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The Shine Returns to the Revitalized Sparkle Ice House

By Brad Meyer

The nostalgic Sparkle Ice House was built in the 40s,

Businesswoman Pat Moritz is renovating and revitalizing the old Sparkle Ice House, located at
101 Metcalf Street in Conroe, into an entertainment and event venue for special events.
Conroe Sparkle Event Hall

The paint may be chipped and the roof long gone, but an iconic downtown building and a cultural link with Conroe’s historical past is slowly being restored, revitalized and returned to service.

One of the most popular places in Conroe for blushing brides, high school seniors and young families to create memorable portraits is on the grounds of the old Sparkle Ice House, located at 101 Metcalf Street.

“It’s a very nostalgic looking building with a lot of history,” said Pat Moritz, who purchased the building in 2007. “Unfortunately, the building was vacant for a long time and had deteriorated significantly – it’s been a challenge to make the repairs necessary to bring it back to useable condition.”

The building was part of a 50-acre tract owned by railroad interests back in 1907, according to Moritz. Around 1942, Albert L. Johnson bought the half-acre parcel for $300 – along with several other neighboring lots.

“He constructed a 7,0000-square-foot building,” said Moritz. “Half was a wash house and dry cleaning operation and the other half became Jewell Ice – name after his wife.”

The both were busy operations, according to Moritz. The icehouse was the primary source of block and bulk ice in the area. The laundry contracted with the local hospital in Conroe that had only two sets of sheets per bed – requiring daily service, she added.

The name was later changed to Sparkle Ice and the business was later taken over by Fairmont Foods – selling a limited line of food stables, sundry items and frozen novelties.

“It wasn’t the sort of place you’d hang out with friends, but when you needed ice or staples, this was the place to go,” recalled Kay Lunch, who worked for the Johnson family. “Pretty much everyone in Conroe came here for ice.”

That includes Montgomery County Judge Alan B. Sadler whose father was a physician for the Missouri Pacific railroad. Sadler said the family did a fair amount of traveling by rail in the 50s and early 60s.

“I used to watch the ice hands pick up and deliver 50- and 100-pound blocks of ice,” said Sadler. “We used to go there for snacks when we waited for the train.”

Sadler also recalled seeing a good number of men drinking beer at tables outside the Sparkle Ice House.

“It seemed to always be a lively place of business in many forms and fashion,” he quipped.

By the late 70s, however, the business had fallen on hard times. It closed down and was slated for demolition when Moritz said she recognized it was an important link to Conroe’s past.

It was around this time Moritz also saved a number of hand painted murals on the walls of the old Liberty Theatre in downtown Conroe. She and her then partner, Ron Byrd, purchased the building.

“Our original idea was to renovate it and build a restaurant,” said Moritz. “But he died and I’ve been working on renovating it.”

The hard work is finally paying off. Following a long and expensive series of repairs and renovations, Moritz has received her certificate of occupancy from the city and is in the process of securing a wine and beer license.

Sparkle Ice House is now available for weddings, concerts, private parties and special events. The interior remains rustic, but offers excellent acoustics and with the help of special lighting, the facility offers a unique setting for special activities. During his campaign for governor, Kinky Friedman held a rally and concert at the Sparkle Ice House.

“At night with all the lights it’s really quite magical inside,” said Moritz. “I’m getting a lot of favorable comments about what has been done.”

Instead of a permanent roof, Moritz is working on installation of a retractable roof and awning system that allows an open air feel to the building.

“It’s not traditional,” she admitted, “but this isn’t really a traditional building.”

Moritz applauds the effort of local entrepreneurs and city officials to revitalized downtown Conroe and restore the appearance of the older buildings. She hopes more restaurant and lounge facilities will open in the downtown area.

“The more the merrier as far as I’m concerned,” said Moritz. “The more facilities offering services to the community, the more traffic will be created – it’s a win-win situation.”

And breathing new life into a historic structure brings a special pride to Moritz. The repurposing of Sparkle Ice House as an event center and entertainment venue means the building will survive for future generations to enjoy.

“It hasn’t been easy — or profitable so far,” she said, “but it’s been a labor of love.”

For more information, visit Conroe Sparkle Event Hall on Facebook or call 713-724-3236.

The Courier

May 13, 2012

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