in a little fort. There were generally also a number of yardsticks to play around with, but in the end there was still only so much you could do to keep away the thought that you were in a store with NOTHING BUT CLOTH and that your eyes were watering.
The move of Rogers Brothers adds to the recent loss of Tuesday Morning and leaves Trenholm Plaza with two vacancies. In general the place has either been lucky or well managed over the years, and vacancies have always been made good (even after the fires at Ponderosa and Fresh Market. I hope that continues to be the case.
UPDATE 27 July 2010: Rogers Brothers has now closed after their move.
[ Welcome LinkedIn visitors. If you enjoy this USC rememberance, you may also like Bell Camp, The Russell House Theater glory days, The Golden Spur, The Shuttlecocks, and The Wade Hampton Hotel -- Ted ]
If this post works out, it will be the most pictures I've had for a single closing, and the most intermixed the text and pictures have been. We'll see how it goes.
Also, I've been looking at my web statistics, and it seems to me that most people aren't clicking on the pictures to get the full-sized versions, so I'll just mention it explicitly: If you click on the pictures, you get bigger versions (usually).
So what can I say about The Towers? Well, I've heard many people call them the armpit of USC, and I've heard other people suggest that if USC were a dog that needed its temperature taken, The Towers were where the thermometer would be inserted. None of that is wrong. Still, I spent a good chunk of time there, and when I heard they were all going to be torn down, I'll admit I was sorry.
Somehow, even after I knew the end was near, I never got around to taking many pictures of the outside of the towers. In fact, this one is about it. I was eating at Moes, when I remembered I wanted to take some shots, but all I had in the car was a crummy disposable camera, so the focus is pretty bad, and I didn't bother to get an unobstructed shot for some reason:
I read in The State that there was going to be a Towers farewell reception, and that in avance of that, the Housing department would be offering farewell tours:
Bid Towers a fond farewell
Former students who once lived in the Towers, or honeycombs residence halls at the University of South Carolina may visit campus for a farewell reception and tour of the halls on Aug. 25.
Originally a complex of six buildings built in 1958 and 1965, the Towers will be replaced with a residence hall and academic center for South Carolina Honors College students.
The buildings will be demolished in September.
The Aug. 25 event is free and will take place from 4:30-6:30 p.m. in the lobby of Towers.
Leading up to the farewell event, USCs housing staff also will give tours of the Towers on weekdays from 9-11 a.m. and on Saturdays from 2-4 p.m. Tours are by appointment only.
Because interest in the event and the tours is expected to be high, the university is asking people who plan to attend the Aug. 25 event or to schedule a tour to notify housing staff online at www.housing.sc.edu.
I signed up for a "by appointment only" tour on 24 Aug, and as I turned out to be the only person there, was able to see exactly what I wanted to. Douglas was my Tower so I did a tour of my old floor.
Here is the elevator lobby for Douglas. The elevator in a men's dorm led a rough life. Half the time it was broken, and the other half, it was strewn with pizza boxes and reeked of vomit. There was very little notion of dorm security in 1980, so if the elevator were broken, you could just take the stairs, which opened unsecured to the plaza outside.
Here is my room, Douglas 618. Since it was directly in front of the elevator, it later became an RA room. The peep-hole is a later addition. And yes, I did unscrew the number-plate and now have it at home:
When you first come into a Towers room, you immediately see the "honey-comb" veil blocks which form the wall to the "patio" which is entered from two sliding glass doors. (In practice, these were "barely sliding" glass doors):
After that, you notice the two cots, one along each wall. These appear to have been upgraded from the models which "graced" the buildings when I was there. The arrangement is a bit different as well -- we had study carrels against the back wall of the rooms, and the carrels also acted as de-facto headboards for the cots:
If you walked out onto the "patio", you had a grand view -- of the towers opposite you (assuming you got close enough to the veil blocks to look through them anyway). If you click the picture for the high-res version, you will observe that the Tower opposite almost looks like it has a pattern in its veil blocks which might make letters. That's possible. Often things were spelled out by putting soft-drink cans (shiny-end out) into the veil blocks recesses in patterns. It wouldn't surprise me if after years you ended up with coke stains almost making ghost letters:
I found that someone who had the room after I did was a bit of an artist. Here are two pretty good chalk drawings done on the 618 patio (and by "pretty good", I mean "a lot better than I could do"):
Here's something we definitely didn't have in the 1980s, an RJ-45 ethernet network jack. It's hard to imagine now, but ethernet was at that point an almost experimental technology, and wiring a building for ethernet meant stringing yellow 3/4" cable everywhere. You actually had to cut the cable into two segments to install a new tranceiver (unless you used "vampire" taps). What we had was a black, rotary dial telephone in each room, and that was it. And forget cable! If your room faced the right way, you might be able to pick up WIS. WLTX or WOLO were pretty iffy (though if you were on the west side of Douglas, you could pick up Channel 6 out of Augusta sometimes). One factor in the demise of the Towers was that Gen-Xers & Gen-Yers just wouldn't put up with the kind of stuff we thought was normal (and we walked barefoot through the snow to grammar school, uphill both ways!).
