Looking Back at Baylor: The Campus as Playground

Baylor University, aerial view, 1920s
1920s aerial view of the Baylor campus by Fred Gildersleeve. This is what the campus looked like at around the time Albert Meroney was born. At the time, the campus consisted of Old Main, Burleson Hall, Carroll Chapel and Library, Carroll Science Hall, and Carroll Field, and Brooks Hall is under construction in the top left corner. Residential neighborhoods surround the small campus. General photo files: Baylor–Aerial Views–1920-1929.

Children are often on the Baylor campus today, but they are usually accompanied by their parents or teachers. However, back in the first half of the 1900s, residential areas were much closer to campus, and children—particularly those of faculty/staff—made good use of the campus as a playground. Albert Meroney, the son of sociology professor William Penn Meroney, lived at 1417 South Seventh Street (about where Alexander Hall now stands). The following are excerpts from a short memoir he wrote in 1994 (now housed at The Texas Collection) remembering the campus from a child’s perspective.

“Waco Creek ran at the north end of Carroll Field where Baylor played football. There was a high fence around the field, and at the creek end there were trees whose limbs hung over the fence. We would climb the trees to watch a game and then out on the limbs and when no one was looking would drop down inside and run….Every Sunday during the fall they would water the field with a fire house. A bunch of us would slip in and get in the water and have a big time until the day watchman would catch us—it would be Bill Boyd or Neill Morris, and they would scare us but not call our folks….

View of Carroll Chapel and Library and Burleson Quadrangle from Old Main tower, Baylor University, February 5, 1922
Among Meroney’s recollections of mischief are sneaking into the Old Main towers. What a view! However, he wouldn’t have seen quite this scene–this photo is dated just a week before a fire gutted the Carroll Chapel and Library in 1922 (the year Meroney was born), and the dome was not restored. General photo files: Baylor–Buildings–Rufus C. Burleson Quadrangle.

Right behind the girls’ dorm, Burleson, was an enclosed swimming pool for girls only. It seemed huge to us kids but was only about 20 x 30 feet and had a concrete dome roof….There were no classes on Sunday, and a few of us would open one of the windows, which were at ground level, and take us a swim until we got caught.

The campus and especially Waco Hall had so many good sidewalks that all of us had roller skates….The campus sidewalks were also a great place to ride bicycles. We used to make a sort of polo mallet and get a tin can and play bicycle polo. Hard on the spokes….

The heating plant was by the creek and is now Neill Morris Hall. It had large boilers that generated steam to heat all the campus buildings. The steam lines ran through a tunnel that went all over the campus. We used to get in the tunnel at a manhole and go every which direction and hide out….Also on the side of the building there was a ramp to the top so that trucks could drive up and unload coal into the bins for the furnaces. We used to ride our bikes up and down it, and it was real great when it would ice over in the winter and we would slide down on anything we could find. We always had someone at the bottom to watch out for cars [on Seventh Street] but one time we forget and Marshall Cunningham went down and went completely under a car and out on the other side….

Burleson Quadrangle looking at Old Main, Baylor University, circa 1920s-1930s
You can see the benches (and the many trees!) in Burleson Quadrangle, behind which a mischievous Meroney hid to surprise courting couples. Today, benches and swings still are a popular place for couples on the Baylor campus. General photo files–Baylor–Buildings–Rufus C. Burleson Quadrangle

Scattered across the campus and under the trees were benches for students to use for courting. One of my favorite stunts was to slip up behind a couple and scare the daylights out of them. Also, coins could be found under the benches….[Another] of our favorite stunts was to slip in Old Main, open the door that went to the attic and to the towers…and catch squabs to take home to cook and eat….

When Pat Neff got Baylor in the black [after the Depression] there was a building boom. Up until about 1941 I “supervised” it all. In other words I was in everybody’s way and playing all over.”

Meroney went on to use his insider knowledge of the Baylor campus as a student, graduating in 1948 after he served in World War II.

This blog post is an edited version of William Albert Meroney’s memoir, as prepared by  former Texas Collection director Kent Keeth for The Baylor Line, Summer 1994Blogging about Texas periodically features “Looking Back at Baylor” selections, with hopes of sharing Keeth’s work with a new audience.

1966: The Year Waco’s ALICO Building Meets Mid-Century Modern

By Geoff Hunt, Audio and Visual Curator

Amicable (ALICO) Building, Waco, TX., c. 1926
This Fred Gildersleeve image shows the Amicable Building in about 1926. Waco’s famous Old Corner Drug Store occupied a wing of the street level at the time. This same part of the building is still attached, as can be noticed in the modern image of the structure below. The original design of the front and side facades are evident, as well as the original design of the first few upper floors. General photo files: Waco–Business–Amicable Life Insurance Building (Exterior).

