Welcome to Albert, TX -- Population: You
- Posted on Tue, Jun. 12, 2007
Welcome to Albert -- Population: You
By Pete Alfano
Star-Telegram staff writer
a video tour:
ALBERT, TX -- A weathered wood sign is nailed to the trunk of a
towering live oak that dates to the early 1500s, when Spanish
conquistadors were searching for gold in what is now known as Texas
Hill Country. "Albert, Texas Population 4," the sign says, but Bobby
Cave smiles sheepishly and confesses that it's an exaggeration.
"I made that up," the owner of Albert says of his census-taking.
The fact is, no one really lives in Albert, unless it's when Cave
spends summer weekends in a small three-bedroom house across from
that ancient live oak on Farm Road 1623.
Albert is so small it doesn't use its last name.
The town encompasses 13 acres nestled in the middle of the Hill
Country wineries between Stonewall and Blanco, about 16 miles from
Fredericksburg. Pecan trees and peach orchards line the rolling
expanse of green that backs up to Williams Creek, rushing like rapids
after recent rains.
Albert has historical markers at places like the old rock
schoolhouse, which Lyndon Baines Johnson attended for a year in his
youth. The schoolhouse is now used occasionally as a community center
by the denizens of Gillespie County. But anyone can rent it for $40 a
night, Cave says.
A hundred yards or so away is a ramshackle dance hall, a cavernous
barnlike structure that dates to the early 1900s, with the original
wood floor. Romantics suggest that ghosts are spying from the eaves.
Several cartons filled with empty, grime-covered bottles of beer and
hard liquor -- probably bourbon and whiskey -- lie on the floor. Some
of the local kids unearthed them a while back.
Albert also boasts something new: an icehouse that Cave built on the
site of the old general store when he bought the town. The icehouse
has become a popular weekend watering hole.
But now, not quite three years after he paid $216,000 to purchase
Albert, Cave has put the town back up for sale. The former insurance
broker, who sold his share of an Austin firm to his partner for the
funds to invest in his dream, is ready for his "next adventure," as
he puts it.
His asking price? A cool $2.5 million.
"I'm a project guy," says Cave, who will be 48 on June 27 but still
looks boyish. "I saw this not as a homestead but a venue. It's time
to move on, but I just don't want my customers to think I'm bailing
Cave is ambivalent about selling. Certainly, the profit he'll make
by "flipping" Albert is a strong motivator, although he has invested
almost half a million dollars in the town. He says he is confident
about the asking price, given the initial interest and skyrocketing
property values in the Hill Country.
His listing agent, Eric Meissner of Capital City Sotheby's
International Realty in Austin, agrees.
"It's like going to a garage sale and buying a painting of a pretty
girl for $87 and then you find out it's the Mona Lisa," Meissner
"If this was just 13 acres in the middle of Hill Country, it would
have a dramatically different price. But given the different
components, an ongoing turnkey business, it has become a serious
draw, especially on weekends."
Wood and tin from the old store was used in the construction of the
icehouse. Bottled beer is kept in an old meat cooler, another memento
of the store. Bar stools are lined up against the windows, but most
folks like to sit at the picnic tables outside and in back. There is
a gray Stetson on the hat rack and a sign that says, "Ring bell for
A bottle with "Tips" written in red sits on the counter, and photos
of the locals and easy riders adorn the walls. Everyone is smiling in
On weekends, bartender and official greeter Donna Hicks serves wine,
bottled beer and Shiner Bock on tap, and Cave often plays guitar and
sings (some country, some Eagles) on a small stage he built.
The clientele is mostly motorcycle enthusiasts, as many as 600 or 700
each weekend day, Hicks estimates. They stop by for a cold brew and
to share pleasantries in their version of hog heaven.
"This is a friendly place," Cave says. "Mean people don't like it
Cave hopes to generate some interest in Albert from around the
country after placing ads in The New York Times, The Wall Street
Journal and The Hollywood Reporter.
He would love to see a Texas celebrity, like actor Matthew
McConaughey, Sandra Bullock or Dennis Quaid, buy Albert and add star
power to a region long considered an idyllic getaway.
