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Downtown Waco in 2022


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#1 John T Roberts

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Posted 09 May 2022 - 09:38 PM

An F5 Tornado went through Downtown Waco on May 11, 1953.  It destroyed many of the loadbearing masonry/wood framed buildings built in the late 1800s.  Other structures were also so badly damaged they had to be demolished.  In that year, my aunt worked at Cox's Department Store on the corner of Austin Ave. and N. 7th St. The building partially collapsed around her.  Waco actually had several branches of DFW department stores.  At one time, they had Cox's, Monnig's, and Sanger's.  Before 1953, Waco had a very dense downtown area, but now, more than 50 years later, the blocks and lots where buildings were destroyed, most are occupied by surface parking lots. 

 

I arrived in town in the afternoon, so some of the buildings have a lot of shadow on them.  Let's start with the McLennan County Courthouse.  It was designed by James Riely Gordon and opened in 1901.  He designed 18 Texas Courthouses, and 12 of them still survive.  A couple of local courthouses that he designed in the Romanesque Style are the Ellis and Wise courthouses in Decatur and Waxahachie.

52061940027_6cd79342d5_k.jpgmclennancourthouse by jtrobert, on Flickr

 

The Roosevelt Hotel (1927).  It was the third Hilton Hotel.

52063469690_079d44d808_k.jpgroosevelthotel by jtrobert, on Flickr

 

This is an artsy photo of the ALICO Building, the state's tallest when it opened in 1911.  The original base was removed in 1966 and replaced with a facade that matched the design of the Austin Ave. Pedestrian Mall.  The huge 15' neon letters were also placed on the building in 1966.

52062998308_9146a8f8fc_k.jpgalicohalo by jtrobert, on Flickr

 

View of one of the main facades of ALICO.  Does this building remind you of any in Fort Worth?  It was designed by Sanguinet & Staats, and built for the Amicable Life Insurance Co.  If you look carefully, the shields between the windows on the 21st floor also spell out ALICO on this side of the building.  On the short side (actual front) there are only four columns, so the letters only say ALIC.

52063012401_1a553d47c2_k.jpgalico by jtrobert, on Flickr

 

My walk was basically down Austin Ave. for a few blocks.  This is a view of the 500 Block.

52062979441_10eff35911_k.jpg500blkaustin by jtrobert, on Flickr

 

In the middle of that block is a historic bank.  The main Neo-Classical facade is fully intact.  To the left, the Art Deco addition has been reimagined into a co-working space.  The building to the right was the Strand Theater at one time.

52063211934_4e7dfc1d66_k.jpghistoricbank by jtrobert, on Flickr

 

In the 600 Block of Austin, we have an old JCPenney Store and the three story former McCrory's with the ghost sign.  The McCrory's building appears to have some significance, and is old.  Unfortunately, most of the side of the building has been stuccoed over.  The rear portion of it has a different window pattern, and may have been an addition. 

52062979241_33d3ae1b66_k.jpgghostsign by jtrobert, on Flickr

 

This is the side of the McCrory's Building.  You can see how that facade has been covered over, leaving one bay with the exposed brick.

52063212184_cecf7225f5_k.jpg7thstartsmall by jtrobert, on Flickr

 

In the next block are the 714 Lofts and the Waco Hippodrome Theater.  It opened in 1914 as the Hippodrome Theater.  In 1928 a major fire occurred in the projection booth that destroyed much of the front of the building.  It was rebuilt and redesigned with a Spanish Colonial Revival Style facade in 1929 and was renamed the Waco Theater.  The current blade sign is a replica of the incandescent "Waco" sign.  However, if you look at historic photographs, you can see that the earlier sign extended above the roof line.  In the 1940's it was replaces with a neon version that was approximately the same size.  This newer version is smaller than the other two.