Between 1958 and 1978, Waco underwent major changes through the federally funded Urban Renewal Agency of Waco. Areas impacted included numerous city blocks between LaSalle Avenue and Waco Drive. The project greatly affected the city’s people, businesses, schools, and buildings.

Between 1964 and 1966, the city’s landmark ALICO (American Life Insurance Company) Building received major updates as well. The largest and most significant addition to the structure was the ALICO Inn and its convention facilities. The 22-story ALICO Building, originally known as the Amicable Building, was completed in 1911, and designed by architects Roy E. Lane and Sanguinet & Staats. When built, it was the tallest office building in the southwestern United States. Its location was once in the city’s central business district, and it was a vital part of the city’s economy. To remain that way, it needed to keep pace with the rapidly changing business climate of Waco in the 1950s and ’60s.

The ALICO Center Building, ALICO Inn, Waco, TX, 1966 (6)
This view from 5th Street shows the changes in architecture to the original ALICO office building and adjoining conference center and hotel. Most of the façade still remains, but seeing the 1966 structure helps give an idea of the architects’ original intent with the building’s design. General photo files: Waco–Urban Renewal–Business–Alico Center.

With the closing of the Roosevelt Hotel and its conversion into a retirement facility, more downtown hotels were needed, and the Waco Chamber of Commerce was receptive to ideas like the creation of the ALICO Center. The city wanted to attract conventions and shoppers to the downtown area. The center’s proposal was initiated by 29-year-old architect Jay Frank Powell, owner of Down-Tel Corp., a company specializing in building motels in downtown areas. According to the September 20, 1964, Waco Tribune-Herald, the Waco Chamber, when presented with the ALICO Center plan: “pounced on Powell like a piece of beef dangled before a starving lion.”

The ALICO Center Building, ALICO Inn, Waco, TX, 1966 (8)
A passing image of the ALICO Inn and Conference Center soon after construction in about 1966. The view from Austin Avenue was far different from what had been there before the addition. General photo files: Waco–Urban Renewal–Business–Alico Center.

When completed in 1966, the ALICO Center Inn contained 115 rooms for overnight guests, a second-floor meeting room that would seat 250 in a banquet or 1,000 to 1,200 people auditorium-style. It was described as a “downtown motor hotel with convention facilities, a motor bank and a five-story parking garage.” The ALICO Center was designed to match its changing surroundings, including part of Austin Avenue’s closure to make it into a pedestrian mall, another part of the Waco Urban Renewal Agency’s planning. [Check out our blog post on that subject.]

At the 1964 ALICO Center groundbreaking ceremony, the president of the Amicable Life Insurance Company, Franklin Smith, stated, “it will be not only a step toward completion of ALICO Center, but mark the beginning of a new atmosphere and a new enthusiasm in downtown Waco.” Additionally, Waco’s then mayor, Roger Conger, compared the event “to the historic groundbreaking for the Amicable Building more than 50 years ago.”

The ALICO Center Building, Hilton Inn, Waco, TX, Sep. 1971 (2)
The lower façade of the main ALICO Building fits in well with the recently dedicated Austin Avenue Pedestrian Mall, as seen here in 1971. In order to attract more shoppers who would park and walk, vehicular traffic was not allowed on certain parts of Austin Avenue. General photo files: Waco–Urban Renewal–Business–Alico Center.

The end result, completed in 1966, changed the design of the original 1911 ALICO Building, with the new hotel, convention center, parking garage, and motor bank, joined directly to it. As a result, the ALICO Center’s additions took up nearly the entire 400 block of Austin Avenue—stretching much of the complex back to Washington Avenue. Overall, it was impressive and imposing—different in every aspect of what that side of the 400 block of Austin Avenue looked like before. The entire redesign of the 1966 ALICO Center seemed well balanced in appearance—and represented the mid-century modern architectural style frequently seen during the period.

However, the ALICO Center as it appeared in 1966 is no longer. The hotel and convention center were demolished in about 1998, and the space is now used as a parking lot. The main vintage 1911 building and parking garage complex remain, and retain most of the later modifications. This includes much of the 1966 addition’s facade at street level, wrapping around Austin Avenue, the parking garage along 5th Street, and back to the Washington Avenue side of the complex.

