New owner

New Longhorn Grill owner John Gourley (left) supervises construction work Friday at the Amado landmark.

The iconic Longhorn Grill in Amado may not be a grill for a time, but the giant horns that have been depicted in movies and fashion shoots are here to stay, the new owner said Friday.

Owner John Gourley of Arivaca, a metal sculptor and mostly-retired real estate broker, is enhancing the Longhorn’s Southwestern theme inside and out. Two weeks after buying the empty building for the bargain price of $130,000, he is busy constructing a concrete block wall out front that will hold a 16-by-4 mural of vaqueros, or Mexican cowboys. A similar mural will go inside the empty building.

Next will be palm trees, which are not native to the area, but are a common sight in the Southwest. Along with general cleanup of the building, which has sat empty since July, 2012, Gourley is spending at least $40,000 on improvements.

The 40-foot wide horns, which are made of stucco and rebar and flank the front entrance, have made the Longhorn one of America’s unusual tourist draws and was listed in Time magazine’s top 50 roadside attractions in 2010. Gourley, who was besieged by utility and construction workers on Friday, said he is considering putting a restrictive covenant in the deed so that no future owner could tear down the horns.

The empty, 6,270-square foot building sits on 2.73 acres of land on South Nogales Highway just north of Arivaca Junction Road. All the furnishings have been sold.

Gourley, whose artworks are displayed outside the Tucson Museum of Art and in the Viscount Suites Hotel, will place some of his metal works in the Longhorn and is asking other artists to display their works there to create a gallery feel.

The huge building will be used for wedding parties, dances, quinceañeras and other special events. One is already planned for the end of June, as Tucson tango group Hannah Milonga will test out the dance floor.  

However, Gourley does not plan to seek liquor or restaurant licenses anytime soon, noting with a laugh that previous owners have lost money on the building just as surely as the gamblers lose at the blackjack table in Las Vegas.

Gourley, who has lived in Arivaca for five years after mostly retiring from Las Vegas, said he was committed to keeping the Longhorn’s unique appearance.

Right after he bought the grill, he found a model and fashion photographer doing a fashion shoot there. Within the past two weeks a real estate broker who had heard about the purchase price offered Gourley a tidy profit to sell. However, once Gourley heard the broker’s client planned to knock the Longhorn down and develop a retail outlet store on the property, he ended the conversation.

Gourley bought the landmark on May 10 for $130,000, far below its top listing of $319,000.

The property had been listed for sale in late March for $319,000, then for $299,000. At an auction in the spring, a Patagonia man made the high bid of $155,000, but the seller, Bayview Loan Servicing, did not accept the offer. Shortly thereafter it was listed at $269,000.

Gourley said the price eventually dropped to the point that he thought it would work for him both as an investment and as a kind of gallery. Gourley said one reason he was able to close the deal was because he didn’t need financing.

One factor that may have driven the price downward is the property tax bill, which Gourley said was based on a county assessment of $351,000. The assessment and tax bill may drop sharply with the new sale price and the new use as an event center without a liquor or restaurant license.

He expects to host events in which participants will bring their own food and beverages, such as large weddings, family reunions, quinceañeras and other events too big for a backyard.

Philip Franchine | 547-9738