News Botoxing San Antonio

To raze Earl Abel’s is to remove a wrinkle in time

Among life’s small pleasures is to sit in a wooden chair at the bar at Earl Abel’s, sipping a thick chocolate malt from a cold, tall glass and watching the yellowed hands of a clock round the hour. Plates of fried chicken fly from kitchen to table on the wings of waitresses, their cargo leaving contrails of hot grease. The room reverberates with the sounds of silverware clanking and diners laughing and a clot of ice cream shooting up a straw.

The news that the 72-year-old restaurant could be razed to make way for high-falutin high-rise condos is disheartening. Oh well, you might say, that’s capitalism: The transaction apparently involves a willing buyer and seller. Yet, I would venture that among San Antonio’s army of ambitious restaurateurs, there is at least one who could buy the business and capitalize on Earl Abel’s history, goodwill, and holiday pies. And I imagine other property owners, weary of the street flooding and area’s general malaise, are eager to unload land suitable for redevelopment along lower Broadway.

SA Current Online

From the editor
Let’s inventory the street’s windswept lots and sadsack properties: Near Cunningham, not far from bling-bling office condos The Courtyard at Brackenridge Park, lies the old Gene Brown Transmissions, where the sign “Pull here for service” sounds like an invitation for the strip’s prostitutes to turn their tricks. There is an old, battened-down convenience store at Mulberry, glass shells of buildings begging to be bulldozed near Funston, and a steppe of dirt at Grayson. The intersection at Newell is the site of several failed car washes and ephemeral Sno-Cone stands; an empty car dealership stands mutely near Jones and Broadway.

Did we mention that new castles in the air are being erected on or already exist near Broadway? One looms a block behind Earl Abel’s; planned lofts-turned-steel-skeletons are gathering cobwebs near 12th.

The demise of Earl Abel’s and the subsequent yuppification of lower Broadway signify a larger, troubling trend for the city. Call it the Botoxing of San Antonio: Ill-considered development removes the city’s wrinkles and erases its character. Instead of being proud of its well-earned smile lines, San Antonio is donning an emotionless mask of franchises — such as Broadway’s chain of Sonic, Denny’s, McDonald’s, and Popeyes — and subdivisions of the vertical and horizontal kind.

So here’s a solution: Buttress Earl Abel’s and stack the condos on top of it, giving the project a Tom’s Restaurant feel, like the diner in Seinfeld. Or build the condos around and abutting the restaurant; its sweeping, Deco-inspired front roof could serve as an invitation to a vibrant neighborhood, instead of a hermetically sealed tower of power.

Regrettably, Koontz McCombs’ homogenous habitats won’t cater to mixed-incomes or families, but only to well-heeled young professionals and empty nesters. If our leaders want to revitalize the city’s center, they need to encourage development, much like that of the revitalized Victoria Courts, which can attract all walks of life: Yuppies, middle-class, and blue-collar workers, families, singles, and the the elderly should all be able to afford a place in the proposed high-rise. Who wouldn’t want to live above where revered San Antonio Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez punched a man who called him a communist? Who wouldn’t want to smell fresh cherry pies near the ground-floor elevator? Who wouldn’t want to see the diner’s neon red-and-white sign with the yellow arrow and know that they’re home?

By Lisa Sorg

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