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‘A Sad Day for All of Us’: Texas French Bread Building Had Rich History

AUSTIN (KXAN) — It’s a building where legends have taken stage, lawmakers have strategized over sandwiches and people spanning generations have shared memories. Now, it’s gone.

A fire late Monday night nearly leveled the Texas French Bread Bakery building, causing more than $1 million in damage. The Austin Fire Department said a “mechanical failure” was to blame.

READ THE LATEST ON THE FIRE HERE: Central Austin bakery burns after 40+ years in business

“It’s a staple of this area,” said Jackson Arnold, a student at the University of Texas at Austin, noting his parents remember going to the bakery when they were students at UT.

Another person KXAN talked to at the scene said it was like “losing a little bit more of Austin.”

The Texas French Bread bakery opened in 1981, the owners bought and moved to its iconic location near UT in 1992, according to city records.

“Texas French Bread was a wildly popular business here all through the ’90s. In 1995 they had 11 locations,” said Jennifer Hecker, an archivist for the Austin History Center, a division of the Austin Public Library. Hecker also happened to have worked for Texas French Bread in high school.

“Growing up here, you drive by it all the time and it’s such an attractive building, I’m very curious to see what will become of that spot,” Hecker said.

The Rome Inn

The building’s past well supersedes the more than 40-year history of the bakery. Perhaps most notably, in the 70’s it was home to the Rome Inn — a famous club that featured the likes of The Fabulous Thunderbirds and Stevie Ray Vaughan. It remained open until May of 1980.

‘C-Boy’ taking apart the bar at the Rome Inn on its closing night in 1980 (Courtesy: Stephen Wertheimer)

“I’m hearing from a lot of people, musicians, friends of mine that I went to college with back in the ’70s…it is heartbreak,” Stephen Wertheimer said of the fire. He frequented the club as a UT student and eventually worked there alongside Louis Charles “C-Boy” Parks who passed away in 1991.

A young Stevie Vaughan playing at the Rome Inn with Eddie Stout, David Murray and Steve Fulton (Courtesy: Kathy Murray)

Wertheimer said that club was so special to him it was where he and his friends hosted their graduation party, shortly before the club closed its doors for good.

“It was pretty incredible, you couldn’t move in there,” he recalled.

Wertheimer now owns C-Boy’s Heart & Soul, a tribute to Parks, where you can still find memorabilia from the W. 29th St. and Rio Grande club. He also owns the Continental Club.

“If it weren’t for that place I would not be doing what I’m doing now,” Wertheimer said. “I dreamt about that forever and finally got to do that in 1987.”

First records go back to the 1920’s

Hecker, with the Austin Public Library, dug through city directories Tuesday looking at the building’s rich history. She found the first mention of the building in city directories was in the 1920s.

“It looks like through the ’20s, ’30,s and ’40s there was a series of neighborhood grocery stores there,” said Hecker. “They kind of came and went but there was one that was there for a really long time from 1929 to about 1952 called Shipwash Grocery.”

PREVIOUS: Austin Restaurant Weeks With Texas French Bread

Shortly after Shipwash moved out, the Rome Inn moved in as an Italian restaurant, Hecker found. She says it wasn’t until around 1976 that it became a live music venue.

The Texas French Bread Bakery caught fire overnight Tuesday, but thankfully the workers were able to get out of the building uninjured, AFD said. (KXAN photo/Todd Bynum)

“They kind of went around with the city on zoning about that actually, whether they were more of a club or a restaurant which is interesting,” Hecker explained.

Between the time the blues club moved out and the bakery moved in, the building appears to have changed hands a few times or been vacant. City records show a gap during that time, but some viewers have recalled the space being a library at one point and a punk studio at another.

Regardless, for more than 100 years, the building and the businesses that lived in it were a staple of Austin.

“Culturally speaking for sure all of those businesses are so integral to what Austin is known for now,” Hecker said.

To read the latest on the bakery fire, find KXAN’s story here.

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