It’s a building that will stop you in your tracks in downtown Fort Worth. The architectural work of art sparks your eyes to dance from feature to feature in awe of the antiqued detail. The red brick sandstone trim, carved stone accents, and funky multi-tonal glazed brick earned this building the name little red jewel box.
It’s also one of those buildings that immediately makes you feel like someone or something may be looking back at you through the original stained glass windows on the second floor.
Used most often as a restaurant or pub, the historic commercial building has struggled to keep a long-term resident. Roadblocks and obstacles have plagued entrepreneurs willing to give the space a shot. Do these ghosts want to be left alone?
Catwoman, Julie Newmar, once partied in a former jazz club in this building.
The last restaurant to settle into the historic Land Title Building on Fourth and Commerce Streets was the Bird Cafe.
In an article for CultureMap Fort Worth, General Manager Amber Davidson said
we definitely have a haunted bar.
Davidson said that the staircase and the upstairs bar in the building is where most experienced paranormal activity. Despite countless renovations, the staircase that remains in the building is the original.
According to Davidson, several customers and employees claimed to see ghosts. The General Manager said she had personally witnessed wine bottles and glassware fly off the wall, and noticed odd handprints would show up where no one had been.
The ghosts bothered Davidson so much that she avoided looking into mirrors at night, and always held onto the railing tightly when walking down the stairs.
At one point, Bird Cafe embraced their spooky visitors, offering a haunted wine dinner and ghost tour for Halloween. The Bird Cafe, unfortunately, closed permanently in May of 2020 after seven years in business due to the economic impact of the Coronavirus.
A look into the history of the building since its creation in 1887 brings up a dizzyingly long list of former tenants - and deaths.
Starting as a Land Mortgage Bank and the Law Firm of Ross, Herd&Ross, it’s been transformed to a blue-collar meal plate diner, a jazz club, a beerhouse, and even a soap opera-themed burger joint.
The latter on the list surprisingly gives us some insight into who could be haunting the building.
According to a 1983 Fort Worth Star-Telegram article, one of the women behind the dream to create Soaps Restaurant and Bar had a family member pass away in the building.
“What has been so interesting about this is that this is the building where my Daddy died,” said Shirley Jackson. “He was in the soap-making business and used to go around to restaurants picking up the grease to make soap. He was here … picking up grease when he had a cerebral hemorrhage. It’s [the building] so sentimental to us because of Daddy.”
Unfortunately for Shirley, Soap’s was barely open a year before it was forced to close due to damage from broken water pipes.
The Land Title Building was originally constructed in 1889 by Marshall Sanguinet. It’s one of the few original buildings in the area that has survived bulldozing. Currently surrounded by new structures, it’s known as one of the most important and best surviving Victorian commercial buildings in Fort Worth.
In the 130 years the Land Title Block has been standing, there seems to be a pattern in local newspapers. Articles are either about new tenants excitedly announcing their business venture in the building, or locals expressing concern about the well-being of the now-empty building once those businesses shut down or move.
In a 1982 Fort Worth Star-Tribune article, one woman wrote to the paper to express concern that
the building is almost falling apart while we watch … So why isn’t someone doing something to save it?
This doesn’t mean the building is necessarily bad luck, however, as some have found success there.
For years it served as an elegant law office for three attorneys, standing brightly alongside the sin and saloons of the early days of Fort Worth.
In the 1960s, it was a thriving short-order diner, White Way Cafe. By the 1970s, it was a jazz nightclub that was even once a hangout for TV’s original Catwoman, Julie Newmar.
One of the longest tenants of the building was the Flying Saucer Draught Emporium, which still is in business today, but moved out of the building in 2013 to expand to a bigger space.
The Land Title Building was last restored in 2013, and according to the project managers Bennett and Benner Partners, during that time, they removed previous alterations and preserved the remaining historic charm of the structure.
Parts of the building look just as they did 130 years ago, including an original fireplace on the second floor, and a stained glass ceiling fan positioned over the entry door.
In May of 2020, the owner of Bird Cafe announced that the restaurant wasn’t able to continue operating due to the financial impact of COVID-19.
Owner Shannon Wynne told WFAA
It’s very difficult for a larger fine-dining restaurant, full service to operate curbside. So the economics just aren't there.
Hopefully a new business venture will find a home in the Land Title Building and continue to preserve its historic value.
In the meantime, keep in eye on those stained glass windows on the second floor. Let us know if you see any ghosts looking back at you.
Visitors can find the Land Title Building on 111 E. 4th Street
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