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.
The Waco Independent School District’s Administration Building located at 501 Franklin Avenue was once known as the Professional Building. The 10-story structure was completed in 1929 by Texas-based C.L. Shaw Construction at a cost of $450,000. It was built for the Medical Arts Investment Company of Dallas who designed similar buildings aimed at housing medical professionals and law firms. Upon completion, residents included 25 doctors, 10 dentists, 15 lawyers, and other professionals including advertising agents. One of the lawyers who resided in the building was Leon Jaworski, of Scott and Jaworski Attorneys at Law. Jaworski, originally from Waco, rose to fame in the legal profession and during his career was a special prosecutor in the Watergate Trial. Additionally, the well-known Waco physician, Howard R. Dudgeon, was one of the many doctors who had practices in the building. Other occupants of the structure catered to these professionals such as the Central Shoe Hospital that was owned and operated by Sam Piazza. In addition, the first floor of the newly built structure in 1929 included Canon Drug Company, a barber shop, a tailor, and a tire shop.
The Professional Building originally got its water supply from a naturally occurring spring through an artesian well. Waco was once known as “Geyser City” due to the abundant supply of natural spring water in the area around the Brazos River and downtown. Many businesses and buildings took advantage of this and got their water supply from this source. According to the Waco News-Tribune of January 6, 1929: “Water from an artesian well supplies the [Professional] building, furnishing 240 gallons per minute for an estimated need of 135 gallons at the utmost….a surge tank of 100,000 gallon capacity is provided as a reservoir. The water is forced to the top of the building and is supplied through pipes by gravity.” In fact, on this same site, prior to the construction of the Professional Building, stood the Crystal Palace Pool whose water supply came directly from these artesian wells. Unfortunately, overuse caused this natural water source to run dry for Waco businesses many years ago and it is no longer their sole water provider as it once was. See “Geyser City, Waco…Crystal Palace Pool,” for more information.
The structure survived the May 11, 1953, tornado that hit downtown Waco. It appears to have held up well having mostly blown-out windows as its main damage (see image below). However, the building’s neighboring structures, the five-story R.T. Dennis Building, and the Padgitt Building were completely destroyed having many casualties included among the 114 souls who perished that day. Structures contained within the 400 blocks of Austin and Franklin Avenues were hit especially hard by the this tornado. The Professional Building and its occupants at 501 Franklin Avenue were fortunate to have survived this storm. See “The Waco Tornado of 1953: A selection of Lesser Known Images…”, for further detail.
Throughout the years the Professional Building has changed ownership several times and has been referred to by many different names. In 1935, Waco Professional Building Inc. took ownership of the structure from the Medical Arts Investment Company of Dallas. In 1950, it was sold to Richard Gill of San Antonio, TX. It was later owned and occupied by several financial institutions and bore their names as well; examples include Citizen’s Tower [Citizen’s National Bank], Republic Bank Tower, and NCNB Texas Tower. In the late 1960’s, the Professional Building’s architectural designed changed during Waco’s Urban Renewal Program and under the ownership of Citizens National Bank. This involved the addition of the metal rooftop cladding, the update to the windows, and changes to the street level facade. This also included the 5th Street walkover to The Citizens Motor Ramp structure that was once part of CNB at 501 Franklin. The old motor ramp structure at the 400 block of Franklin Avenue is now the City of Waco Water Department and part of the Dr. Mae Jackson Development Center.
After many years of residents, including but not limited to those in the medical, legal, and financial professions, the Professional Building now serves as a fitting structure for the Waco I.S.D as their administration building. The school district bought the building in June of 1992. In 2011, the structure received $2.7 million worth of renovations including asbestos abatement and the addition of the distinctive “WACO ISD” sign to the roof. Indeed, the old Professional Building is now just as significant as ever in providing work space to those entrusted to the education of our next generation of professionals.
Left: Postcard of the Professional Building, circa 1929. Wilton Lanning Papers, The Texas Collection, Baylor University. Right: Professional Building by Fred Marlar, circa 1948. Waco-Businesses-Professional Building, General Photo File, The Texas Collection, Baylor University.
Street-level crop of Professional Building at 501 Austin Avenue, circa 1948 (full size version in above Fred Marlar image). The scene shows William’s Drugs, the Professional Building’s first floor occupant at the time. To the left is Kendrick Tire Company who resided at the location from 1929-2007, and was the building’s longest occupant. Piazza Brothers Shoe Service is seen at the far right. Waco-Businesses-Professional Building, General Photo File, The Texas Collection, Baylor University.
The “Then” picture in the image sequence above shows the Professional Building in 1929, as it once was on 501 Franklin Avenue, Waco, Texas, by photographer Fred Gildersleeve. Source: Waco-Businesses-Professional Building, General Photo File, The Texas Collection, Baylor University. The “Now’ image is of a similar view of the same but altered structure (now the WISD Administration Building) and taken in May 2021, by Geoff Hunt.
“Professional Building Marks Step in Waco Progress,” Waco News-Tribune of January 6, 1929.
“San Antonio Man Buys Professional Building in Waco,” Waco Tribune-Herald, May 21, 1951.
Waco Tribune-Herald, August 30, 1969.
“Waco ISD Seeks TIF Funds for Administration Building Upgrades,” Waco Tribune-Herald, June 29, 2011.
“Mike Copeland: Kendrick Tire Closes…” Waco Tribune-Herald, April 6, 2014.