FORT WORTH — The abandoned building that housed Massey’s, the legendary south side restaurant that was famous for its chicken-fried steak, is living on borrowed time.Sometime in the next month, the empty building will come down.For now, a demolition trailer sits out front on Eighth Avenue, a pile of dusty debris sits in the back and graffiti has been sprayed along the south wall.The building’s owner, Don Williams, said he is waiting for the gas to be turned off now that the asbestos abatement has been completed.Once that happens, he will move forward with tearing the building down.“We’re just going to get it level,” Williams said from his home in Costa Rica. “We’re talking to restaurants and also about the possibility of building a medical office building with a day-care facility.”Williams, who struck a deal to buy the property late last year, has no plans to sell it. He says he has placed it in a trust for his 3-year-old son.Herbert Massey’s opened in 1947 and closed for the last time in 2011. It gained fame in Dan Jenkins’ 1981 novel, Baja California, and was also mentioned in several other books.In the novel, Jenkins called it “Herb’s,” HBO made a film of Baja Oklahoma starring Lesley Ann Warren. But Jenkins is taking the old restaurant’s demolition in stride.“Things change,” he said Monday. “It had become not the place it was. That was gone for me in my mind.”The Massey family served their last chicken-fried steak in 1996. The following year, Todd A. Scott and John Hamilton leased the building and reopened under the same name with the same menu but started using frozen french fries instead of the fresh peeled-cut fries the Masseys made. The partners later broke up with Scott closing Saturdays and ending evening service.Before she sold the building to Williams, Diane Massey said, she thought about refurbishing the restaurant and running it herself, but it was too far gone. She estimated costs of $300,000 to bring it back into operation.“Every piece of equipment was broken,” Massey said. “The bathrooms were bad. I was really going to have to start over.”Williams said several restaurant owners have looked at the building, including Dallas restaurateur Gene Street, and agreed with Massey’s assessment.“I really and truly think that’s what you have to do but it’s really too bad,” Massey said Monday.Mary Anne Boyd ran the Blue Note, the bar at Massey’s, for 20 years.“I still live in the neighborhood,” Boyd said. “I go by there every day so, yeah, I’m going to be sad,” Boyd said.When the building is demolished, Williams will mark its passing with some sort of ceremony.“We hope to have some sort of social event and try to preserve something for the history books,” he said.
Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698 Twitter: @fwhanna