The Forum building, which housed several businesses but sat vacant for years at the corner of South Broadway Avenue and Front Street, has been sold.
Drake Real Estate & Investments has announced the sale of the 26,775 square foot building on 2.3 acres of land to Austin Bank.
“We can confirm that the bank bought the property there, but we don’t have immediate plans for it,” said Patty Steelman, director of marketing for Austin Bank.
David Fender sold the building, built by Harris R. Fender Sr. in 1966.
“The location and construction of the building is an excellent location for any financial institution, with adequate parking and office space for future expansion,” said Fender.
Matthew Marshall of Drake Real Estate took over the announcement in January.
He said there are a lot of exciting things going on downtown, including the city’s new parking lot and People’s Petroleum Building renovations, and he believes Austin Bank’s purchase of the vacant property will help further revitalize the region.
“Austin Bank is really going to make this building a great downtown cornerstone,” Marshall said. “Now the building will have life… and I think that will help revitalize the downtown area. “
The building, located at 116 Front Street E, includes offices on the ground floor, a showroom and offices on the ground floor, a mezzanine dining room and a full commercial kitchen, a elevator accessing the three levels, a covered parking garage and two additional parking lots.
Harris R. Fender Sr. in 1966 began constructing the building to accommodate Pope & Turner Furniture Inc., an Overton-based company owned by John Pope and Jud Turner.
Pope & Turner’s grand opening in the large building appeared to be a spectacle, drawing 15,000 people in one evening, according to a May 24, 1967 article in the Tyler Morning Telegraph. One grand prize handed out during the week-long celebration of the opening was a bedroom and a bedspread covered with 300 $ 1 bills.
The building was designed by E. Davis Wilcox and Associates and constructed by Clanahan Construction Co., according to an article in May 23, 1967.
Pope & Turner “has grown and prospered for many years from a local furniture and appliance retailer to an upscale regional design center with several galleries and statewide clientele.” David Fender wrote in an email.
The operation of the store was sold in 1989 to a Longview company which retained the Pope & Turner name until the company closed in 1991.
The building became vacant and the space was donated to a children’s theater group under the direction of Iva Albright for the following years.
In 1999 and 2000, the building was remodeled into The Forum to accommodate and showcase antique merchandise and high-end products, Fender said. A restaurant was added to the mezzanine in 2003 and was run by Fender’s wife, Jane.
“As the Forum has become a very popular destination, restaurant and retail management have not given Ms. Fender time to be with her family,” said Fender. “After six hectic years of activity, the Forum has become too much of a burden on Ms. Fender,” and they decided to close the restaurant, followed by the retail operation.
Fender said various charities and businesses have expressed interest in renting parts of the buildings over the years, but the Fenders have decided to put them up for sale. The contracts were executed several times, but the buyers failed to complete the transactions. The property was put on the market again about seven months ago before Austin Bank bought it.