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.

 

Sources

“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.

Texas over Time: Waco Hippodrome Theatre

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.

We’ve got something a little different for you this month. These images were shot in Texas, but feature promotional movie displays that were probably seen across the country. Our images are from the Waco Hippodrome Theatre in the 1920s-1930s. Check out some of the elaborate productions enticing visitors to these early films.

Waco Hippodrome movie promotional displays

  • The Hippodrome, first operated and constructed by Earl Henry Husley, began as a road show house known as “Hulsey’s Hipp” and offered major vaudeville attractions and movies. Construction for the theater house began in 1913 and opened on February 7, 1914.
  • For a whole ten cents, or a quarter for box seats, the opening night featured a live seal act, a five-piece orchestra, and a magic act.
  • An affiliate of Paramount, the Hippodrome served as a silent movie theater until a fire started in the projection and destroyed the front of the building in 1928. The renovations resulted in the Spanish Colonial Revival style that still remains today.

Waco Hippodrome movie promotional displays

  • Under new management, its name was changed to Waco Theater and attracted many celebrities to Waco, including Elvis Presley (as a moviegoer) and John Wayne. More than 10,000 people gathered to see Wayne’s promotion.
  • The Junior League of Waco and the Cooper Foundation helped revitalize the theater (which had suffered from competition from suburban theaters) in 1987. The Waco Performing Arts Company operated it till 2010.
  • After much change throughout its lifetime, the Hippodrome reopened in 2014 and now offers first-release films as well as live theater, concerts, and other entertainment (and dining).

Sources

George, Mary Helen. “1910-1919 Skyscrapers & Beyond.” Waco Heritage & History 28 (Summer 1999): 45. N.p., n.d. Web. Print.

Warren, Jennifer. “Waco Hippodrome Theatre.” Cinema Treasures. Cinema Treasures, LLC, n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2015.

See all of the images in our Flickr set. GIFs and factoids prepared by Haley Rodriguez, archives student assistant, and Amanda Norman, university archivist.

Texas over Time: Waco’s Carnegie Library

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.

Waco Carnegie library

  • Local businessman, philanthropist, and Baylor alum Isaac A. Goldstein helped persuade Andrew Carnegie to contribute $30,000 in grants to construct Waco’s Carnegie library. It opened November 28, 1904 and was located at 12th and Austin.
  • The total cost of the building was $44,688, and the library opened with 3,279 volumes. The first book to be checked out was Emma by Jane Austen.
  • Working alongside Willie Durham House, the first female head of schools in Waco, Goldstein knew the library would be of great service to the city and extolled the Carnegie Library as a “classical temple” where men and women could be brought “closer together for the highest and best purposes of pure and enlightened citizenship.”
  • The library outgrew the space by the early 1940s and moved to the Cameron House. The library continued to grow, the Cameron House’s structure began to fail, and the Eighteenth Street and Austin Avenue location of today’s Central library branch opened in the early 1960s.

Sources

Darden, Bob. An Austin Avenue Legacy: 100 Years with the Waco-McLennan County Library. Waco, TX: Waco-McLennan County Library Margin of Excellence Trust Fund, 1997. Print.

Sawyer, Amanda. “Waco Public Library,” Waco History, accessed February 13, 2015, http:/​/​wacohistory.​org/​items/​show/​29.​

See all of these images on Flickr. GIF and factoids by Haley Rodriguez, student archives assistant.

Huaco Club Fire of 1917: The Destruction of Waco’s Elite Golfing Facility

By Geoff Hunt, Audio and Visual Curator

The Huaco Club, 29th and Sanger, Waco, TX (2)
This image shows the Huaco Club clubhouse a few years after its 1912 construction, as the shrubbery and landscaping look to have flourished. The water tank can be seen in the back right of the photo. Photo was taken not long before the entire facility was destroyed by fire in January 1917. Roy Ellsworth Lane collection, box 2, folder 1.

Built in 1912, the Huaco Club was one of the places to be for Wacoans of the 1910s. From golf and tennis to social events, wealthier Wacoans enjoyed spending time at the country club, located near Sanger Avenue and 29th Street.

However, the club didn’t last long. On January 4, 1917, the Huaco Club lost its clubhouse and surrounding structures to a devastating fire. A three-story building designed by architect Roy Lane, the clubhouse included two dining rooms, a parlor, offices, living rooms, reading room, and ballroom. The club also featured a nine-hole golf course, bowling alley, and tennis courts, on 50 acres. The next morning’s Waco Morning News reported: “Not a stick of the building or its contents was saved.”

