TEXAS OVER TIME: The Sanger Brothers Department Store and Christmas Event, 321 Austin Avenue, Waco, TX.


By Geoff Hunt, Audio and Visual Curator, The Texas Collection, Baylor University. 

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” blog series that will illustrate the construction and renovations of buildings, street scenes, and more. Our collections are especially strong on Waco and Baylor images, but look for some views beyond the Heart of Texas, too.

Waco was once home to Sanger Brother’s Department Store, the city’s largest and most prestigious retail establishment. Outside of the store’s building on 321 Austin Avenue the business hosted Christmas events such as the one held in December 1913, when Santa Clause arrived via a Southern Traction Company railway car accompanied by the Alessandro Band. Santa’s arrival was sponsored by the railway company and Sanger Brothers, bringing in crowds of people numbering in the hundreds. It was a yearly tradition that filled the streets of downtown Waco with citizens trying to catch a glimpse of Jolly Old Saint Nicholas and listen to the band playing Christmas music.  

Waco’s Sanger Brothers Department Sore was founded by Sam Sanger and first opened for business on March 4, 1873. Sanger arrived in the U.S. from Germany in 1866, moving to Cincinnati, where he served as a Rabbi. He was then a teacher in Philadelphia from 1869 to 1872. He then went into the retail industry in 1872, opening a shoe store in New York City. Four of Sanger’s brothers, Isaac, Lehman, Philip, and Alexander, had also emigrated from Germany to the U.S., and were already in Texas when Sam Sanger arrived in the state. Sam Sangers’ brothers had opened dry goods stores in McKinney, Decatur, Weatherford, Bryan, Calvert, Hearne, Kosse, Bremond, Groesbeck, Corsicana, and Dallas, before brother Sam’s arrival. The McKinney store was the first and opened by Isaac Sanger in 1857. Sam Sanger merged the Bryan store to form the one in Waco. Sam Sanger died on December 18, 1919. His son, Asher Sanger, took over the business until 1926, when it was sold to a St. Louis based company. On March 15, 1931, the Waco branch of the Sanger Brother’s Department Store chain went out of business after 58 years. 

Sanger Brothers continued to operate stores in North Texas, and the company remained successful for decades after the Waco store’s closure. In 1961, Sanger Brothers joined with A. Harris and Co., to become Sanger-Harris. Many Sanger-Harris stores were located in shopping malls as anchor stores such as the ones at Valley View Mall in Dallas and Six Flags Mall in Arlington, TX. Sanger-Harris also operated stores in Ft. Worth, Mesquite, Irving, Plano, and Tyler. One former Sanger-Harris building was even modified to serve as the headquarters for the Dallas Area Rapid Transit System (DART). Sanger-Harris merged with Foley’s Department Stores in 1987, and in 2005, the once venerable firm merged with Macy’s

The “Then” in December 1913 photograph shows a Southern Traction Company railway car that has just transported Santa Claus and the Alessandro Band to Waco, from Dallas. The location is outside of the famous Sanger Brothers’ Department Store, once located at 321 Austin Avenue, Waco, TX. Santa Claus came to this store yearly at Christmas time and the event drew hundreds of onlookers. The “Now” image is of the same location in 2020, image by G.H. “Then” image is from: “Gildersleeve : Waco’s Photographer. Waco, Texas: 1845 Books, 2019. Print.”

A similar view to the above but taken in 1914. Santa Claus, accompanied by soldiers, stands in front of the large gathering. The slider or zoom feature shows a close-up of what the crowd came to see. “Then” image is from: “Gildersleeve : Waco’s Photographer. Waco, Texas: 1845 Books, 2019. Print.”


The Sanger building once stood at 321 Austin Avenue, as seen in this 1914 Fred Gildersleeve image. It was formerly the McClelland Hotel, and was also home to the Old Corner Drug Store, birthplace of Dr Pepper. Montgomery Ward occupied the building for many years until it moved to Lake Air Mall. The building, having survived the Waco Tornado of 1953, was demolished during Urban Renewal in about 1964. The site is now a parking lot and is also home to the memorial statue for the 1953 Waco Tornado. Image source: Gildersleeve : Waco’s Photographer. Waco, Texas: 1845 Books, 2019. Print.

Works Sourced:

Amanda Sawyer, “Sanger Brothers Department Store,” Waco History, accessed December 10, 2020, https://wacohistory.org/items/show/85.

Anderson, Jennifer. “Sanger Brothers in Dallas,” City of Dallas Office of Historic Preservation, accessed December 10, 2020, https://cityofdallaspreservation.wordpress.com/2018/11/08/sanger-brothers-in-dallas/

Gildersleeve, Fred A., Geoff Hunt, and John S. Wilson. Gildersleeve : Waco’s Photographer . Waco, Texas: 1845 Books, 2019. Print.

“The Story of Sanger Brothers, Pioneer Retail Store of Texas,” The Southwest Jewish Chronicle (Oklahoma City, Ok.), September 1, 1950.

“Sanger-Harris,” The Department Store Museum, http://www.thedepartmentstoremuseum.org/2010/05/sanger-harris-dallas-texas.html

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