Tyler’s old ice house and shopping center, now in ruins

The Tyler Loop thanks Tiffany Wright of Smith County Historical Society for providing historical research for this story.

In its heyday, one of Tyler’s most historic buildings housed a business especially popular during the Fourth of July and Memorial Day holidays for people wanting to escape the summer heat.

In the end — ironically — it was fire that gutted the building leaving just a brick shell of what has simply become known as “the icehouse.”

📷 all photos by Alan Arthur

On the evening of Sept. 3, 1983, firefighters responded to a report of flames and smoke coming from the building at 525 Spring Avenue just blocks north of the Smith County courthouse. 

Spectators watched more than just a building going up in smoke, it also was Tyler history.

The structure was built sometime between 1889-1893 and was known as the Simon & Brown Tyler Ice Factory. In the early years, the business provided ice and cold storage.

Hunters paid to keep the deer there until their game could be processed — a practice that ended in 1969 — and the business also was known to keep dozens of roses cool before the annual Rose Festival, according to a 1949 newspaper article.

The icehouse — known as the Southern Ice and Cold Storage Co. by then — was one of two Tyler factories that produced a combined 120 tons of frozen water a day for the summer holidays during the late 70s and early 80s, according to a news account.

The ice business at that location, however, came to an end in 1983. Firefighters arrived that Saturday evening to find the home of what was by then Klear-Pak Ice Company engulfed in flames.

It took 70 men — some fighting the fire while standing on nearby boxcars — from eight units more than three hours to get the blaze under control. By the time they left the scene on Sunday morning they had used nearly one million gallons of water, according to one news account.

Investigators believe the fire started in the attic and spread quickly throughout the building, causing an estimated $50,000 in damage and destroying two cold-storage vaults, icehouse manager Larry Lough told reporters.

Although the fire was devastating, Lough reported the owners already had plans to move the business to a new location on State Highway 155 just south of Loop 323.

Nearly four decades later, full-grown trees have claimed the space in between the vine-covered brick walls, soaking in the sun from the building’s roofless interior. Plans, if any, for the site are unknown.

Attempts to reach current property owner Carlos Villapudua have been unsuccessful.

Villapudua also owns a group of buildings just north of the icehouse — a formal mini shopping mall that now looks like a ghost town. The buildings on east Swann Street were built between 1933 and 1935.

T.E. Swann initially owned and developed the property. The block included a “filling” station at the Broadway and at Spring Avenue intersections.

Over the years, the buildings were home to a barber shop, Alyne’s beauty shop, Lupe’s Café (one of the first Mexican restaurants in Tyler), Reed’s Cabinet Shop, office for the US Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation, Mangum Acoustics and Skidmore Sundries.

The businesses here likely experienced a lot of traffic through the 1950s when the Cotton Belt Railroad still had passenger service.

The last known business to operate in this area was in 1990.

The Broadway Avenue overpass, constructed in 1995-96, prevented a right-hand turn onto the street and therefore, access to the buildings.

Alan Arthur is a visual storyteller providing complete drone services throughout East Texas including aerial videography, photography, and video editing through HoverWorx at www.facebook.com/hoverworx.net. Arthur moved to Tyler from Washington state in 2017. He has worked in information technology for 23 years and works part time for the City of Tyler as an Advanced IT Specialist. Alan is an aspiring Master Naturalist, and local history nerd living in north Tyler with his wife of 31 years and three spoiled dogs.

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Vanessa E. Curry is a journalist with nearly 35 years of experience as a writer, editor and instructor. She earned a B.S. degree in Mass Communication from Illinois State University and a MSIS degree from The University of Texas at Tyler with emphasis on journalism, political science and criminal justice. She has worked newspaper in Marlin, Henderson, Tyler and Jacksonville, Texas as well as in Columbia Tennessee. Vanessa also was a journalism instructor at the UT-Tyler and Tennessee Tech University. Her writing has been recognized by the State Bar of Texas, Texas Associated Press Managing Editors, Dallas Press Club, and Tennessee Press Association. She currently is working on publishing two books: "Lies and Consequences: The Trials of Kerry Max Cook," and "A Gold Medal Man, A biography of Kenneth L. "Tug" Wilson.