Baylor's Finest Hour: Dr Pepper Hour!

By Priscilla Escobedo, University Archives student assistant

Over the long, hot summer, students (and staff!) on campus have been missing one of Baylor’s beloved traditions—Dr Pepper Hour. It goes on hiatus for the summer, but as classes start back up, the Baylor community happily gathers on Tuesday afternoons to enjoy tasty Dr Pepper floats. But how did the tradition get started?

Student Union Building brochure, 1950s
The Tuesday afternoon Coke Party is hailed as the most popular event sponsored by the Student Union. Students gathered for Coke, hot chocolate, games, and fellowship. Other services offered by the Student Union Building included eating facilities, a barbershop, and a newsstand.

The answer begins with the Student Union Building (SUB). Baylor University grew exponentially during the first half of the 20th century, and in response to the overwhelming desire to bring the expanding student body together, Baylor alumni advocated for the construction of a Student Union Building. The project began in 1940, but did not finish until after WWII due to lack of materials caused by the War.

When it was first opened in 1947, the Union Building was home to a soda shop, barber shop, and seating area. As time went on, the SUB became home to a bowling alley, lending library, and even a shooting range. Traditions sprung up in efforts to bring the Baylor community together, and while many faded away with time, some, like Dr Pepper Hour, have survived.

Student Union Building activities calendar, November 1957
Note that instead of Coke or Dr Pepper Hour, the Student Union Building hosted Hot Chocolate Time on Tuesdays in November 1957–it must have been cold outside!

Dr Pepper Hour now is a 60-year-old tradition and a hallmark of the Student Union Building. It was first organized by Mrs. Marie Mathis, assistant dean, and eventually director of the SUB. She was incredibly passionate about student activities in Baylor, with other contributions including founding All-University Sing and Pigskin Revue. Like these other traditions, Dr Pepper Hour has undergone several changes over the years. This particular tradition has its origins with Matinee Coffee Hour in 1952, then became known as Coke Hour in 1953. The beverage offerings were not set for many years—the menu might include Coke floats, Dr Pepper floats, or even hot cocoa or hot Dr Pepper during the winter months. That means you’ll see references to Coke Hour and Hot Chocolate Time in old Lariats and flyers and so forth. (But it usually was Coke Hour.)

"Let this be your finest hour!" Coke Hour flyer, Baylor University, undated
“Let this be your finest hour!” Coke Hour flyer, Baylor University, undated

What hasn’t changed is that every Tuesday at 3 pm, students, faculty, and staff get together, chat, and take a break from their hectic schedules, while enjoying a tasty beverage. Coke Hour, along with the basement bowling alley and the second floor lending library, made the Student Union Building the center for student activities on campus.

<i>Cookin' with Dr Pepper</i> cookbook, 1965
Dr Pepper floats aren’t the only treat you can make with Dr Pepper! This cookbook at The Texas Collection will teach you how to cook everything from meatballs to butterscotch squares, using Dr Pepper as an ingredient. This cookbook is just one of nearly 5,000 Texas cookbooks in our print collection.

In 1997, Baylor University entered an agreement with Dr Pepper Bottling Co., granting them campus exclusivity and sponsorship and promotional rights for athletic events as the University’s official soft drink. That agreement cemented Dr Pepper’s place as the beverage of choice, and the tradition has been Dr Pepper Hour ever since.

So when 3 pm rolls around today, make sure you stop by Barfield Drawing Room (or the 6th floor of Robinson Tower, if you’re over there) for a refreshing Dr Pepper float, and enjoy spending time in community with the Baylor family. You’ll be in good company with the last six decades of Baylor alumni!

Priscilla Escobedo is a senior international studies major from Irving, Texas. She has worked with the University Archives at The Texas Collection for nearly one year. She pulled the images for this post (except for the cookbook) from the Baylor printing office sorting project she has been working on for the past year.  

Documenting the “Monster from the Skies”: Photographs Telling the Story of the 1953 Waco Tornado

By Geoff Hunt, Audio and Visual Curator

"Monster From The Skies," Waco Tornado, May 1953
“It was so wide and the rain so heavy, it was impossible for anyone in the city to see the funnel approaching.” The cover of this publication demonstrates how T.E. Caldwell of Thornton, Texas, remembers how this storm on May 11, 1953 looked.

This week marks the 60th anniversary of the May 11, 1953, tornado that hit Waco, Texas, causing the deaths of 114 people. To honor those who lost their lives on this tragic day, and the great loss of a large part of Waco’s central business district, we have put on our Flickr page some unseen or seldom seen photographs of the affected areas of Waco, before and after this storm.

This group of images includes digitized 35mm, 4×5 and 8×10 photograph negatives, Kodachrome slides, stereo-slides, and printed photos, and features images captured by Waco photographers such as Hiram Blaine Sherrill, Randall W. Todd, Fred Marlar, and the Army Air Force Photography Division. We also included “before” photos, giving us a sense of what these stricken parts of Waco were like before the catastrophic storm.

Before and After: The Devastation of the 1953 Waco Tornado
The top image, taken by Fred Marlar in about 1951, contrasts with the image below taken by Jimmie Willis of the same vicinity after the 1953 tornado.

Fred Gildersleeve, a well-known Waco photographer, also documented the storm’s wreckage. In a 1977 oral history interview, Waco historian Roger Conger remarked of Gildersleeve that “…Waco was most fortunate in having him here because he rode the crest of Waco’s remarkable development during the first twenty-five or thirty years of this century.” But sadly, just a few years prior to his death in 1958, he also saw the destruction of part of the city he had made a living photographing. He likely lost friends in the tragedy. However, like his earlier work, his documentation of the aftermath of the 1953 Waco Tornado helps to record an important part of the city’s history.