52062979371_6796a539b6_k.jpg700blkaustin by jtrobert, on Flickr

 

52061939822_518ef3b2b3_k.jpgwacotheater by jtrobert, on Flickr

 

In the next block on the corner of Austin and S. 8th is this restored building:

52062997998_07fa1f5d3a_k.jpgrestoredoffice by jtrobert, on Flickr

 

Now, I'm heading back up the street and this is the other side of the 700 Block of Austin Ave.  The tall brick building is the old Raleigh Hotel.  It has now been converted into an office building.

52061939782_49f74cadbc_k.jpgwestside700blkaustin by jtrobert, on Flickr

 

Further along in the 700 Block is The Edison.

52063469645_729ae97d69_k.jpgtheedison by jtrobert, on Flickr

 

This is the site of the old R.E. Cox & Co. Department Store.  All that is left of the building are the 3 mosaic tile entryways.

52062979281_a5fa97eac3_k.jpgcoxs by jtrobert, on Flickr

 

In the same block are the Kress, Woolworth, and Liberty Buildings.  ALICO is behind.

52062998093_4f834c2cc8_k.jpgkress by jtrobert, on Flickr

 

Finally, I ate lunch at Union Hall which is an adaptive reuse of two historic automobile buildings.  It is a modern Food Hall that was bustling with patrons on Saturday afternoon.  I had a 1/3 lb. cheeseburger at Whizzbang's Hamburgers.  The meat and vegetables were extremely fresh.

52061939852_f757e269b6_k.jpgunionhall by jtrobert, on Flickr



#2 John T Roberts

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Posted 10 May 2022 - 03:21 PM

I'm hoping some of you will comment on the photographs and the City of Waco.



#3 Nitixope

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Posted 10 May 2022 - 03:36 PM

Excellent work, John. I really like the ALICO building. Did you already know all that history or did it involve some additional research? I have always enjoyed the laidback feel of downtown Waco. There seems to be a pretty good level of preservation involved there too. Do you have any connections with like-minded organizations there? Would be fun to do a walking tour sometime.

#4 John T Roberts

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Posted 10 May 2022 - 03:57 PM

Thank you for the comments.  I did not do any additional research on the ALICO Building.  I found most of that when I was verifying Sanguinet & Staats information on Fort Worth buildings.  The way I discovered it was designed by Sanguinet & Staats was through my wanderings in Downtown Waco when I had those projects that required monthly site visits.  When I took a closer look at the building, I thought the ALICO Building looks very similar to a Fort Worth Skyscraper, only bigger, taller, and a different color scheme.  I was then thinking that it they had been designed by the same architect.  In one of my trips to San Antonio, I found a shorter, smaller, third version of the same design with the same color scheme as the Fort Worth building.

 

There is a pretty good level of preservation in the city, but it is more or less, preserving what wasn't destroyed by the tornado. 

 

Waco does have a preservation organization and a local chapter of the AIA, so I could probably get together with them.  Quite a number of years ago, we did do a forum tour of Brownwood, Texas, which is further away than Waco, so it could be something we might consider.  I would have to get assurances that we would have a large enough group to make it work.  I guess the one plus about going there is that if no one showed up, Waco is not that far.



#5 RD Milhollin

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Posted 11 May 2022 - 06:54 PM

One thing I was surprised to find out several years ago was that the Amtrak station for Waco was WAY OUTSIDE of town. If Texas ever expects to have HS rail up and down the I-35 corridor they are going to need to start doing incremental work to get slow-speed rail set to serve city centers along the way. 



#6 John T Roberts

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Posted 11 May 2022 - 09:49 PM

Isn't the Amtrak Station for Waco actually in McGregor, 18 miles to the southwest?  I have taken Amtrak south several times.



#7 360texas

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Posted 15 May 2022 - 09:15 AM

Small observation-  Where are all the parking meters?


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#8 John T Roberts

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Posted 15 May 2022 - 04:47 PM

There aren't any.  Parking is free in downtown on the streets with a time limit of 2 hours before you have to move.  If you are parked longer than the time limit, you get a ticket.