Here's another amenity we didn't have in the 80s: Any kind of thermostat, or as this appears to be at least some sort of fan control for the heat and AC. I suppose there was a thermostat somewhere in the building when I was there, but as far as I could tell, the climate control worked by running the heat full-blast, all the time during the winter, and running the AC full-blast all the time in the spring and fall. What this meant in practice was that our only mechanism for temperature control was the patio doors. On the coldest days, you had to leave them half open to the outside so the furnace wouldn't bake you out of the room. I suspect orbiting satellites could pick up the temperature increase around the towers as every room vented its excess heat that way.
Here's the view from the patio towards the door. These were two student rooms, and each of us had an open closet with a chest-of-drawers:
As you might imagine, the bathrooms in the Towers were every bit as palatial as the rest of the dorm. Here is a sink, and the plumbing access panel which was just as rusty, and paint-chipped in the 80s as it is in this picture.
Here is a whole row of sinks. There was another row on the opposite side of the bathroom, and when the dorm was occupied, each had a mirror above it:
Here is one of the showers in the communal shower stall. (I brought a screw-driver with me, and stole one of the knobs). You can't see it in this picture, but the shower stall was set off from the rest of the bathroom by an entrance with a raised tile "curb" so that the shower water didn't run into the rest of the bathroom. At some point before I got there, several of the residents figured out an interesting property of the shower room. It was tiled from floor to ceiling, and the doorway was ony four feet or so wide. They procured, from somewere, a sheet of plywood five feet or so tall, and more than wide enough to block the shower entranceway. They plugged the drain in the shower floor, put the plywood across the entrance and turned on the water. The water started to rise, and gradually the water pressure glued the plywood across the doorway in an almost watertight fashion: Presto! Instant indoor swimming pool! I had thought this was probably just a Towers legend, but I later learned that it did indeed happen. Of course, being college students, and male, no one thought about the weight of the water and the strength of the floor. Luckily, it held:
I said "communal shower" above, and in the 80s it was. It appears that sometime later, in an attempt to spare just awoken eyes from truly scary sights, they installed private stalls:
Here is the Towers Farewell Reception on 25 Aug 2006. Note the Towers T-shirts being sold and worn:
Here is the historical information on Douglas:
And here is the historical information on Snowden (which was supposed to be pronounced "Snau-den", though it was universally pronounced like the frozen precipitation) and the girls' dorms, Baker and Burney, which were torn down well in advance of the rest of The Towers:
'Cocky', or 'Big Spur' or whatever he is called nowadays was there for the festivities:
There was a raffle as well as an auction and they had audience volunteers do some of the announcements.
And finally: THE END. (Click to play video):
So there you have it. Yes, it was the armpit of USC, but darn it, it was the armpit I lived in, and eyesores that they were, I do miss The Towers.
UPDATE 13 October 2009: Here is a postcard view of The Towers, and the text from the back. I really should put it at the top of the post, but that would mess up the flow of the post as I wrote it.
MODERN DORMITORIES, UNIV. OF S. C.
Designed by the architect of the U. S. Pavilion at the Brussels World's Fair, Edward P. Stone. Built in 1958 each unit houses 250 students. Outside grill reduces air conditioning by 1/3 and shades four foot balcony that juts from each room
UPDATE 15 Jan 2011 -- Commenter Paul sends these to links to pictures taken at the 2006 Towers Reunion:
This post is a companion of sorts to the last one, at least as far as age and location go. This defunct deli sits catty-cornered from the defunct bank that was the subject of that post. Its location is actually rather interesting as it has changed without the building ever having moved.
