Items inside Houston's Harvey-ravaged Spaghetti Warehouse get sold to the highest bidder
Published Monday, December 18, 2017
Reporter, Chron.com / Houston Chronicle
The new owner of the ornate safe inside the old Spaghetti Warehouse doesn't know how to pull it out of the old, flooded Italian restaurant.
"He's been on the phone since 9 a.m.," jokes Steve Tomlin with online auction house Restaurant Equipment, who is on site making sure winning bidders get the goods they purchased.
The downtown eatery, sitting just off Buffalo Bayou, was teeming with life on Monday. Months after being flooded out by Hurricane Harvey floodwaters, the chain decided to put the items inside it up for auction.
The Dallas-based Spaghetti Warehouse chain isn't leaving Houston, they have told Chron.com, but they are walking away from the 901 Commerce location after Harvey's nasty flooding.
Buyers of the discarded furnishings and kitchen equipment are responsible for all the disconnection and removal of the items purchased.
When Chron.com arrives, there is a team taking apart an antique replica trolley car inside, on the second floor where Houstonians once dined. Another group is inside a darkened kitchen retrieving a sink. A perplexed crew is working on finding a way to remove an old chandelier hanging over the hostess desk.
That hefty antique Mosler safe, built for the Melissa State Bank according to the listing, has notations on the side where employees have written down various flooding events that have plagued Spaghetti Warehouse and how long it was closed.
Allison (closed three months), Rita (four days), Ike (nine days), the 2016 Tax Day flood (three days). There is no notation for Harvey as its self-explanatory just standing inside the dining room.
The smell inside is a special kind of lingering, annoying pungent odor. It appears that at least five feet of water surged inside during Harvey, judging by a water line. Couple that with the building's musty smell to begin with and you have quite a bouquet.
"When I got here a few days ago I think I could smell it a block away," Tomlin says.
Tomlin's company handles the liquidations of places just like Spaghetti Warehouse, but this is not the first sale over which he has presided in his two years on staff where the property has been alleged to be haunted.
When Chron.com tells him of the ghostly lore surrounding the location, he laughs.
"Well now some of what has happened makes sense," Tomlin says. The first day he was here getting the contents of the restaurant ready for customers, he felt as if he being watched. At first he thought that maybe a transient had make themselves at home. After clearing the building and not finding a living soul he still felt like he was being observed.
"You know when you can tell someone is watching you? It's something like that," Tomlin says.
According to Tomlin, this isn't the first haunted Spaghetti Warehouse he's worked in. A Tulsa, Oklahoma location also gave him the creeps.
"There was a weird wooden gnome that was on the third floor all by itself that always looked like it was watching you," Tomlin says. He wanted to put a sheet over it while he worked around it.
We joke that all Spaghetti Warehouse locations are contractually obligated to be haunted, or at least have ghost stories.
The basement below us has signs of tampering, with various windows and holes kicked out, likely from homeless Houstonians looking for shelter.
Spaghetti Warehouse started in 1972 in Dallas and later spread to the southern and eastern regions of the United States. The Houston location opened in 1973 and at one time was the second-largest in the chain, boasting two stories.
The building had a long and varied life before that. Built around 1912, it was the site of a fruit and vegetable warehouse and later a pharmaceutical company before diners were bellying up for garlic bread and lasagna.
As the story traditionally goes, a young pharmacist died after falling down the elevator shaft. The pharmacist's wife was so distraught, she died less than a year later.
The pair of ghosts are now said to haunt the building. Some people eating there over the years reported seeing floating objects. Employees spoke of strange sightings on the second floor, even hearing their name called when no one else is around. Apparently, a male spirit shuffled around the restroom. Sometimes child ghosts were heard running around the building making mischief after closing time.
The number of ghosts chilling out upstairs always increased depending on who was talking, it seems.
Other notable haunted places in Houston are reported to be the Rice Lofts (dancers on the rooftop), La Carafe (curious sounds and "cold" spots), the Battleship Texas (a dead sailor) and the Julia Ideson Building (the one-time handyman and his trusty dog).
The owners of the restaurant stocked it with antiques, including the trolley car, grand chandeliers and a grandfather clock over the years to add to the old-world feel of the place. Some paranormal believers contend that spirits good and bad become imprinted on an item and follow it around wherever it goes.
Still others have been dismissive and say that the stories were invented as a sort of marketing tool to drum up business in a downtown area where competition is plentiful.
No word on whether the ghosts come with the auction items. Buyer beware and all that. If the building is torn down, where do the ghosts go? The taco shop down the street? Or do they just linger at Travis and Commerce, waiting for a new developer to haunt?
According to company spokesman David Ayers, the restaurant is not closing on a permanent basis in Houston but chances are that the chain won't find a more unique place in the city to serve lasagna and bread sticks.
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