LA GRANGE, Texas—Ask the delicate question in this pleasant little town on the banks of the Colorado, and, depending on who's answering, you'd think that marvelous Marvin Zindler himself, blue eye-shades and all, had risen from the grave and swaggered over, yet again, from Houston.
Here's the question: Should Fayette County commemorate the Chicken Ranch with a state historical marker?
The notion doesn't sit well with some local residents, particularly those of a certain age who remember when you'd mention La Grange and people would invariably grin and make a joke.
The front parlor of the rambling, old frame house ended up in Dallas in 1976, reconstituted as a combination disco and chicken-themed restaurant on Greenville Avenue.
"Lots of men showed up thinking it was still a brothel," a former waitress said. The owners hired Miss Edna, the Chicken Ranch's last madam, to act as hostess, but she couldn't draw the (fried) thigh and breast trade the way she could in La Grange. The restaurant lasted less than a year.
Back in Fayette County, a Waco used-car salesman named Mike McGee acquired the Chicken Ranch property in a 2009 swap with a Houston businessman. "I didn't know what I got when I traded for it," McGee said.
What he got were the ruins of an old house surrounded by mesquite, huisache and prickly pear on a gravel road less than a mile off state Highway 71.
Pat Good, who sells Chicken Ranch photos and T-shirts at Hengst Printing on the square, had something to say.
"It ought to be a little museum," she said. "It would draw a lot of people."
Gary Prause is a fourth-generation family member who runs Prause's Meat Market, on the square in La Grange since 1904. He's been cutting meat and smoking barbecue since 1966.
"When I first started working in here, Grandma would make pies and cakes and take 'em out there," he recalled. "You could always tell how many girls were working out there by how many steaks they ordered from us. If they ordered 28 steaks on a weekend, there were 28 girls working."
That's what Daddy used to tell me."