Meissner mentions that Tommy Lee Jones and Madeleine Stowe have
residences less than an hour away.
Cave is even working with an architect on plans for development and
wants to have renderings available for prospective buyers who he
hopes will carry out his vision or a similar one.
Hicks says that the bikers jokingly passed the hat one recent weekend
to see if they could come up with earnest money.
Cave remembers that it was during one of his weekend escapes that he
saw the "For Sale" sign on the one-story house across the road. He
called to inquire and learned that the wife of deceased owner Nelson
Maenius was selling not only the house, but the town that goes with
Opportunity was knocking. Cave didn't waste time answering.
The locals -- those living in nearby towns -- were leery at first, he
says, of what an outsider had in mind for Albert. He's been careful
not to step on any toes.
Albert has "a funny name and a history," Cave says, "and it made the
locals happy that I didn't change any of that.
"I didn't come here to celebrate myself."
Albert is named for Albert Luckenbach, whose wife, according to the
Handbook of Texas, gave the original homestead her husband's family
name. She was a postmaster, and when a new post office was opened on
Williams Creek, she and her husband moved there in 1892 and renamed
the unincorporated town then known as Martinsburg.
Welcome to Albert.
The town of Luckenbach, of course, was popularized in song by Waylon
Jennings, who sang "Let's go to Luckenbach, Texas," an ode to
dispensing with life in the fast lane and getting back to basics.
"Let's go back to Albert" may not have the same ring to it, but the
sentiment is the same.
There isn't much activity one recent warm weekday afternoon. Jody
Ewing, the young man who was hired as caretaker of the property, is
busy cleaning up after storms barreled through the night before.
A local resident -- with a small, disobedient but friendly dog in
tow -- pulls up, thinking that the bar might be open. It gets Cave to
thinking that he might want to open for business on Friday nights,
He is standing outside the bar, surveying his property, a soft breeze
blowing, the solitude occasionally shattered by a car or truck
rumbling down FM 1623 at highway speed.
He says he has spent plenty of time, with a cold beer and warm fuzzy
thoughts, pondering Albert's future.
Meissner says Cave has spent a few hundred thousand dollars restoring
the land and building the icehouse. "I've seen a lot of work go into
it," he says, adding that most Hill Country real estate agents don't
think Albert is overpriced.
Leading a tour through the overgrown grass and brush that has since
been cut, Cave points out the possibilities, like any real estate
agent worth his salt. Interestingly, Cave recently got his real
estate license and is selling condos and lots in Austin.
In his new line of work, he might categorize Albert as a fixer-upper.
Cave says he would build about 12 German-style rental cabins for
weekend getaways and add a small permanent RV park, with about a
dozen Airstreams for visitors to rent. The cabins and RVs would be
situated toward the back of the property near the orchards, and where
Williams Creek forms one of the borders.
He envisions a small restaurant closer to the road, but a distance
from the icehouse. He has had inquiries in the past from the owner of
a barbecue restaurant chain, which would improve the cuisine quite a
bit from the snacks now served by a vendor who comes by on weekends
with a garish-looking trailer.
Cave's plan includes building a small outdoor stage. An area already
enclosed by a wood fence would become a place for vendors to pitch
their tents during an annual festival. And he would level the old
dance hall and build a new one.
"I'm going to have this all drawn up and keep copies in the bar for
people to take," he says. "It may help me with the sale."
Meissner says he and Cave have set Sept. 4 as a closing date with a
title company, even though no one has made an offer yet. In fact, the
town still isn't officially on the market. An ad was placed in the
June issue of Texas Monthly, which focuses on the Hill Country.
"We did a lot of research, and we think it's currently the only town
in Texas for sale," Meissner says.
Cave is prepared to enjoy his last summer as owner. A CD of country
songs plays in the background -- Hello Walls and Please Help Me, I'm
Falling are among the selections -- adding to the ambiance.
"I lived in the house and spent a lot of time here when I bought this
place," he says. "This has been a learning experience. And I love the
anonymity of it all."
Well, at least until the weekend rolls around.