(EDITORS NOTE: This is the first in a series of articles that will examine the hotel’s history, its current condition and the impact it would have on downtown Brownwood if it is restored and reopened.)
Former Brownwood Bulletin editor Gene Deason recalled visiting Howard Payne University the summer of 1968 for an HPU orientation.
Deason had just graduated from high school, and he was preparing to enroll in HPU as a freshman. Deason and his future college roommate stayed in the large, brown rectangular-shaped hotel that rises 12 stories from the corner of Fisk and Baker streets in downtown Brownwood.
That would be the iconic and historic Brownwood Hotel, which opened in 1930 and was used for a time as an HPU dorm known as Sid Richardson Hall. Still commonly referred to as the Brownwood Hotel, the building has been empty and abandoned since HPU stopped using it as a dorm in 1986.
“I stayed in the hotel when it was a hotel,” Deason said, recalling his visit in the summer of 1968. Deason doesn’t remember who made the arrangements for him and his future roommate to stay there or who paid the bill.
“It was a nice place,” Deason said. “I thought it was a nice place for them to put us up — whoever put us up. It was a stately hotel. It was comfortable. The rooms were well appointed. It was an old building but it was nice.”
After Deason became an HPU student, he lived in a seventh-floor room after the Brownwood Hotel became Sid Richardson Hall. “It was pretty neat,” Deason said.
The history books would show a long gap of little to no activity regarding the building since HPU moved out in the mid-1980s. That changed in March 2019, when Brownwood City Council members took a step that could lead to the sale and renovation of the building.
That’s when council members approved a feasibility study on the hotel by Houston-based hotel consultant Randy McCaslin. The Brownwood Municipal Development District (BMDD) payed the $30,000 cost of the study in addition to the consultant’s out-of-pocket expenses of up to $5,000.
Ray Tipton, executive director of the municipal development district, told council members the BMDD received a proposal at the BMDD’s request to conduct the study. A developer had expressed interest in the property and the study was a “needed first step” in the process of working with the developer, Tipton told council members then.
“It’s always been everybody’s dream — ‘let’s do something wth the Brownwood Hotel,’” Tipton told council members. “I hear that time and again.”
Tipton said the feasibility study “outlines the feasibility of a hotel operation.” The building would also likely contain retail space and space for meetings, Tipton said.
Brown County Appraisal District records show the current owner of the building as 200 Fisk LLC. Mail to the entity goes to a residence in Woodbridge, Va. The woman who lives at that address, Myrna Phelps, declined to be interviewed by the Bulletin.
Articles published in newspapers and other publications show Hotel Brownwood, as it was once known, opened Nov. 21, 1930, owned and operated by the Southern National Hotel Corp. of Galveston.
The hotel had 216 rooms, a coffee shop and dining room. An article written by local historian Clay Riley, published on the Pecan Valley Genealogical Society Facebook page, also gives the hotel’s history including:
• November 1929 — a group of Brownwood businessmen announced plans to build a 12-story hotel.
• January 1930 — a contract was awarded to J.O. Everett and Co. of Dallas to built the hotel. Total bids approached $375,000.
• February 1930 — excavation of the basement began.
• November 1930 — the hotel was completed with a grand ballroom on the 12th floor, a coffee shop, beauty shop and barber shop.
According to Riley’s article, the hotel was “the place” for important civic, school and organizational banquets. Through the 1960s, the hotel was the destination for visitors to Brownwood.
• Mid-1960s — the hotel was known as the Browntowner Moter Inn and was nearing its end as a profitable hotel, Riely’s article states.
• December 1968 — the Sid W. Richardson Foundation purchased the hotel as a gift to HPU for male student housing. The building became Sid Richardson Hall.
• Fall 1986 — HPU closed the hall and the residents were moved to Jennings Hall.
A 1996 article published in the HPU Yellow Jacket student newspaper gave further history.
After HPU closed Sid Richardson hall, the building was purchased by a man named Mitchell Phelps of Woodbridge, Va. Phelps intended to remodel the building and reopen it as a hotel, the Yellow Jacket article stated. The article further states the task required more money and time than Phelps wanted to give, so he put the building up for sale.
Phelps died in 2010, and Myrna Phelps is listed in Phelps’ obituary as his widow.
Jerry DeHay is a former HPU professor who also served on the Brownwood City Council.
DeHay recalled that Phelps had “initially apparently communicated to some people, his vision of restoring it. I think everybody just kind of sat back said said ‘he’ll get to it sooner or later,’ DeHay said.
“By the ’90s, they began to realize that he was not going to follow through. He was not going to do anything with it.
Former Bulletin editor Deason recalled that it was a story, but not a big story, for the Bulletin when HPU closed down Sid Richardson Hall.
“That’s the way it goes,” Deason said. “It was not big news. I mean, it was news … I think everybody thought ‘somebody will use it for something’ but it never happened, obviously.
“All these rumors would pop up that somebody wanted to use it for something. There was thought that it might be used for a senior citizens housing unit, but that fell through.”
Speaking about the possibility of the hotel finally being sold, renovated and reopened, Deaon said, “you’re hopeful, but you’ve heard these rumblings and they have not panned out. So after awhile you begin to wonder, ‘is this another dream that will not come true, or is this really going to be the next installment of this great old lady?’
“She was really historic when it was built.”
Deason said it will be a major story if the hotel is renovated and reopened. “It’s been waiting to happen, obviously, since the mid-80s — some use for that facility,” Deason said. “I don’t have the vision to even imagine what can be done with it, but I would be delighted if there can be some use going into the future. Its architecture is remarkable. It really is a time capsule going back to the 1920s.”