Fire Destroys The Huaco Club, 29th and Sanger, Waco, TX (4)
This image shows what remained of the Huaco Club the day after the fire. The fire’s intensity is evident–members survey melted steel lockers with hopes of retrieving any spared belongings. The frames of the lockers and the limestone mantel were among the only remaining structures. Photograph by E.C. Blomeyer, President of the Texas Telephone Company, and member of the Huaco Club. E.C. Blomeyer photographic collection, box 2, folder 9.

The club’s president, Dr. J.W. Hale, estimated that the fire’s destruction of the facility amounted to $70,000. In 1917, that was a hefty sum—in today’s money, that would equal nearly $2.3 million! Apart from the clubhouse, estimated at $35,000, and furnishings, the club’s stock of golf equipment for sale, and members’ personal gear were lost as well.

A report published soon after the fire in Safety Engineering, “Recent Fires and Their Lessons,” stated “Cause unknown” for the Huaco Club fire. But fire investigators concluded that losses were aided in part by the club’s late fire alarm system causing a delayed response by firefighters. It was also believed that its construction of easily combustible material enabled structures to become quickly engulfed by the flames.

The Huaco Club was the first golfing facility of its kind in Waco. In a 1915 article in The Waco Morning News, James Hays Quarles attributes Walter V. Fort with bringing golf to Waco in 1896. Fort was inspired by golf courses he saw in Dallas and worked with other prominent local citizens to assemble assets needed to establish a golf club.

The Huaco Club, 29th and Sanger, Waco, TX (4)
A view of one of the many luxurious spaces at the Huaco Club’s clubhouse. This three-story building was once host to many social gatherings. The club not only served as a golf course but also hosted luncheons, dinner parties, dances, weddings, and banquets. Many of these occasions were mentioned in the society columns of Waco newspapers. Roy Ellsworth Lane collection, box 1, folder 16.

The charter for the Huaco Club was organized and signed on May 20, 1910. It called for $40,000 to be raised with 200 members purchasing shares of $200 apiece. The charter stated: “The purpose for which this corporation is formed is to support and maintain a country club for the promotion and encouragement of outdoor life, the games of golf and tennis and other innocent sports and amusements.” In 1913, the shareholder number met its goal. By October 1915, it had 183 stockholders with 63 associate members.

The club was more than just about sports—it was a meeting place for many Wacoans and out of town visitors. Many well-known Waco businessmen and prominent male and female citizens were on its membership rolls. The club frequently hosted luncheons, dinner parties, dances, weddings, and banquets, mentioned in the society columns of Waco newspapers on many occasions.

Fire Destroys The Huaco Club, 29th and Sanger, Waco, TX (2)
The remains of the white limestone mantel, a gift from the Huaco clubhouse’s architect, Roy Lane, mostly withstood the inferno. Here, it stands isolated as one of the last noticeable features of a once prominent building. E.C. Blomeyer photographic collection, box 2, folder 9.

Even though the Huaco Club and its contents were insured for approximately $26,000—far less than the $70,000 loss caused by the fire—plans for another golf facility were soon made. Chartered on August 27, 1917, and built circa 1920, the remaining club members opened a new facility, Spring Lake Country Club, at Day’s Lake in what is now Lacy-Lakeview. It included a larger course with 18 holes and an elaborate clubhouse. In a similar fashion as its predecessor, the new club continued to carry on various recreational as well as social functions. Meanwhile, the land the club occupied around 29th and Sanger Avenue was developed into one of Waco’s early “suburbs.”

The early days of golfing in the Waco area did have its setbacks and losses. But the sport that was once referred to as “pasture pool,” played in areas shared with grazing cattle, overcame such setbacks as the Huaco Club fire. Indeed, the love of the game, as well as the way it brings people together, still makes golf and its related activities thrive to this day, in and around Waco.

See more photos of the Huaco Club—before and after—in the Flickr slideshow below.


Created with flickr slideshow.

 

Sources

“Committee to Consider Probable Site for New Huaco Club House is Named; To Report Tuesday Night,“ Waco Morning News (Waco, TX). Feb. 2, 1917.

“Cows and Golfers Took Sporting Chance With Each Other When First Course Was Opened in Waco,” The Waco News Tribune (Waco, TX.). Apr, 5, 1925.

“Huaco Club is Completely Destroyed by Fire” Waco Morning News (Waco, TX), Jan. 4, 1917.

McReynolds, Mrs. B.B. “Current Events in Woman’s Sphere: Friday Night at the Huaco Club,” Waco Morning News (Waco, TX), Aug. 29, 1915.

Quarles, James Hays. “Waco Golf Club and Some of its Interesting History,” Waco Morning News (Waco, TX), Oct. 31, 1915.