Before and After the Tornado, South Side of Waco, Texas, City Square, 1953 Waco Tornado
Before (1950) and after (1953) the tornado, south side of Waco, Texas, city square, by Fred Gildersleeve

Another photographer whose work is being brought to light is Dr. Hannibal “Joe” Jaworski. He resided in the nearby Roosevelt Hotel (400 Austin Avenue) and had a medical practice on the third floor of the Amicable (ALICO) Building, on the corner of 5th and Austin. In the aftermath of the storm, he led medical care of the wounded at Waco’s Hillcrest Hospital. Jaworski previously served as a colonel in the U.S. Army Medical Corp, and so his experience earned during WWII made his contribution vital in helping those injured in this catastrophic natural disaster.

First Responders to the 1953 Waco Tornado (2)
The collapse of the Padgitt’s and RT Dennis buildings onto 5th Street, by Hannibal “Joe” Jaworski

When going to some of these hard-hit areas now, all that remains are some empty lots and historical markers. However, there is nothing like a photograph taken during this time or just before to help us realize why this event was sometimes referred to as the “Monster from the Skies.”

Check out more before and after images of the 1953 Waco tornado in our Flickr slideshow. Click the arrow to make the slideshow start, and click the crosshairs in the bottom right corner to make the slideshow full-screen.

Discover more about the 1953 Waco tornado…

Geyser City, Waco: Reading a Photograph of the Crystal Palace Pool

Crystal Palace Pool, 1910s, Franklin Avenue, Waco, Texas
The imposing structures in the background of the Gildersleeve photo are the R.T. Dennis Furniture Co. (left) and the Tom Padgitt Co. (right). Both of these buildings were destroyed in the 1953 tornado that struck the heart of Waco. The portion of the Dennis building was located on Austin Avenue and is now a parking lot. The buildings were so large they were practically back-to-back when they stood.

An old photo allows us to take a dip into the past…and in no image is that comparison more apt than these views of Waco’s Crystal Palace pool! Such an image almost allows you to see, hear, and feel the environment that people experienced many decades ago. By taking one photo (above, by Fred Gildersleeve, circa 1910s) and breaking it down into pieces, we can “read” so much about the former landscape of downtown Waco, Texas, and the city’s history…including one of Waco’s most cherished but now mostly vanished natural resources: artesian well water.

Crystal Palace pool fountain
This fountain was the source of the warm artesian water that flowed into the pool. Due to this natural spring and its widespread use, Waco was known as “Geyser City.”
Crystal Palace pool, streetview
The second deck entrance is directly from South 5th Street at ground level. Notice the cars visible here and how much below street level the pool was.















The Crystal Palace pool had its source of water from one of the city’s many natural artesian wells. A pipe can be seen where this natural resource freely flowed (above, left). Maybe a little too freely, as the people of Waco would learn.

The first artesian well in Waco was drilled by J.D. Bell in 1886. Bell later established the Bell Water Company and in 1904 it was sold to the city of Waco. Many more wells were drilled and consequently, Waco became known as “Geyser City.” This name was well deserved as it was recorded in 1890 that one of this city’s wells was 1,800 feet deep and had an output of 1.5 million gallons of water per day!

This natural resource supplied business needs such as the water supply for the Amicable (Alico) Building. Additionally, it supplied the nearby Artesian Bottling Co. that later became the Dr Pepper Bottling Co. The Natatorium Hotel boasted Waco’s first indoor pool being supplied by this same artesian water. These warm natural waters were even purported to have medicinal effects when consumed or used for bathing.

But in the 1920s the artesian wells below downtown Waco began to run dry and could no longer sustain a constant supply for water-based establishments such as the Crystal Palace pool. Factors for their demise included more demand from changes in population, the arrival of Camp MacArthur in 1918, and the constant strain from various businesses.

Waco ISD building, Franklin Avenue
The pool was located where the Waco Independent School District administration now stands at 501 Franklin Avenue. If you were to walk down the street today in the area of the Crystal Palace pool’s former location, you also would see the South 5th Street side of the City of Waco Water Office at 425 Franklin.
Pedestrian walkway connecting Waco ISD building to the Waco water office, Franklin Avenue
Present day: Seen above is the current pedestrian walkway from the WISD Administration building that many decades ago had it existed would have transported one to the Tom Padgitt Co. building. The City of Waco Water Office at 425 Franklin now stands in its place.

Gildersleeve took his picture with a large format view camera that used 8×10 film to capture the image. The digital version seen here was scanned from Gildersleeve’s original 8×10 inch cellulose nitrate negative now held in The Texas Collection. (We’ve digitized many of our Gildersleeve prints if you’re interested in seeing more views of Waco in the first half of the 1900s. We now are working on processing the many negatives we also house.)

Crystal Palace pool diving girl
Why is this young girl about to dive into the pool wearing shoes and socks? We are guessing that Gildersleeve had her pose for the image. (And we love her bathing cap!)

The remarkable detail of the photo is due to the size of the negative that Gildersleeve’s large format camera used; a high-resolution digital scan makes it even more amazing! Indeed, even today’s digital cameras would be hard-pressed to match the kind of detail seen in this nearly 100 year-old image. The artesian waters dissipated, but we still have wonderful photos like this one to preserve Waco’s history as the Geyser City.

By Geoff Hunt, Audio and Visual Curator