Murphy's Law

Gentrification threatens to turn out the lights at popular upper Shepherd nightspots

"We bend over backwards, forwards and sideways to please Murphy and those people over there," says night manager P.C. Richard. "And they won't bend at all. To me, it looks like they're trying to close us down."

Central to Murphy's complaints is that the "lowlifes" that frequent Walter's do not come from hisneighborhood. "They come into our neighborhood for the sole purpose of drinking alcohol and having a 'party' to our detriment," he wrote the mayor's office. According to police reports, Murphy also told officers that he was "doing them a favor by buying the property and increasing the property value and running the riffraff out."

But bar patrons say that Walter's is just a neighborhood bar with a diverse crowd that includes carpenters, construction workers, bankers and lawyers who either work or live nearby.

"I think it's ironic, because one of the selling points for our townhomes was that there were restaurants within walking distance," says Walter's customer Pam Hinsly, a third-grade teacher who lives a block away from the bar.

Neighbor Brian Moon agrees. He has not heard complaints by anyone except the Murphys and their next-door neighbor. On several occasions only he and one other customer were sitting in the bar, the jukebox turned off, when the police arrived, stating that Murphy had called again.

Captain Ready says he has seen this situation in the past. "It's a matter of [no] zoning," he says. "A lot of these places were in existence long before the people complaining moved in."

Jax Grill has even hired HPD officers at night to ensure it does not violate any laws. But Murphy viewed that as police "having a very solid camaraderie" with Jax and Walter's, "to the detriment of surrounding residents."

"That is probably our fault because we are not providing free food to the patrolmen and they are not on our payroll," he wrote the mayor's office.

"I don't understand if it's that bothersome why only one person is complaining in the whole neighborhood," Ready says. "I'm trying in vain to give validity to his argument. But every time we go out there, we can't find violations."

A beleaguered Donna Parks of the mayor's office could not find any violations either. She wrote to Murphy that she has no records of arrests to support his accusations.

"I have no record of complaint by other neighbors to substantiate your claim [that] others in the neighborhood are abused by loud music…. I have no document or other information to confirm you represent the interests of your neighbors."

However, last fall TABC joined Murphy in his protest against the icehouse, because it appeared that its liquor license was under the wrong name. A TABC agent performed a lengthy investigation but did not uncover enough evidence to warrant charges by the district attorney's office.

Meanwhile, Walter Cameron, who built the business, got so fed up that he sold it. The icehouse has now been closed for nearly two months for remodeling, the addition of insulation and new interior paint. The business has put in an application for a new license under a new name.

Murphy filed a formal protest against that too; his declaration of war. The Jordans, who used to live next door to him, moved out after filing a complaint alleging that an icehouse patron threatened them and followed them in his vehicle. The neighbors that replaced them walked down to Jax Grill with Murphy a month ago to confront the manager.

Arnold hopes to reopen the icehouse in a few weeks but hasn't decided on a new name yet. The old Walter's sign still stands outside. Some patrons suggest calling it Murphy's Riffraff.

Murphy says he's not giving up. He and the three neighbors might even form a civic organization. "Then they're really going to have hell," he says.

"We'd like to buy it," Murphy says. "We want to put in a Starbucks drive-through or something like that."

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