“Recent Fires and Their Lessons: Clubhouses, City and Country,” Safety Engineering, v.33 (Jan.-June, 1917): p. 243.

Texas over Time: McLennan County Courthouse, 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.

McLennanCountyCourthouseGIFPostcards dated 1908 and undated

  • Waco’s first courthouse was built in 1850 and was just a one and a half story log structure that survived in the town for about six years. McLennan County was named after Neil McLennan, who settled along the South Bosque River.
  • The fourth and final courthouse (pictured in these postcards) was built in 1901. Architect J. Riely Gordon, renowned for his Texas courthouse designs, was inspired by St. Peter’s Basilica and used materials such as steel, limestone, and Texas red granite. Design attributes include classical columns, pilasters, triangular pediments, rusticated masonry and a mid-roof dome embellished with Greek influenced eagles and statues.
  • The dome is topped with a statue of Themis, the Greek goddess of divine law and justice. She is supposed to hold the scales of justice in her left hand and a sword in her right, but various storms over the years have taken these props. Currently, she is missing her entire left arm (lost in a June 2014 storm).
  • The McLennan County courthouse is located on Courthouse Square with the entrance facing Washington Avenue and is a recorded Texas Historic Landmark.

Sources

Kelley, Dayton. The Handbook of Waco and McLennan County, Texas. Waco, TX: Texian, 1972. 73-74. Print.

“McLennan County Courthouse.” McLennan County Courthouse Waco Texas. Texas Escapes Online Magazine, n.d. Web. 06 Feb. 2015.

Smith, Cassie L. “Rust spots found on newly renovated McLennan County Courthouse dome.” Waco Tribune-Herald, 18 Jan. 2015.

See all of these images on Flickr. GIF and factoids by Haley Rodriguez, archives student assistant.

Texas over Time: ALICO building, Waco

Texas has changed quite a bit over the years, as is readily seen in our vast photograph collection. 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.

ALICO construction GIFConstruction photos by Gildersleeve, 1911; modern photo (photographer unknown), 1984

  • The ALICO, now a Waco landmark, was started in 1910 and completed in 1911, by the architecture firm Sanguinet and Staats, with the help of famous architect Roy Ellsworth Lane.
  • The parcel of land that the building currently sits on at the intersection of 5th and Austin Ave was home to several things before the ALICO came along. The first recorded use of the land was a small pond that served as a buffalo watering hole and fishing spot. Around the time of the Civil War, the pond had dried up, and a blacksmith shop was built by W.E. Oakes. The site was eventually home to a bank, which was present until being torn down to build the ALICO.
  • At 22 stories, the building was so large that people as far away as McGregor could see its construction with binoculars. It even made it into a Ripley’s Believe it or Not comic in the 1930s. At the time of its construction, it was the first skyscraper in Texas, making it the tallest building in Texas. It held this title until the construction of the Magnolia in Dallas in 1922.

Austin Avenue--before and after ALICOAustin Avenue, before (early 1900s) and after (1910s) the ALICO

  • The ALICO was originally the home of and contracted by the Amicable Life Insurance Company, as well as being the home of several prominent lawyers, organizations, and various other businesses such as the Corner Drug Store (creators of Dr Pepper).
  • The building weighs approximately 40 million pounds and required 2,004 freight cars worth of material to construct. The ALICO survived a direct hit by the 1953 tornado due to the wind resistant designs of Roy Lane, even though the RT Dennis building across the street was completely demolished.

Sources:

“The New Amicable Life Building.” Waco Tribune Herald 12 Sep. 1954. Print.

Ryan, Terri Jo, and Randy Fiedler. “The Story of the ALICO Building: 100 Years, 22 Stories and 1 Towering Ego.” Waco Tribune-Herald 28 Apr. 2011. Web. 21 Aug. 2014.

See all of these images (plus a couple bonus ones you won’t want to miss!) on Flickr. GIFs and factoids by Braxton Ray, archives student assistant

Texas over Time: Bridge Street, Waco

Texas has changed quite a bit over the years, as is readily seen in our vast photograph collection. 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.

Bridge Street, Waco

 Photo dates: 1872, 1953, 1967, undated (prior to 1968)

  • Named due to being across First Street from the Waco suspension bridge
  • Earned the nickname “Rat Row” (until the fire) due to the increasingly dilapidated state of the wooden buildings
  • Fire swept through in 1871, destroying all of the wooden frame buildings, which were replaced by stone ones
  • Traditionally the center of the west-Waco minority-owned business community
  • Took a major hit from the 1953 Waco tornado
  • All buildings on street demolished in 1968 as part of Urban Renewal

Sources:

Menchu, Carlos. 162 Years of Waco, 1824-1986: Focus upon Downtown Waco, Texas. Lubbock: Texas Tech U, 1986. Print.

