Longform

Whine capital of Texas

Page 3 of 9

On this Saturday morning, Brekken is standing inside the old Founder's Building, which is now the city's information center and, much to Brekken's dismay, the home of the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association. Because the Grapevine Heritage Foundation owns the building, Brekken still feels as if she's on her own turf.

"I suppose this is as safe a place as any to talk," Brekken says as she lowers her slender frame into a wooden rocking chair.

Once a city councilwoman and president of the local school board, Brekken is a founding member of the foundation and its current vice chairwoman. Brekken agreed to talk about the foundation, even though she is reluctant to worsen its problems by speaking to another reporter.

At the far end of the room, a couple waits for the next departure of the Tarantula Train, a restored 1896 steam engine that takes visitors on daily excursions to the Fort Worth Stockyards.

Brekken is fond of that old steam engine and its revamped home, the 1901 Grapevine Depot, which stands across the street just as it used to in the days when the St. Louis & Southwestern lines made Grapevine the transportation hub of the region.

Brekken recalls that Grapevine's historic preservation movement began in the early 1970s, when the depot was on the verge of being demolished and a group of volunteers banded together to save it. That spirit of volunteerism is as much a part of the city's history as its old buildings are.

"A group of ladies from the garden club went to the city council and asked them to move the depot away from the railroad yard. It was moved to Heritage Park to save it, and a museum was installed, but it was just a collection that grew dusty," says Brekken. "It was pretty small-town."

The city is still small-town in many ways. As evidence of that, the building's glass doors swing open and a slow-moving figure emerges from the blinding sunlight. Brekken calls out the man's name, Jessie Woods, a retired Air Force colonel and president of the Grapevine Historical Society.

"I can't see you until I get a little closer," says Woods, who slowly shuffles into focus as his unsullied white sneakers squeak across the floor.

Woods pulls up a rocking chair and takes a seat next to Brekken. As they reminisce about the days when it was still illegal to sell wine in Grapevine, they look as though they've been sitting here for decades.

"Back in those days, you never went someplace where you didn't know someone, and it might have been you knew everyone in the place," Woods says. "Now at Luby's, maybe we'll see one or two people we know. At Grady's and TGI [Fridays]--we eat breakfast there--I don't know anybody in there."

About the time the depot was being saved, Woods was part of a group of volunteers who sprang into action to save the Torian house, a log cabin that was built before the Civil War and is the oldest structure in the city. In 1975, the volunteers dismantled the cabin and reassembled it at its current location on Main Street.

But volunteers weren't enough to save the buildings. The projects also required money, so residents decided to hold a fall festival at which they would sell cakes and cookies. The idea worked and, since then, the city has never stopped putting on festivals and using the proceeds to raise money for historic preservation.

When the D/FW International Airport was built in 1976, additional money became available under a state law that required a portion of the taxes collected from the hotels constructed around the airport to be used for historic preservation. The city's Convention and Visitors Bureau manages that money.

For many years, there was more than enough money to cover the expenses of the city's limited preservation projects. But that began to change around 1990, when the city, led by CVB Director P.W. McCallum, began to intensify its preservation efforts.

"At that point, P.W. told us of some of his visions. One of the first things he wanted to do was move the depot back here," Brekken says.

Most folks thought the idea was grand, but they needed to find a way to buy the land around the depot before they could begin. Although city officials were happy to use CVB money to buy the land, they were unwilling to fund the entire project.

Instead, they hoped that a combination of city money and charitable contributions would pay for the project. The best way to do this, they thought, was to create a nonprofit organization to collect tax-deductible donations. So in 1991, the Grapevine Heritage Foundation was incorporated. The plan was for the foundation to eventually become self-sustaining.

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Rose Farley
Contact: Rose Farley