#9 Nitixope

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Posted 15 May 2022 - 05:59 PM

Is Magnolia Market still charging $10 to park across the steeet?

#10 John T Roberts

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Posted 15 May 2022 - 07:44 PM

I didn't get over that way, so I can't tell you.



#11 Brian Luenser

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Posted 20 May 2022 - 08:30 AM

Really fantastic photos.  Makes me want to head to Waco today. That 1953 tornado was so deadly that to this date May has more tornado deaths than any other month in Texas. If not for this F5, April would be the deadliest month. I haver driving through Waco so many times without stopping. Always late for something in Ausin or San Antonio etc...  I just need to make it a destination. 

 

An F5 Tornado went through Downtown Waco on May 11, 1953.  It destroyed many of the loadbearing masonry/wood framed buildings built in the late 1800s.  Other structures were also so badly damaged they had to be demolished.  In that year, my aunt worked at Cox's Department Store on the corner of Austin Ave. and N. 7th St. The building partially collapsed around her.  Waco actually had several branches of DFW department stores.  At one time, they had Cox's, Monnig's, and Sanger's.  Before 1953, Waco had a very dense downtown area, but now, more than 50 years later, the blocks and lots where buildings were destroyed, most are occupied by surface parking lots. 

 

I arrived in town in the afternoon, so some of the buildings have a lot of shadow on them.  Let's start with the McLennan County Courthouse.  It was designed by James Riely Gordon and opened in 1901.  He designed 18 Texas Courthouses, and 12 of them still survive.  A couple of local courthouses that he designed in the Romanesque Style are the Ellis and Wise courthouses in Decatur and Waxahachie.

52061940027_6cd79342d5_k.jpgmclennancourthouse by jtrobert, on Flickr

 

The Roosevelt Hotel (1927).  It was the third Hilton Hotel.

52063469690_079d44d808_k.jpgroosevelthotel by jtrobert, on Flickr

 

This is an artsy photo of the ALICO Building, the state's tallest when it opened in 1911.  The original base was removed in 1966 and replaced with a facade that matched the design of the Austin Ave. Pedestrian Mall.  The huge 15' neon letters were also placed on the building in 1966.

52062998308_9146a8f8fc_k.jpgalicohalo by jtrobert, on Flickr

 

View of one of the main facades of ALICO.  Does this building remind you of any in Fort Worth?  It was designed by Sanguinet & Staats, and built for the Amicable Life Insurance Co.  If you look carefully, the shields between the windows on the 21st floor also spell out ALICO on this side of the building.  On the short side (actual front) there are only four columns, so the letters only say ALIC.

52063012401_1a553d47c2_k.jpgalico by jtrobert, on Flickr

 

My walk was basically down Austin Ave. for a few blocks.  This is a view of the 500 Block.

52062979441_10eff35911_k.jpg500blkaustin by jtrobert, on Flickr

 

In the middle of that block is a historic bank.  The main Neo-Classical facade is fully intact.  To the left, the Art Deco addition has been reimagined into a co-working space.  The building to the right was the Strand Theater at one time.

52063211934_4e7dfc1d66_k.jpghistoricbank by jtrobert, on Flickr

 

In the 600 Block of Austin, we have an old JCPenney Store and the three story former McCrory's with the ghost sign.  The McCrory's building appears to have some significance, and is old.  Unfortunately, most of the side of the building has been stuccoed over.  The rear portion of it has a different window pattern, and may have been an addition. 

52062979241_33d3ae1b66_k.jpgghostsign by jtrobert, on Flickr

 

This is the side of the McCrory's Building.  You can see how that facade has been covered over, leaving one bay with the exposed brick.