Smith, JB. “From Bridge Street to the Square.” Waco Tribune-Herald 22 Sept. 2005: n. pag. Print.

“Bridge Street: 1849 – 1890.” Baylor University Institute for Oral History. Web. 24 July 2014. <http://www.baylor.edu/oralhistory/index.php?id=32190>.

“Bridge Street: 1900-1950.” Baylor University Institute for Oral History. Web. 24 July 2014. <http://www.baylor.edu/oralhistory/index.php?id=32207>.

See the individual photos in our Bridge Street Flickr set.

GIF and factoids by Braxton Ray, archives student assistant

John Thomas Harrington: Waco Physician, Family Man, and More

By Becca Reynolds, Museum Studies master’s student

IRS documentation for opium orders, Dr. Harrington's Waco medical practice
Dr. Harrington’s papers documenting his early twentieth-century medical practice include paperwork tracking his orders of morphine and other painkillers–we imagine this would look familiar to modern doctors! John T. Harrington papers #728, box 1, folder 9.

If you lived in Waco in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, chances are you would have known Dr. Harrington. A well-known figure in the area, John Thomas Harrington, Jr. was not only a dedicated physician but also lived a very accomplished life. He dabbled in a variety of vocations, including oil, gold, and dairy. He also took part in founding colleges and serving on trustee boards (including the Baylor University board, on which he was one of the longest serving members).

His dedication to his medical career is quite evident in his papers, more than any of his other interests. The majority of the John Thomas Harrington papers are made up of medical practice materials that span his many years in the field.

Born in Mississippi in 1858, Harrington began his medical career with an education at Louisville Medical College. However, one medical school was not enough and he went on to both the Medical School of St. Louis and the New York Polyclinic Medical College.

Prescribed diet from Dr. Harrington's Waco medical practice, undated
Dr. Harrington’s suggestions for a healthy (though not terribly exciting) diet. John T. Harrington papers #728, box 1, folder 9.

After he moved to Texas he began building a reputation for himself as a doctor, serving as president of the board of health at El Paso and the director of the epileptic colony at Abilene.  In 1897 he moved to Waco, where his list of achievements continued to grow. Here, he worked on staff at both hospitals in town, organized the McLennan County Medical Association, co-founded Baylor Medical College, and served as the city physician.

As a physician, Dr. Harrington worked out of a home office where he saw patients regularly. Some of these patients even included Baylor presidents. And if you head down Eighth Street today, you can still see his home (currently owned by Baylor University).

But medicine wasn’t everything to Dr. Harrington; he was also a family man. Harrington married his wife, Genoa Cole, in 1884, and together they had two daughters, Genoa and Jessie. Through journals, academic notebooks, correspondence and notes, we are able to get a small glimpse into the life of the Harrington family.

Waco parking ticket, 1930
Even the good doctor incurred a few tickets in his day–here, we have a parking infraction downtown in 1930. John T. Harrington papers #728, box 1, folder 6.

More of Dr. Harrington’s family and friends may also be seen in the numerous photographs included in this collection. Some of the photos have identifications or captions giving some insight into the individuals in the picture. Others are blank, leaving many unknowns. Despite the blanks left by these unidentified photos, they are still quite fascinating and could be of great research value. (We welcome assistance from researchers who might be able to help identify people in these early Waco/Texas photos!)

These documents and photographs that make up the Harrington papers are a testimony to the impact he made in Waco throughout his lifetime. Through his position as city physician, he made a great contribution to the public, and the greeting cards, invitations, and programs included in his papers illustrate his high level of involvement with the community.

The Texas Collection has the privilege of preserving Dr. Harrington’s documented life, and for all those interested in studying a noteworthy physician of Waco, this collection would be an excellent resource.

Guest blogger Becca Reynolds processed the Harrington papers as a student in Dr. Julie Holcomb’s spring 2014 Archival Collections and Museums class. Reynolds, who holds a B.A. in History from Azusa Pacific University in California, will begin her second year in Baylor’s Museum Studies master’s program in fall 2014. She is currently working as a summer intern for the education department of the Sharlot Hall Museum in Prescott and will continue working as a Graduate Assistant in Education at the Mayborn Museum Complex throughout the fall semester. 

 

A Disastrous Season in Waco: The Liberty Building Explosion, Fall 1936

By Geoff Hunt, Audio and Visual Curator

View of wreckage of the Liberty Building Explosion on Austin Avenue, Waco, Texas.
View of wreckage of the Liberty Building Explosion on Austin Avenue, Waco, Texas. Acree family papers, box 2G13, folder 6.

