Downtown Bryan: Where History Meets Community
Photos & Article by Downtown Bryan Association
On a recent Sunday evening in Downtown Bryan, the flickering image of silent film legend Rudolph Valentino in The Conquering Power (1921) played across the screen at the Queen Theatre. This moment in 2019 marked a small, yet significant, point in the history of the theatre – and, in Downtown Bryan.
It has been nearly a century since a silent film last played at the Queen. In those nearly 100 years, world wars were fought, inventions too numerous to mention made our lives easier, generations lived and died, and history was made.
From Bryan’s early years when horses and wagons traveled Main Street, to the decline of downtown in the late 1970’s, to the resurgence and revitalization of downtown in the early 2000’s, one thing has stayed the same – a sense of community.
The community came together to support fledgling downtown businesses and commerce in 1884, the year the 3-story Stoddard Hotel was built on the 100 block of Main Street. When new owners renamed the business the Exchange Hotel in 1889, the community watched as “…governors, statesmen and distinguished men and women from every part of the world were guests in the 1890’s and 1900’s…” according to the Bryan Daily Eagle, June, 1939.
Silent films began to be shown on the ground floor of the hotel as early as 1913. The community supported this new form of entertainment, along with patronizing the businesses that dotted the downtown landscape, including The Fashion Shop “On the Corner” operated by Eugene Edge. Parker-Astin Hardware Co. encouraged citizens to buy the 1914 model of Cole’s Original Air-Tight Wood Stove, guaranteed to heat a room to comfortable sitting temperature in 5 minutes.
The community continued to observe, participate and influence the history of Bryan for the next century. For Downtown Bryan in particular, community – that sense of belonging and contributing to the needs of others – played an important role in its success, in both historic and recent terms.
As many merchants left downtown for the newer shopping centers and malls or shuttered business completely, the area became a boneyard for buildings rich in history, but devoid of the busy, bustling life it once had. Perhaps one of the best snapshots of this period can be seen in Lyle Lovett’s 1986 music video, This Old Porch. As Lovett and his A&M journalism professor, Bob Rogers strolled past boarded-up buildings, standing water, and tattered stage curtains at the collapsed Palace Theater and a faded, ghostly scene of past economic activity, Rogers proclaimed downtown as a place “not likely” ever to come back from such desolation.
The community has proven that statement wrong, and in a big way. Today, Downtown Bryan is a vibrant and thriving retail, dining and entertainment community. More than 60 retail, restaurant, bar, and entertainment businesses have local owners – members of this community.
From the original 1800’s tin ceiling inside Caffe Capri, to the exposed, original brick of the Stoddard Hotel in the stairwell of what is now the Queen Theatre, history is still very much present in Downtown Bryan.
Remnants of the early days of Bryan can still be found in the faded “Saloon” sign visible on a building facing the railroad tracks, the terrazzo floor of the LaSalle Hotel, and the displays and archives of the Carnegie History Center. Some even say the ghostly presence of past community members lingers in some of the old buildings, but not to worry as they have been deemed friendly spirits!
The vibe, atmosphere, and charm created by history cannot be replicated. The community that was and is Downtown Bryan continues to nurture and grow a place that is like no other.
Downtown Bryan is where history meets community.