I've given the location as the corner of Decker Blvd and Trenholm Road Extension, but of course when the building was built, there was no Trenholm Road Extension, and it wasn't on a corner lot at all. In fact , though I may have my dates off a bit, I think the building predates most of the land around it! At one time what is now the Staples/Goodwill plaza across from Dent Middle School wasn't a plaza, or even woods: it was a lake. It wasn't a very good lake -- it was rectangular and obviously artificial, but it was a lake, and the deli building was more or less on the lake bank. Given all the empty retail space on Decker, they probably should have left it a lake.
I never ate at the deli, and don't recall the owner. My sister thinks it was an "Andy's Deli", and I have no reason to think she's wrong. As far as I can tell, it's not an awful location, and I don't really have any idea why it went under. However, unlike the bank, the lot owner still has some hope for the property, and a for sale sign hopefully beckons passers-by. I don't know if the owner rents the lot, or if it is extra-legal, but various road-side sales set up there from time to time. You know the kind of thing: velvet paintings, cheap sofas, cyprus knee art..
UPDATE: This post was originally titled "Deli". Everyone seems to agree that I was wrong and it wasn't a deli, but a Grandy's restaurant. I've changed the post title to reflect that. Here is a working Grandy's in a very similar building.
This bank building sits on the corner of Trenholm and Decker across from Dent Middle School, catty-cornered from the Staples/Goodwill plaza and across from the Longhorn/Comedy House plaza. For some reason, it has been vacant and derelict since the 1980s. I can't recall what the original tenant was, or what happened to it. Perhaps it was a victim of the Great Savings & Loan Crisis; perhaps during the great bank merger boom it was swallowed up by a chain with a branch close enough that keeping it open didn't make sense. Maybe a teller cleaned out the vault and took off for Mexico..
That the architecture is so obviously bank-ish may explain why no other business has ever bought the building: If you put a restaurant or shoe store there, people's eyes would register "bank" and just skip over it. It doesn't explain, however, why the lot hasn't been sold and the building torn down for something new. There are no real-estate signs on the lot -- it appears that the owner has just given up on the property. I can understand that it might be hard to sell now with Decker in decline (both neighboring plazas are somewhat of hard-luck cases), but I don't recall ever seeing signs there. Access from Decker heading towards Two Notch would be a bit of a problem, but there is access from Trenholm and Decker heading towards Percival, so it's not awful.
At any rate, the clearly legible "CLOSED" sign in the drive through window (still mostly unbroken!) describes the situation more clearly than originally intended.
PS: If you need any CD jewel cases, there's a whole stack of them in a pile in the parking lot on the drive-through side).
UPDATE: Commenter Mike suggests it looks like a C&S branch.
UPDATE: Commenter Jim says South Carolina Federal Savings & Loan
That plan's so crazy it just might work!
Crazy Buffet was on Knox Abbot Drive in Cayce just down the hill from Krispy Kreme (and on the other side of the road) in a building which has seen several restaurants come and go. In the beginning I think it was a Western Sizzling steakhouse. After that I'm a bit hazy, but think it became some sort of seafood operation. That was followed by an independant Mexican-run Mexican restaurant. I stopped there once and am afraid I found it pretty dreadful. When it too had had its day in the sun and passed, the place became an Asian buffet.
When the end came, it came quickly: If you click on the last picture you may be able to make out the soy-sauce and other condiments still sitting on the tables. I'm guessing the end came in 2006 since the Free Times issue sitting on the table is not from 2007 or 2008 (I checked their cover gallery), and I remember the closing as "recent".
I'm not sure why the place failed, but it certainly wasn't from lack of parking!
UPDATE 4 December 2009: Added full street address to post title.
UPDATE 21 July 2010 -- Added "Western Sizzlin" to the post title, and this ad from the 1974 phonebook:
also this note: The follow-on operation to Crazy Buffet Hot China Buffet has opened and closed.
I'll be out of town for a few weeks. I may be able to make a few posts on older closings if I am not kept too busy, but if something interesting closes while I'm gone, you can note it here in the comments...