PALESTINE - A spooky old county jail in Palestine is being reimagined as a destination for people who enjoy off-beat entertainment, with an edge.
The former Anderson County Jail is long rumored to be a hangout for ghostly encounters, but it's slowly coming back to life as a venue for spirit tours, private events and holiday-themed attractions, including this week's return of the third annual "Grinch's Lair."
Theater buffs Jeremy Janz and Sonia Martinez are the owners and masterminds behind the transformation, which seems to be a mixture of downright scary and irresistibly interesting.
"It was basically county storage when we bought it," Janz said. "The county put it up for auction and I said, ‘Hey, let's go take a tour.'"
And just like that, the couple was hooked, sort of.
The creative entrepreneurs were looking at first for a place to call home and a place to start a business.
With a little vision, the historic jail seemed to offer the opportunity for living and working.
"My mom said I could make a home out of just about anything," Ms. Martinez said with a grin. "I guess she was right … this is home."
More importantly, they like the idea of preserving an important component of the past, ghosts and all.
"We feel like we have the responsibility to open it up for the pubic to see," Janz said. "I spent some time in New York and got obsessed with old buildings. When this came up, we saw the potential. HGTV has revolutionized things people call home, so we thought, ‘Why not?'"
It's almost impossible to enter the 1931 facility, 704 Ave. A. in downtown Palestine, without getting a good case of goose bumps.
At roughly 10,800 square feet, the current structure features an art deco faade and three levels of cells, offices and common areas of varying sizes.
The Grinch's Lair encompasses part of all three stories, including the infamous top level that is home to unexplained noises and spine-tingling encounters.
The current structure is actually the second jailhouse to stand on the spot.
The original jail, built in the late 1800s, complete with gallows, was on the same piece of land. It was eventually razed and rebuilt.
"I've really become used to the sounds," Janz said. "People always ask us if it's haunted and we have to say yes."
The building seems to ooze mystery: closing doors, cold spots, the feeling of being touched when no one is there.
There are plenty of visible signs of the jail's former life: holding cells, prisoner graffiti and a faded sign that reads "Fallout Shelter."
One of the most unusual attractions is a happy bubble gum pink cell once occupied by convicted capital murderer Monty Delk, who died by lethal injection in 2002.
Delk, who was famously abusive to the jail's staff, apparently told Anderson County authorities he could live with almost any cell color, except pink.
His name is angrily scribbled in the door facing of two cells.
There seems to be countless stories attached to the building.
The couple said they never tire of hearing about the old days and ever-present secrets surrounding them.
"Sometimes, you get a feeling that you're not alone," Ms. Martinez said.
Ghost tales aside, there seems to be real advantages with living in a high security structure made of concrete and steel.
For one, it's difficult for pesky door-to-door salespeople to talk their way inside.
"We also don't really worry about storms anymore," Ms. Martinez said. "We live in a little fortress."
The couple said they are accustomed to double takes when people ask where they live.
The decision to occupy the property apparently didn't come over night.
"I had to convince a lot of people this was a good idea," Janz said with a grin, citing the necessity for zoning changes that would allow mixed-use development.
The couple said they would be hard-pressed to reinvent the building without a devoted cast of creative friends and supporters who pitch in to help.
"We cannot do what we do without the community's support," Janz said. "This community has reached out in a very special way."
The Grinch's Lair is open weekends until Christmas, featuring a host of lively characters straight from Whoville. The couple's son, Ian, portrays Max the dog.
Productions run 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 27-29; and Dec. 4-6, 11-3, 15-23 and 26-27.
Tickets are $10 a person. To learn more, visit www.Texasjailhouse.com.
Proceeds from the events help fund building upkeep and improvements.
"The Grinch is the one (attraction) that has done the best for us," Janz said. "People came from all over to see the Grinch … they loved it."
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