The Rise and Fall of the Austin Avenue Pedestrian Mall, Waco, Texas.

By Geoff Hunt, Audio and Visual Curator

Austin Avenue Pedestrian Mall, Waco, TX (7)
Large tree and shrub-filled planters made of brick and cement once sat in the middle of Austin Avenue to help add to the mall’s unique aesthetics.

Between 1958 and 1978, the Urban Renewal Agency of the City of Waco, along with the federal government, created a master plan to redevelop ten areas of the city between Waco Drive and LaSalle Avenue. By the late 1970’s, efforts by the agency had resulted in the demolition of 1,200 homes and 300 commercial structures. This multi-million dollar effort was to eliminate dilapidated buildings and improve the aesthetics of the city. Affected homeowners and businesses received aid to help improve their properties or were moved completely to more suitable and habitable conditions. Part of the greater plan was known as “Brazos Urban Renewal Area TEX R-104” and covered much of downtown and included what was to become the “Austin Avenue Mall.”

Austin Avenue Pedestrian Mall, Waco, TX (2)
Play areas for children were part of the mall’s design as well as cement blocks for seating. Awnings returned on storefronts for pedestrian shelter completion, the mall was heralded as “the beginning of a new era for Downtown Waco.”

The mall’s construction extended from the Ninth to Third Streets blocks of Austin Avenue and closed this portion to vehicular traffic while leaving side streets open. This location allowed the mall to link up with the recently constructed Waco Convention Center. The original planners called for: “a pedestrian mall on Austin Avenue and outlined space for a convention hall on the old City Hall Square.” The Waco City Council had no objections and a federal grant was approved on October 31, 1968 for the project. Construction began in early 1970 and the Austin Avenue mall was formally dedicated on January 16, 1971. After completion, the mall was heralded as “the beginning of a new era for Downtown Waco.”

Details included removing tall curbs to make a seamless surface across the street for pedestrians to access storefronts lining the mall. Large awnings were built to keep “window shoppers” in the shade or sheltered from rain. Fountains, modern lighting, and cement blocks were used for seating and aesthetics. Large planters held trees and plants. The mall also used electric-powered “Free Shopper Trams” that were ahead of their time for the early 1970’s. The Austin Avenue mall got off to a hopeful start with retailers seeing increased sales. One merchant claimed: “Sales are definitely up. We’re getting more people from out of town and a lot of Waco people are coming back downtown to shop because of the inviting atmosphere.”

Austin Avenue Pedestrian Mall, Waco, TX (13)
The mall used electric-powered, General Electric, “Free Shopper Trams,” that were ahead of their time for the early 1970’s.

However, the success of Austin Avenue’s transformation proved difficult to sustain as the years went by. As early as 1977, several key businesses moved to other locations throughout the city, diminishing the area’s desirability. These included some of the main attractions such as Goldstein-Miguel, Cox’s, Monnigs, and Bauer McCann. J.C. Penney was soon to follow when it moved to Richland Mall by the late 1970’s.

In May 1977, Jack Denman, president of Downtown Waco, INC., remarked to the Waco City Council, “There is no reason for anyone to be on the mall. It is the most beautiful, tranquil place in town but is functionally useless.” Further, Denman stated, “I receive calls from women who are scared, and have a paranoia about walking on the mall, they feel alone, isolated…”

After several more years of similar sentiments regarding the pedestrian mall project, in 1985, the Waco City Council decided to change it back to a two-way street between Third and Ninth making Austin Avenue fully accessible to vehicular traffic. The existing remnants that made the pedestrian mall unique, such as cement planters, ponds, fountains, and electric trams, were cleared. Indeed, the idea may have been ahead of its time but now makes for an interesting chapter of Waco’s past.

Works Cited:

“20 Years Transform Heart of Our City” Waco Tribune Herald, September 3, 1978.

“Downtown Revitalization Underway; Main St. 2-Way.” The Waco Citizen, August 30, 1985.

“Office of Economic Development, Urban Renewal in Waco” (Waco, Texas), 1989; Subject File: Waco Urban Renewal. Thomas E. Turner Papers, The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, Texas.

“Parking on Mall Asked.” The Waco Citizen, May 20, 1977.

“Urban Renewal in 1968: An Annual Progress Review” The Waco News-Tribune, March 26, 1969.

“Urban Renewal in 1970: An Annual Progress Review” The Waco News-Tribune, March 24, 1971.

