West Texas ghost town, site of film festivals and art events, goes up for sale
The Far West Texas ghost town of Lobo is up for sale, about two decades after a group of friends from Germany bought the town and started using it for arts events and even a recurring experimental film festival.
The friends say the upkeep on the property has just become too much to manage, so they’re ready to move on.
But they’re not looking for just any buyer. Instead, they’re hoping to find someone with a creative vision for the ghost town like their own.
Marfa Public Radio recently caught up with Alexander Bardorff, one of the town’s co-owners, about what the future holds for Lobo.
On how a group of Germans came to own the town
The countryside around Lobo, just off U.S. 90 in the Big Bend region, was once home to acres of bustling farmland supported by a plentiful underground aquifer.
But after farmers all but pumped the water dry and abandoned the town, Bardorff and his friends bought the property after a chance encounter with a “town for sale” sign that one of the friends spotted while driving past Lobo in the late 1990s.
“We called up, he told us how much money he wanted for Lobo, and we couldn’t afford it,” Bardorff said.
Still, the idea persisted in the friends’ heads, and Bardorff decided to take a closer look at the property to see if it was “even possible” to restore the historic structures there.
“I got back to Frankfurt, Germany, and told them ‘yea, it’s doable, but it’s a lot of work,” Bardorff said.
The group of about 10 friends decided to take the plunge.
“We pulled our money, bought the town,” Bardorff said.
On the arts events and film festivals the group has hosted in Lobo
As Bardorff describes it, the group of German city dwellers originally wanted to buy the town simply to have a place to “get away from the busy city life and relax in the country.”
But after hosting their first public gathering at the property, the friends realized it was fun bringing others out to the ghost town.
“A lot of people came out [to the first open house] that had history in Lobo, that once used to live there, or their parents used to live there,” Bardorff said. “We filled up the swimming pool, it was a lot of fun, and we thought ‘well, this is really nice.’”
The group hosted multiple art and music events and film festivals in the years since.
“It kind of like, just happened,” Bardorff said. “It wasn’t really the plan when we started out, but it sort of developed into that.”
On finding the right buyer
While the German friends have publicly posted the town for sale, they’re hesitant to sell to just anyone.
“We have a physical and emotional investment in Lobo,” Bardorff said. “We would like to have the new people that will own Lobo be people that have some kind of idea of what they want to do with the place and also be personally involved.”
The friends hope to avoid selling to someone who buys the property “as an investment, or [for] water rights or grazing land.”
On the prospects for Lobo becoming another Airbnb
Tourism in the greater Big Bend region has skyrocketed over the two decades the German friends have owned Lobo, and Bardorff acknowledges the property could be bought and turned into the area’s newest vacation property.
That’s not an outcome the friends are adamantly opposed to, Bardorff said, but they’re “a little bit on the fence about it.”
“If it had to be, it will be that way,” he said. But for now, he’s encouraged by the flurry of emails he’s gotten - more than 400, he said - from people with a wide variety of ideas for the ghost town.
“Somebody wants to grow grapes there, and have a wine testing store, other people want to do horses, veterans want to retire there in a commune kind of setting,” he said. “There’s all kinds of thoughts, we’ll just have to wait and see who’s actually seriously interested.”
The worst possible scenario, Bardorff said, would be someone buying the property and not doing anything with it.
“That would be a shame, if somebody would buy Lobo and then, ‘oh, it didn’t work out,’ and it just rots and falls apart,” he said.
Though not listed on the property sale website, Bardorff told Marfa Public Radio the group is offering the entire property at a base price of $100,000.
But again, for this group, a potential buyer’s deep pockets will only go so far.
“It doesn’t mean that we necessarily will sell to the highest bidder,” Bardorff said. “If there’s somebody that I think is a good fit, then why not accept a lower offer and have that person do something?”
The group is hoping to make a final sale decision by the end of June, Bardorff said. In the meantime, the friends are planning an informal open house at the Lobo property during Memorial Day weekend for prospective buyers or just anyone who wants to see the town.
“We have already some people who want to perform, so towards the evening people can hang outside, we’ll have little fires going and music and stuff like that,” Bardorff said.