Man Behind The College Station Plaza Hotel Reflects On Its History

By: Shane McAuliffe Email
By: Shane McAuliffe Email

Joe Ferreri has seen a lot of things in his 92 years.

"You can see a better picture of it. How it really looked," said Ferreri about a picture of his childhood home hanging on a wall of his house.

His life started in a farm house north of Bryan back in 1919.

His pinnacle, building a high rise he thought would change the face of Bryan/College Station.

"I thought I was doing something for the city and the college by going up with the high rise to indicate that this is now not a town but getting ready to be a city. That is the image I was trying to create," said Ferreri.

To see the whole picture, you have to start in the Big Apple.

In the tunnels of New York City, Joe got his first job. After his family moved there during the Great Depression, Joe worked for the city's subway transportation system.

With the start of World War II, his life took another turn and he joined the Navy.

At the end of the war and after more than a decade away from Bryan, Joe decided to move back and get involved in his uncle's family business.

We now know it as Catalena Hatters, but back in the late 40's Clayton Furniture occupied the space and it was Joe's first business.

With the 50's, Joe once again started something new and opened two drive inn's. The Triangle Drive Inn and Sugar And Spice. Both businesses met a lot of success and his reputation on the table got the attention of one Earl Rudder.

"Mr. Rudder came to visit me and told me he was getting ready to build a hotel. I told him, I don't know anything about a hotel. He said, well you know the food business, it's not going to take you long to learn about a hotel," said Ferreri.

So Joe did build it and in 1960, the Ramada Inn on the corner of University Drive and Texas Avenue opened.

"We built exactly what Mr. Rudder wanted. It had an olympic swimming pool, a faculty club, at least 150 rooms, and a banquet room that held at least 1000 people," said Ferreri.

It was the best of times for the grand hotel and it served as a focal point for the community and Texas A&M.

"We were at 90 percent occupancy doing real good business. And if you got to expand at that time (you do it) in fact Ramada Inn was insisting that we do something," said Ferreri.

So in 1980, construction on a new high rise began. In a matter of a year, the building had grown to 17 stories and included 20 apartments purchased by prominent Aggie oilmen. As the high rise topped out, the bottom of the oil business dropped out.

"Every one of them had gone bankrupt except for Clayton Williams. He kept his deal but that wasn't enough," said Ferreri.

Despite interest rates going through the roof and several empty apartments, Joe pushed on and opened his hotel.

It was the crown jewel of B/CS but thanks to the tough economy, Joe couldn't keep his head above water. He fought bankruptcy the best he could, but in the end the bank took his pride and joy.

"They took everything from me expect my house, my wife, my son, a dog, a cat, and one car. That was it. I lost 32 million dollars in money and assets," said Ferreri with a blank look on his face.

It was the end of the line for Joe and the Ramada Inn. It had switched hands a number of times but its most recent reincarnation, The Plaza Hotel, seemed to keep the curse of the 80's oil bust with it and the doors were shut for good in 2010.

Joe hadn't been inside The Plaza Hotel for 20 years. So, with the Plaza scheduled for demolition next month, we took the man who built it there for the last time.

"This is something. It'll make tears come out of your eyes," Ferreri said.

It's no longer the grand hotel he envisioned and built but memories of the good days came flooding back to Joe. Like when the dining room was accidentally decorated with a little bit too much orange.

"I didn't pay attention to it and when we opened up there was almost a riot. We had to close it down for a couple of days and bring in new upholstery and change all the colors to maroon and white. I'll never forget that," said Ferreri with a hearty laugh.

Or how the view has changed from one of the hotel's balconies.

"This was all country," he said while standing on a 16th floor balcony looking at University Drive.

One of Joe's most vivid memories happened in 1963.

"There was a TV set right out here, a small one. When I walked through here and it was on, Kennedy was shot in Dallas and I said no. Can't be," recalled Ferreri.

Then there's Joe's pride and joy. The hotels original banquet room.

"A lot of happiness and a lot of problems went into this big room," said Ferreri.

The hotel is in the process of being cleared out for demolition but even then, years of vandalism are still apparent.

"So if you had to do it all over again, would you build the high rise," I asked Ferreri at the end of our tour.

"No.....no I wouldn't," said Joe with a huge laugh.

But Joe does plan on having mixed emotions when the building comes down.

"It's going to be tears and then it's going to be joy because (when) they build what they're supposed to it will be a beautiful set up. According to their pictures, it'll make this corner look very, very pretty," said Joe.

When Joe and I first met, one of my questions had to with the demolition of the building and if he wanted any part of it. His answer seemed to sum up his 30 year relationship with the building.

"It would be an honor to do it because I know it stood up that long and it was a perfect building. I would love to destroy it, it would give me a lot of satisfaction. I know it sounds bad but that's the fact. I would go away very happy," said Ferreri in a somber tone.

You may remember another one of Mr. Ferreri's local endeavors. He built Ferreri's Italian on the corner of Harvey Mitchell and Texas Avenue but closed its doors back in 1997.

Mr. Ferreri now enjoys the retired life with his wife of 40 years.


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