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Welcome to Albert, TX -- Population: You

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  • deadeye_dolly
    Posted on Tue, Jun. 12, 2007 Welcome to Albert -- Population: You By Pete Alfano Star-Telegram staff writer a video tour:
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 12, 2007
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      Posted on Tue, Jun. 12, 2007

      Welcome to Albert -- Population: You
      By Pete Alfano
      Star-Telegram staff writer

      a video tour:
      http://www.star-telegram.com/news/story/133902.html

      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
      on them."

      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
      says.

      "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
      beer."

      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
      those photos.

      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
      here."

      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
      it.

      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,
      too.

      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.

      Online: www.alberttexas.com
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