Waco Rebuilding Itself
an Dallas back then, according to the Texas Almanac. Waco had the tallest building west of the Mississippi when it was completed in 1911 with 21 stories. Today the ALICO building is a proud symbol of our downtown.
Then some dudes in Dallas had to outdo us and build one two stories taller.
Waco continued to grow around the hub of downtown which was the square,
A trolley system was built so folks could live out in the suburbs, like on Ethel Ave, now an older part of our city, but still very livable. That was a mistake doing away with them.
Downtown was still the heart beat of our city. My mother would sit in the car on Austin Avenue just to watch the people go by on the sidewalk. An entrepreneur would take picture and try to get you to buy them. Gildersleeve set up his studio at 4211/2 Austin Avenue, next to my daddy’s law office. There were pictures on almost every square inch of his office. When landlord Ainesworth wanted to paint the walls, Gildersleeve took pictures of the walls so he could get all the pictures back in their place. Guess the frame shops were busy back then. My brother Brady, made frames for Wm Cameron, at 7th and Austin Avenue.
Mickle studio at 5th and Austin was another popular place for wedding pictures. Harlik’s and other shops sprung up on Austin Ave. On the square Dugger grocery and Pete’s hamburger stand were popular. On the other side Clifton Simpson took the whole block. Jane Belville became manager there in the late 40′s.They had everything for sale. McCant’s paint store was on Washington next to the fire station. Wm. Miller autos was where the Courtyard by Marriott hotel is today.
Anyway to make a long story short, things were going really well for Waco.
Then some of our forefathers wanted to make it better. They heard about this new idea called Urban Renewal. It was good for Baylor, but not good for downtown Waco. Good buildings were torn down. Our building at 315, 317 and 319 were Ok and convenient to city hall, courthouse and other places downtown. Hick’s Rubber Co. and Nate Chodorow were across the street, and Novy’s on the corner. Waco letter next to us.
About 1965 we were told we would have to get out. I said just leave us alone. No such luck. So five years of my life were spent trying to figure out the system and what to do. Joe Lewis was one of the men on the UR board we had to talk to. Urban Renewal set up shop in the 800 block Austin Avenue in Brazelton’s appliance store.
The board said get out, then when they had everything torn down, they would find us a spot to move back in to downtown. I said are you crazy? Another problem cropped up. We had a printing press, and dangerous chemicals that were not allowed in downtown Waco any more. Something about zoning.
Buzz Stevens came to our rescue and we bought his buildings at 1008, to 1020 N. 25th street. Zoning was a problem again, but we won that round. The Urban Renewal money helped but it wasn’t enough, Jack Kultgen tried to help me on this problem.
We got set up on 25th street and even spent more money putting in a new Goss Press. Had to get David Smith, city manager, to get us power so Star electric could wire our building. Holiday cleaners even took the wiring when they left for a site on LaSalle. Tarvers Variety store was in these buildings in the 30′s, 40s.
Before we left downtown, along about May 11th, 4:30 p. m. we had a tornado and did severe damage to downtown, 114 people killed, That was the only week we couldn’t print a newspaper. I was at the HOT Coliseum opening it for a Home Show. The first event in the new building.
So, with the tornado and Urban Renewal it almost killed downtown. Business spread to the shopping centers. Marshal Law let people learn they could do without a downtown.
Now here it is 2010 and after millions and millions of dollars in bond money coupled with private investments, Downtown Waco is coming back like never before. People will actually live downtown if they can put up with the train noise at night.
Now we are rebuilding downtown Waco, Cameron Park, fire stations, convention center and other facilities. The police station moves to the Hilcrest tower and the present buiding will be put to good use.
New construction and new hotels are cropping up faster than you can keep up with them.
We’ll pause this holiday and take a deep beath at how Waco is rebuilding itself. We’ll pray with Jim Bush, our new Mayor, to keep us on a steady course. We’re betting on him, because he’s a builder himself and comes from a family of builders. He’s also a pro bowler, so we hope he bowls us over — in a good way. He had three 300 score games. Ask Clay Wilkins how Waco has changed since he’s been gone.