The fall of 1936 proved to be a devastating season for the city of Waco. In September, one of the city’s worst recorded floods devastated the town. The Brazos River submerged Elm Street, and water rushed approximately two feet below the suspension, Washington Avenue, and railroad bridges near downtown. The end results of this natural disaster were estimated at $1.5 million in damage to McLennan County.

The F.W. Woolworth Co. Fire, 605-607 Austin Avenue, Waco Texas
The F.W. Woolworth Co. fire, 605-607 Austin Avenue, Waco Texas. Acree family papers, box 2G13, folder 6.

A disaster of a different type was soon to follow just weeks later on October 4. The Liberty Building on Austin Avenue and Sixth Street exploded, fatally wounding 65-year-old janitor Warren Moore and causing an estimated $290,000 in damages to the structure, as well as those adjoining and nearby. Fortunately it happened on an early Sunday morning without the usual hustle and bustle of the busy Waco downtown area, or else casualties could have been much higher. Businesses affected by the incident included the F.W. Woolworth Co., Law Offices of Sleeper, Boynton, and Kendall, Walgreens Drug Store, Pipkin Drug Store, and Goldstein-Migel department store. Other businesses suffered minor damage, and isolated injuries to people were reported.

The Law Offices of Sleeper, Boynton, and Kendall-Liberty Building Explosion, Waco, Texas
The Law Offices of Sleeper, Boynton, and Kendall. The firm’s law library was its major loss in the Liberty Building explosion. Acree family papers, box 2G13, folder 6.

The Liberty Building’s damages are detailed in a Waco News-Tribune article from October 5, 1936: “With its first three office floors converted into single rooms by force of the explosion Sunday morning, Liberty building showed destruction from its basement to its roof.” The structure next door, F.W. Woolworth Co., suffered an estimated $75,000 in losses due to fire. The law office was located on the fourth floor of the Liberty Building and sustained serious damage. Its law library, including several thousand volumes of books, was its greatest loss. Located on the first floor of the Liberty, Pipkin Drug Store was completely destroyed, and the nearby Walgreens Drug Store suffered heavy damage to its storefront and interior. The images in this post and the slide show below (from the Acree family papers) illustrate the devastation of the blast.

Walgreens Drug Store, explosion, 601-603 Austin Avenue, Waco, Texas
Walgreens Drug Store, located at 601-603 Austin Avenue, suffered major damages from the explosion, even though it was not located in the Liberty Building. Acree family papers, box 2G13, folder 6.

In the aftermath of the explosion, investigators wasted little time searching for the cause of such a devastating accident. One initial theory was that the recent Brazos flood a few weeks before had caused a massive buildup of water that overburdened the city’s sewage system. But it was found that the Liberty Building’s location on Sixth and Austin proved to be too much of a distance from the most affected areas closer to the river and across on the east side.

After almost two years of thorough investigation, it was determined by engineers that the explosion was caused by a gas leak from a loose coupling device on a two-inch pipe in the Liberty Building’s basement. Records from gas companies show a surge in pressure around the time of the explosion. Based on some of Warren Moore’s statements before his death, it is believed that a spark from a light switch ignited the gas leak as the janitor turned out lights before seeking assistance with the sudden gaseous odor. Unfortunately, that well-intentioned move cost him his life. (If you smell gas, don’t use or touch anything electrical, and leave windows and doors open or closed as they were—just get out, then get help.)

The building ultimately was renovated, and its neighbors relocated or made the necessary repairs, but these images remain as a reminder of Waco’s disastrous fall 1936.

Click the “play” arrow in our Flickr set below to see more images of the aftermath of the Liberty Building explosion. (Use the crosshairs that will appear in the bottom right corner to enlarge the slideshow.)

Works Consulted:

“Explosion Fire Loss Estimated at $290,000.” The Waco News-Tribune (Waco, TX), Oct. 5, 1936.

“Janitor Dies of Injuries.” Waco Times-Herald (Waco, TX), Oct. 5, 1936.

“Coupling of Gas Lines in Liberty Taken From Vault.” Waco News-Tribune (Waco, TX), Jan. 14, 1938.

“Explosion Legal Fight is Hardly Started in Week.” Waco Sunday Tribune-Herald (Waco, TX), Jan. 16, 1938.

“Bartlett to Hear Motion in Recent Explosion Action.” Waco News-Tribune (Waco, TX), Mar. 2, 1938.

Acree family papers, Accession 2986, box 2G13, folder 6, The Texas Collection, Baylor University.