Charlie Brown: We ain't seen nothin' yet
Editor's note: This is part six in a seven-part series of interviews with current and past Port Aransas mayors reflecting on the state of our island town and its future. The first five articles were interviews with five of the town's six most recent mayors: Claude Brown (2006 to present), Georgia Neblett (2004-2006), Glenn Martin (1998-2004), Jim Sherrill (1994-1998) and Dale Bietendorf (1984-1988). (J.C. Barr, who served from 1988 to 1994, died in 1998.) Following is an interview with Bietendorf 's immediate predecessor, Charlie Brown (no relation to Claude Brown). The final article of the series will be an interview with Bob Flood, who served as mayor from 1981 to 1982, fulfilling the unexpired term of Dennis Dreyer, who died while in office. Charlie Brown, 85, was mayor of Port Aransas from 1982 to 1984. He has worked as a petroleum engineer and businessman in the oil and gas industry and as an artist and rancher. He was a founder of Parkdale Bank, which today is Frost Bank. He moved from Corpus Christi to Port Aransas in 1970 and has lived in the same 1920s-era house in old-town Port Aransas ever since. He is married to Wavel Brown, who works as a psychiatric nurse.
South Jetty: What is the state of Port Aransas?
Brown: Frankly, I gave up a long time ago on old Port Aransas. … The survivors - the 300 people who lived here when I moved over here - the reason I moved over here was I admired their way of life. They were survivors, was the way I felt about them. I had just had enough of whatever the life was I had in Corpus Christi. I had made enough money and I didn't want anymore, and I said I am going to move to Port Aransas and just enjoy the people who worked for a living. … But even then, very shortly, I realized you could see the handwriting on the wall. This property was going to be so valuable - the city, real estate here, there would be so many people here (eventually). … I figured, in 20 years, there are going to be so many people down here, these (longtime residents) won't be able to afford to live here. And, sure enough, they all moved to Nordheim or George West and sold their (Port Aransas) property.
SJ: What do you see in the future for PA?
Brown: I think we ain't seen nothin' yet. It hasn't even struck. They are spending tens of millions, building that golf course down there (at the Newport development on State Hwy. 361). … When they get finished with that golf course, it's going to be the most beautiful thing. … There's not going to be a golf course in Texas comparable when they get through with it. They're spending that kind of money, they've got that kind of plan, well, who's going to live on it? … Twenty years from now, those people are going to be there. And, I mean, they're not going to build (only) $300,000 houses out there. I mean, it's going to be people with a lot of money. Now, what they're going to do when they get here, I can't imagine. The way it is, you know, that would be unacceptable. But they're going to be a market, and (businesses are) going to come in here to satisfy that market. Whatever is necessary, it's going to come in and supply that market. I mean, (upscale) shops, restaurants, whatever.
SJ: Will that be good for the town? Or bad?
Brown: Well, that's not for me to say. It's not good for me. I mean, I don't like it. …
SJ: Why not?
Brown: Frankly, what's going on now - all these color-coordinated, SUV, dark glasses - that's the reason I came over here, to get away from all that, this Junior League outfit. It's just inundated us here now, and it's only going to get worse. It's just not my cup of tea.
SJ: While the recent changes don't suit you personally, are those good or bad for the town at large?
Brown: Well, it's going to be a lot bigger … the town we knew - that's gone. I mean, you can forget that. So is it good that it's not that anymore? It's different now, and frankly it's not even particularly fun anymore. It used to be: Gee, I wonder what's going on (in town), you know? I could ride my bicycle down and find out, or whatever. But it's not like that anymore. And just kind of the idiocy of the way it used to be, you know? I mean, a guy driving his garbage truck into city hall because it hadn't paid him, you know? Crash!
SJ: Did that really happen?
Brown: Oh, yes! When they first built the new city hall. It was brick, and he just drove his truck right into it. They hadn't paid him, or something. That was in the '60s, or something. Anyway, there was always something going on. It was just --
SJ: More freewheeling?
Brown: Yes! (Laughs.) It wasn't very structured, let's put it that way. It was completely unstructured.
SJ: What else can you say about why you liked the old Port Aransas so much?
Brown: It wasn't so super-civilized. People weren't so nicey-nice. They would tell you straight-on what they thought, and I liked that. … I didn't come from that kind of background, so I couldn't really identify, but I liked it. … I just enjoyed being in this environment and genuineness of it.
SJ: You said the town we once knew is gone and to forget about it. But even considering the market forces at work, if people here want to do the best job they can of preserving some sort of charm in town, what should they do?