“Urban Renewal in 1971: An Annual Progress Review” The Waco News-Tribune, March 29, 1972.

Research Ready: August 2014

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. We also have the last two finding aids completed by the Archival Collections and Museums class that worked on archival processing projects with us here at The Texas Collection last spring. Here’s the scoop for August:

“Concerning Our Investments” Texas Baptist fundraising pamphlet, circa 1926
Pamphlet with articles on fundraising for Texas Baptist universities, including Baylor University, Wayland Baptist University, University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. BU records: Endowment-Enlargement Program #BU/86, box 1, folder 3.
Murray, Greta, and Milicent Watson photograph, 1969
Murray and Greta Watson with daughter Milicent at the festivities for Watson’s prestigious Governor for a Day ceremony in July 1969. Murray and Greta Watson, Jr. papers #3785, box 279, folder 10.

Print Peeks: Waco Newspapers Report on the Beginning of World War I

By Sean Todd, Library Assistant

On August 3, 1914, the British Foreign Secretary Edward Grey remarked, “The lamps are going out all over Europe, and we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”  Grey was commenting on the seemingly unstoppable slide into a cataclysmic war that was overtaking his country and all of Europe. The lights being extinguished across Europe did not go unnoticed in central Texas. A survey of Waco newspapers from early August 1914 demonstrates that people in Texas had practical economic concerns about the events in Europe as well as deep personal connections to the land and people that would soon be plunged into World War I.

Waco Morning News Aug. 5, 1914
Front page of The Waco Morning News for August 5, 1914, reporting on the declaration of war between Great Britain and Germany.

The events following the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife on June 28, 1914, were fast moving and complex. Over the course of July and early August, the major European powers found themselves tangled in alliances that resulted in a major war. Even a century later the situation can be hard to fully understand, and this was no different for people all over the globe in 1914. Local newspapers had the difficult job of tracking and reporting each turn in the unfolding events. On August 5, 1914, the popular daily newspaper The Waco Morning News displayed in red ink across the front-page “GERMANY VS. WORLD” to mark the news that Great Britain had declared war on Germany. The Waco Morning News typically focused on national and international news stories from the Associated Press. On the front page of the August 5, 1914, edition, stories were filed from London, Berlin, Paris, New York, Quebec, New Orleans, and Constantinople, giving Waco readers a truly global perspective on the war.

Waco Morning News Aug. 5, 1914, Cotton and War
This August 5, 1914, article in The Waco Morning News examines the economic impact of the war on Texas.

However, on the editorial page a voice was given to local uneasiness about the developing conflict. Titled “Cotton and War,” the article points out that nearly 10 million bales of cotton that the United States annually exports were currently being readied for the international market, a market that was in danger of disappearing due to the war. If that were to happen, the cotton prices could plummet, causing an economic crisis for Texas and the entire US south. A proposal was put forth that if the cotton cannot be shipped overseas, then the federal government should buy the surplus. In one action the United States could aid cotton farmers and invest in a soon-to-be high demand commodity. It wouldn’t be long before European armies clamored for cheap fabric for uniforms and war material.

Another perspective on the war, unique to Waco, can be found in the August 8, 1914, edition of The Waco Semi-Weekly Tribune. This newspaper focused more on local events and was able to capture personal reactions to the outbreak of the war. The article, “Thoughts Evoked by the War,” recognized that many Wacoans were German veterans of the Franco-Prussian War of the early 1870s. With the Germans and French again marching to war, these residents were most likely feeling a mix of emotions over the lands of their birth. Ultimately, the editorial called for understanding of people’s regional loyalties.

Waco Semi-Weekly Tribune Aug. 8, 1914
This political cartoon was printed on the front page of The Waco Semi-Weekly Tribune on August 8, 1914. The cartoon illustrates the political chaos that existed in Europe in 1914 and led to the beginning of World War I.

Both articles concluded with the hope that the conflict would be short-lived. Unfortunately the War only grew larger in scale and loss. By 1917 these Waco newspapers would be printing the names of drafted local men as the United States entered World War I.

 Bibliography

Spender, J.A. Life, Journalism and Politics, Volume II. New York: Fredrick A. Stokes Company, 1927.

The Waco Morning News, “Cotton and War,” August 5, 1914.

The Waco Semi-Weekly Tribune, “Thoughts Evoked by the War,” August 8, 1914.

“Print Peeks” is a regular feature highlighting select items from our print collection.