By Geoff Hunt, Audio and Visual Curator
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.
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.”
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 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.
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
*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.