The Forum building, which has housed several businesses but has sat vacant for years at the corner of South Broadway Avenue and Front Street, has sold.
Drake Real Estate & Investments announced the sale of the 26,775-square-foot building on a 2.3-acre lot to Austin Bank.
“We can confirm that the bank did purchase the property there, but we don’t have any 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 a great location for any financial institution, with adequate parking and office space for future expansion,” Fender said.
Matthew Marshall, of Drake Real Estate, took over the listing in January.
He said there are a lot of exciting things happening downtown, including the city’s new parking garage and the renovations at the People’s Petroleum Building, and he believes Austin Bank buying the vacant property will help revitalize the area further.
“Austin Bank is really going to make that building a nice corner stone of downtown,” Marshall said. “Now the building will have life … and I think that will help revitalize downtown.”
The building, at 116 E. Front St., has ground floor offices, a showroom and offices on the main floor, a mezzanine dining area and full commercial kitchen, an elevator accessing all 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., a business based in Overton and owned by John Pope and Jud Turner.
The grand opening of Pope & Turner in the large building appeared to be a spectacle, attracting a reported 15,000 people in one evening, according to a May 24, 1967, Tyler Morning Telegraph article. A grand prize given away during the week-long celebration of the opening was a bedroom suite and a bedspread covered with 300 $1 bills.
The building was designed by E. Davis Wilcox and Associates and built by Clanahan Construction Co., according to an article that ran on May 23, 1967.
Pope & Turner “grew and thrived for many years undergoing a steady transformation from a local retail furniture and appliance retailer to a high-end regional design center with multiple galleries, and statewide customer base,” David Fender wrote in an email.
The store operation was sold in 1989 to a Longview company that retained the Pope & Turner name until they closed the business in 1991.
The building became vacant and space donated to a children’s theater group under the direction of Iva Albright for the next several years.
In 1999 and 2000, the building was refurbished into The Forum to accommodate and showcase antique dealers’ merchandise and upscale products, Fender said. A restaurant was added to the mezzanine area in 2003 and was managed by Fender’s wife, Jane.
“While the Forum became a very popular destination, the restaurant and retail management together left no time for Mrs. Fender to be with family,” Fender said. “After six hectic years of operations, The Forum became too much of a burden on Mrs. Fender” and they decided to close the restaurant, followed by the retail operation.
Fender said various charitable groups and businesses expressed interest in leasing portions of the buildings over the years, but the Fenders decided to put it up for sale. Contracts were executed a couple of times, but the buyers failed to close on the transactions. The property was again placed on the market about seven months ago before Austin Bank bought it.