The ALICO Building, 425 Austin Avenue, Waco, TX, 2015 (3)
What’s noticeable in this 2015 image of the ALICO Building is the lack of the hotel and convention center. The structure once joining the main building took up a large portion of the 400 block of Austin Avenue and extended back to Washington. The 5-story parking garage and section built for the motor bank are still present. The hotel and convention complex was demolished in about 1998 and is now a parking lot. Photo taken by Texas Collection staff.

In spring 2016, it will be fifty years since the ALICO Center opened for operations. The main building is now 104 years old. The structure has, and remains successful and its exterior is a mixture of old and “new.” Most importantly, it continues to be Waco’s most prominent downtown landmark.

Occupiers of the Inn and Conference Center at 411 Austin Avenue, according to Waco Polk City Directories include:

*ALICO Inn: 1966-1970
*Hilton Inn: 1970-1971
*Waco Plaza Motel: 1972-1978
*Brazos Inn: 1979-1982
*Rodeway Inn: 1983-1984
*Brazos Inn: 1985-1991
*Brittney Hotel: 1992-1994
*Vacant: 1995-1997
*Mark Domangue and Associates Security Brokers: 1998
*Building demolished around this time period-disappears from the records: 1999

See more images of the different looks of the ALICO building over time in our Flickr set.

Created with flickr slideshow.



“Architect Will Reach Goal In Building of ALICO Center,” The Waco Tribune-Herald (Waco, TX.), Sep. 20, 1964.

“New Era Seen as Work Begins on Huge Motel,” The Waco News-Tribune (Waco, TX.), Dec. 8, 1964.

“ALICO Keeps Pace with Time,” The Baylor Lariat (Waco, TX.), Feb 26, 1966.

“Charles Hunton-Hilton Inn Manager,” The Waco Citizen (Waco, TX.), Nov. 20, 1969.

“Conventions at Brazos,” The Waco Citizen (Waco, TX.), Mar. 10, 1981.

“Rodeway Now Brazos Inn,” The Waco Citizen (Waco, TX.), Feb. 19, 1985.

Texas over Time: Franklin Avenue, Waco

Texas has changed quite a bit over the years, as is readily seen in our vast photograph and postcard collections. To help bring some of those changes to life, we’ve created a “Texas over Time” series of GIFs that will illustrate the construction and renovations of buildings, changing aerial views, and more. Our collections are especially strong on Waco and Baylor images, but look for some views beyond the Heart of Texas, too.

Franklin Avenue over timeImages from Waco–Streets–Franklin Avenue photo file

  • At 412 Franklin Ave, early millionaire J.T. Davis ran his oil and cattle empire, Rabajo Oil Co., from 1906 until the 1920s when he died.
  • From 1907 to 1927, the Waco Installment Co. sold secondhand items, which provided access to appliances and furniture for middle class families at an affordable price.
  • The longest lasting business on Franklin was the Nate Chodorow dry goods store (316 Franklin), from 1926 to 1970.
  • The Tom Padgitt Company (5th and Franklin) was one of the most successful saddle manufacturers of its day.

Sources from Franklin Avenue vertical file, The Texas Collection, Baylor University

Cruz, Jonathan. Four-Hundred (Odd) Franklin Avenue: Its People, Past and Places. Rep. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print. Dec. 10, 1997.

Roberts, Aileen. The Puzzle Pieces of Waco. Rep. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print. Dec. 10, 1997.

See all of the images in our Flickr set. GIF and factoids prepared by Haley Rodriguez, archives student assistant.

Research Ready: June 2015

Each month, we post a processing update to notify our readers about the latest collections that have finding aids online and are primed for research. Here are June’s finding aids:

Harding Black photograph, circa 1990
This circa 1990 photograph of Harding Black features the noted ceramics expert in his San Antonio studio with one of his sculptural pieces. The photograph was taken by Baylor University Ceramicist-in-Residence, Professor Paul McCoy. Harding Black’s greatest contribution to the ceramics community was his glaze research, which included extensive work to recreate ancient Chinese glazes from the Song and Tang dynasties. Harding Black collection #3911, box 11, folder 7.


  • Harding Black collection, 1910-2014, (#3911): The Harding Black collection contains material on the life, legacy, and career of noted ceramic expert Harding Black. Harding Black’s greatest contribution to the ceramics community was his glaze research, which included extensive work to recreate ancient Chinese glazes from the Song and Tang dynasties.

You can view more of Harding Black’s ceramic art here or learn more about Harding Black here.