NACOGDOCHES, Texas — Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Wherever I go, I need to start the day with some solid sustenance. On a recent trip to Nacogdoches in east Texas, I decided to look for an outlet for my bacon, egg and hash browns requirements, especially as I knew I was going to have a busy day and would probably not have access to lunch.
Waffle House normally fits the bill but there wasn’t one within half an hour of our lodgings. I did some research and found a place called 1st City Café which claimed to have a full breakfast. It may have been five minutes in the car, but that ride took us 60 years into the past.
The café is located in the Fredonia Hotel, a marvelous Mid-Century Modern facility in downtown Nacogdoches, which is, frankly, not what one expects in the middle of the Piney Woods. The café had sleek curves and groovy lighting. In fact, it would not be out of place as a movie location in downtown Los Angeles. The interior wall featured a glass abstract panel that, like everything else, had that distinctive 1950s swinging vibe. The furniture was period, and the lights looked like they belonged in an episode of “The Jetsons.”
Nacogdoches is the oldest town in Texas. The Fredonia originally opened on April 1, 1955, and was built and owned by the community to fill the need for an attractive draw for visitors to the historic town — stock was sold in $100 increments to finance it, with more than 1,100 contributors raising $500,000. It is named for the 1826 Fredonia Rebellion where Haden Edwards and other settlers declared Nacogdoches independent from Mexico. A plaque on the wall says the hotel “was built for the convenience of guests and travelers to the city.”
Between 1955 and 1967, it claimed to be the most successful community hotel in the country. However, after other hotels were built in the town and in nearby Lufkin, the hotel’s fortunes began to decline. Following a succession of owners, in 2013, the hotel was bought by Barbara and Richard DeWitt, who renovated the hotel to the tune of $18 million, staying true to its Mid-Century Modern aesthetic. MCM design covers the years between 1933 and 1965, especially 1947-1957.
During renovation, original features including the brick walls and floating staircase were uncovered and restored. Landscaping is integral to the design. The original atrium was built around a tree, and the new design pays homage with a tree sculpture. The hotel has 100 rooms and conference space for 600. It has two pools, two restaurants (including the 1st City Café) and a bar.
The hotel re-opened in 2017 and is now a destination in itself for both locals and visitors alike — it was dubbed “Nacogdoches living room,” a place where people went to hang out.
The hotel is located at 200 N. Fredonia St. in Nacogdoches. For more information, visit thefredonia.com.
The Marx Brothers in Nacogdoches
The Nacogdoches Opera House claims to be the birthplace of the Marx Brothers’ anarchic and improvisational style of comedy. During a 1907 Marx Brothers musical performance there, a disturbance broke out of the street, causing the audience to leave to see what was happening. A plaque on the Opera House states it was either a runaway horse or a mule dragging and kicking a cart to pieces, adding, “The Marx Brothers, angered by the loss of their audience, began to race around in a frenzy of comic behavior. Their parody of their own burlesque and their antics on stage brought the audience back and launched a new direction in their comic careers.” Groucho later said the show spawned his “Groucho-ism,” “Nacogdoches is full of roaches.” The brothers were later arrested for playing cards on the porch of their hotel. Incidentally, in the Marx Brothers 1933 masterpiece “Duck Soup,” the action takes place in the country of Freedonia. Coincidence?