Brown: What sort of charm do some of these termite-ridden - it's, you know, I think that's just - now, the Tarpon Inn, I mean, that is picturesque. But, my land, that location, I don't know. Someone could sell that for no-telling what, you know? So I don't know what the answer to that really is.
SJ: The Port Aransas Preservation and Historical Association is trying to preserve as many older buildings as it can. Isn't that a worthwhile thing?
Brown: What would you have if you have it? Yes, I wish they could do something like that. … (But) it's hard to really envision how they would go about doing it.
Brown: Well, because that property is going to be so valuable.
SJ: And, as a result?
Brown: Somebody is going to sell it.
SJ: And they are not going to want to keep those old buildings?
Brown: That's right - (not) when you can tear that down and put another one of these big things with a shark on the front of it and get people to come in there and spend 10 bucks. I mean, it's trashy. But I think probably that trashiness is just a phase that we're going through. I think (land) is going to become so valuable, so upscale, that they'll do away with that kind of thing. SJ: And replace it with what? B r o w n : W i t h q u a l - ity (shops and restaurants). (Editor's note: In a second interview with the South Jetty, Brown said he wanted to again address the subject of change in Port Aransas. Following are some of his comments.)
Brown: It has changed so dramatically now, that what I chose to leave (behind in Corpus Christi) has come over here. (Laughs) In spades! So, am I pleased? Well, I'm pleased for the area, no question about that. … Winston Churchill said this: "Grasp change by the hand, lest it grab you by the throat." Change is inevitable. … and I certainly have adapted to it and come along with it. It doesn't mean I don't reminisce and love what (Port Aransas) was. But, you know, that's history. … To be mad because it's changing - that's counterproductive and doesn't do anyone any good. It just gets yourself all worked up.
SJ: What else do you see in the town's future?
Brown: We've only seen the tip of (development). When this development out there comes in, I daresay that somehow … they'll extend that runway out there (at Mustang Beach Airport), and (the wealthy) will be able to fly in there with their jets. It's just going to happen, period. … These people have jets, and they want to get around. … and the businesses that cater to them are going to come to them. … A Neiman Marcus ultimately will have a store down here.
SJ: In Port Aransas?
Brown: I would daresay, 20 years from now. … Well, it's a magnet. People who cater to wealth go to them. And so I wouldn't be at all surprised. … It's going to be a whole lot different and … upscale. … Corpus Christi will be kind of like Miami and Miami Beach, and Port Aransas will be like Palm Beach. There will be the difference between Miami and Palm Beach. There are a lot more people in Miami Beach, but the elite are in Palm Beach. I think that's the class distinction. The elegant area is going to be up here in Port Aransas, of all places (laughs).
SJ: What are some accomplishments you are proud of from your time as mayor?
Brown: We were in desperate (fi- nancial) straits, and in my two years (in office), we at least got our books all straightened out and knew where we stood. And we got a good city manager (Joyce Pulich) in there who knew what she was doing. And, as a council, we were all working together as a team. I was very pleased with that.
SJ: What else?
Brown: We at least got some (bollards) up on the beach, got some control down there where it was just bedlam before. We got a zoning ordinance in. There was a lot of bad blood about that, and people were mad at us. But I'm pleased we did. Our sign ordinance … most all of the signs (today) are pretty well under control, relatively speaking. I guess I wish I had the foresight that we would have done something about (State) Hwy. 361 … right of ways or restricting it so that the last half mile coming into Port Aransas would be like a park, you know, with palm trees instead of commercial. It doesn't' look too bad yet. But I think it's just a matter of time, give them a little chance, and they'll get it trashier looking, I guess. We could have (made it prettier) with a stroke of a pen, and there wouldn't have been any fight. … But it never occurred to me, or I would have. … We were just trying to get ourselves organized, so we could pick up the trash and pay our bonded indebtedness.
SJ: How about a silly question? Does it irk you that one of the most popular comic strips of all time carries your name prominently? After all, your mother named you before the Charlie Brown of "Peanuts" fame came along.
Brown: When that first came out, I was in California. … I was working as a potter out there one summer - '59, '60, somewhere in there - and that was about the time Charlie Brown first got in the funny papers. I can't remember the name of the town (where the cartoonist Charles Schultz lived), but I was close by there, and I went up and knocked on his door. And he came to the door, and I said, "I'm the original Charlie Brown!" And he just laughed, and we had a nice talk. … He was so friendly. This was before he was famous. He didn't take offense. We just laughed about it.