There Really Was A “Shack Outside La Grange”
This afternoon during my usual 2pm-7pm shift on 99X, I played "La Grange". It's always been my favorite ZZ Top song not only because it rocks really hard, but because it's about a real place. There was even a Broadway musical written about it, which later became a movie starring Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds--"The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas."
Cuz that's what it was and it operated in La Grange from 1905 to 1973. La Grange is a town of about 4000 people in Fayette County on Hwy. 71 between Austin and Houston. The house of ill repute became known locally as "The Chicken Ranch" during the 1930's. This was at the height of the Great Depression when money was scarce. Soon customers began to dwindle, so the proprietor of the place--Miss Jessie--started charging customers one chicken for each "visit". Pretty soon there were chickens running all over the property, so people started calling it "The Chicken Ranch."
You can imagine that, over its almost 70 years of operation, some colorful stories emerged, not the least of which was law enforcement's lack of will to shut the place down. The local DA in the 70's actually told Texas Attorney General John Hill that he would investigate Hill if the state started probing into Fayette County's affairs! It wasn't until legendary Houston television newsman Marvin Zindler--at the behest of John Hill--did an expose' on The Chicken Ranch that it was ultimately closed down in 1973.
The city is not ashamed of its past, and proudly gives a history of "that shack outside La Grange" on its Visitors Bureau website.