52063212184_cecf7225f5_k.jpg7thstartsmall by jtrobert, on Flickr

 

In the next block are the 714 Lofts and the Waco Hippodrome Theater.  It opened in 1914 as the Hippodrome Theater.  In 1928 a major fire occurred in the projection booth that destroyed much of the front of the building.  It was rebuilt and redesigned with a Spanish Colonial Revival Style facade in 1929 and was renamed the Waco Theater.  The current blade sign is a replica of the incandescent "Waco" sign.  However, if you look at historic photographs, you can see that the earlier sign extended above the roof line.  In the 1940's it was replaces with a neon version that was approximately the same size.  This newer version is smaller than the other two.

52062979371_6796a539b6_k.jpg700blkaustin by jtrobert, on Flickr

 

52061939822_518ef3b2b3_k.jpgwacotheater by jtrobert, on Flickr

 

In the next block on the corner of Austin and S. 8th is this restored building:

52062997998_07fa1f5d3a_k.jpgrestoredoffice by jtrobert, on Flickr

 

Now, I'm heading back up the street and this is the other side of the 700 Block of Austin Ave.  The tall brick building is the old Raleigh Hotel.  It has now been converted into an office building.

52061939782_49f74cadbc_k.jpgwestside700blkaustin by jtrobert, on Flickr

 

Further along in the 700 Block is The Edison.

52063469645_729ae97d69_k.jpgtheedison by jtrobert, on Flickr

 

This is the site of the old R.E. Cox & Co. Department Store.  All that is left of the building are the 3 mosaic tile entryways.

52062979281_a5fa97eac3_k.jpgcoxs by jtrobert, on Flickr

 

In the same block are the Kress, Woolworth, and Liberty Buildings.  ALICO is behind.

52062998093_4f834c2cc8_k.jpgkress by jtrobert, on Flickr

 

Finally, I ate lunch at Union Hall which is an adaptive reuse of two historic automobile buildings.  It is a modern Food Hall that was bustling with patrons on Saturday afternoon.  I had a 1/3 lb. cheeseburger at Whizzbang's Hamburgers.  The meat and vegetables were extremely fresh.

52061939852_f757e269b6_k.jpgunionhall by jtrobert, on Flickr


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#12 Nitixope

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Posted 20 May 2022 - 10:16 AM

Hey Brian!!! I miss seeing your photos. Hope you are doing well.

#13 Austin55

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Posted 24 May 2022 - 05:15 PM

Love these shots, John!  Waco is a great visit for a day trip. I like to backroad the tripon 174 and 6 via Meridian, Clifton and Crawford (to see Tonkwa Falls).

Union Hall is a super cool place too, was very pleasantly surprised to see how bustling it was when I was there a few months back.



#14 JBB

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Posted 24 May 2022 - 08:58 PM

Is Magnolia Market still charging $10 to park across the steeet?

 

On our weekday trip a few years ago, we paid to park in one of the First Baptist Waco lots down the street.  I think it was somewhere around $10.



#15 John T Roberts

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Posted 24 May 2022 - 09:15 PM

Brian, I also miss seeing your photos.

 

Waco is a nice place to go for a day trip.  However, it is still kind of sad that downtown didn't rebuild very much after the 1953 tornado.  I didn't drive the backroads on this trip, and I-35 was a very easy drive with not a lot of traffic.  For the record, I have been down most of the backroads between here and there.  I have also ridden many of them on a bicycle.  I liked Union Hall and I wish we could have something like it here that would be as successful.  It was busy when I was there.  JBB, I did not visit the Magnolia Market, but I parked 6 blocks away at about 1/2 mile in actual distance for free.  Since I am "The Cheapest Human Alive", I would rather park for free and make that 1/2 mile walk to a destination and then walk back afterwards.



#16 JBB

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Posted 24 May 2022 - 09:17 PM

I was with a group or otherwise I would have been just fine parking farther away for free and walking.  



#17 John T Roberts

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Posted 24 May 2022 - 09:29 PM

JBB, I understand.  In the past, I have been in groups where we have paid to park, as well.  Sometimes, you don't have a choice.






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