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Business News/ Weekend / The Housing Supply is Tight. How About a Texas Ghost Town for $100,000?

For five days Alexander Bardorff sat under the canopy of a deserted gas station and heard from more than 70 people who made the trek to this West Texas ghost town selling for $100,000—each one pitching a vision for the future.

It isn’t just about the money, said Bardorff, who is from Frankfurt, Germany. He and his friends, who paid $20,000 for Lobo in 2001, want to sell it to someone who understands how special the land they fell in love with is. Finding a good caretaker is hard, said Bardorff, tearing up. He interviewed each bidder at a round table under the canopy.

“It’s difficult for me to let go," said Bardorff, 70 years-old. “To some of the potential buyers, I say, ‘It’s like Lobo is my baby or our baby and we want to find new good parents.’"

Across the U.S. the supply of homes has been unusually tight and deals are hard to come by. But enterprising buyers still have the chance to buy a windswept abandoned town of 10 acres that includes an empty swimming pool, former motel, former grocery store, former post office and vacant houses, as well as a functioning water pump. For those concerned about location, location, location, Lobo sits between Van Horn, home to Jeff Bezos’ space company, and Marfa, an art hub also known for the mysterious nearby lights.

Several interested buyers camped out in the open desert or took shelter in its empty buildings during an open house on Memorial Day weekend.

The group of bidders was a collection of mostly musicians and artists. Everyone was friendly. Some even collaborated on musical performances during the open-house event, though in the back of their minds, they knew they were competing.

Sarah Stollak, a 48-year-old Austinite who tagged along to Lobo with a friend interested in buying the town, jokingly called Bardorff, the co-owner interviewing candidates, the “Desert Willy Wonka"—the West Texas version of the fictional chocolate-factory proprietor who devises a plan to choose a lucky heir to the place.

Ultimately the decision will be made by Bardorff and the two friends who purchased Lobo with him. But Bardorff is the one vetting would-be owners in person.

“Do you respect what I call the soul of Lobo?" Bardorff said. “Or are you just going to send in a crew of 23 people" to make it into a campground. “You can have a campground anywhere."

The pitches for the future of Lobo have ranged from a kangaroo farm to a nudist colony to an escape-room-style attraction—only the players would have to break out of the ghost town instead of a room.

“As long as it’s not a cult like in Jonestown," Bardorff said.

Lobo has origins in the mid-19th century, when the discovery of the nearby Van Horn Wells, the only known source of water for miles, made the area a stopover on the mail route from San Antonio to San Diego. In 1882, the Southern Pacific Railroad built a depot and cattle-loading pens in the area, according to the Texas State Historical Association.

By 1907 there was a Lobo post office, named after the Spanish word for wolf, and the town was established two years later, according to the state historical association. An entrepreneur bought the town in the 1970s and reopened its roadside store. The store burned down in 1976 and Lobo was put up for sale again in 1988.

After its last resident left in 1991, Lobo sat empty until Bardorff and two friends, also from Frankfurt, pooled their money to buy the town. Starting in 2003 Bardorff and his friends held art installations, short film festivals and musical performances.

Footage of the events through the years shows musicians playing inside the empty pool underneath the desert sky and a disco ball while onlookers illuminated by purple lights dance. In other videos, those who attended “Desert Dust Cinema," Lobo’s international short film festival, watch the footage projected on the outside wall of the gas station.

Marc Lippincott, a real-estate agent working on the sale of Lobo, recalled a pool party the group of German friends threw for neighbors and about 50 of their friends. German women wearing lone-star bikinis and cowboy hats were essentially cosplaying Texans, he said.

The pool is empty, homes that sit on streets named Marvin Gaye Way and J. Coltrane Avenue are in various states of disrepair and the paint is peeling off the gas station’s wooden canopy, usually the first part of Lobo drivers see as they speed down U.S. 90.

It was the canopy that first caught musician Betty Benedeadly’s attention when she drove past Lobo on tours that took her from Austin to California. After pulling over one time, Benedeadly learned about Bardorff and his friends and came to town when she heard about the open house. The 37-year-old said she would like to turn Lobo into an artistic community.

“Desert music and desert-inspired art as the focus," Benedeadly said.

Will Floyd, a 33-year-old Marfa resident, said if Lobo was sold to him and his friends they would want to build a super-powerful radio tower.

Andrea Alvarez, 26, of New Braunfels, walked around Lobo on Sunday and then begged her aunt, a general contractor who lives over an hour away, to come take a look and tell her if it was worth the investment.

“Just being out here it kind of slows down time," Alvarez said.

Her aunt, Jennifer Ficke, 47, said after seeing the place that they could grow their own food and sell it, rent out some of the homes and keep it open to the public. Ficke didn’t believe any of the buildings on the property would have to be torn down, and clearing out the land would be the biggest chore. That people made the trip to Lobo’s open house didn’t surprise her.

“It’s the dream, you know," Ficke said. “the opportunity to say, ‘Oh, I bought a town.’ Not too many people can say that."

The offer deadline for Lobo is June 24.

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