McDermott Motors

The McDermott Motors building is a prime example of the way in which many of Waco’s notable architectural structures have been adapted throughout history in order to continually serve the city.

Wilford Dees McDermott opened a Buick dealership in Waco with the help of his father-in-law, Robert Buchanan, in 1926. Buchanan hoped running a business would help McDermott and his daughter settle down and become more responsible, and thus provided McDermott with the funds to construct a brand new building for the dealership on Washington Avenue which opened to the public on November 1, 1928.

The McDermott Motors building reflected the extravagant tastes of its owner and namesake. McDermott commissioned renowned Waco architect Milton Scott to design a Spanish Colonial Revival-style building, complete with a flat red tile roof, Mediterranean-influenced transom windows, and terra-cotta details. The showroom featured decorative spiral columns and scrolled metal balconies, as well as an embellished fireplace. McDermott filled the state-of-the-art facilities with the newest available technology and overbuilt the front portion of the store to accommodate future expansions.

Unfortunately, the McDermotts’s extravagant spending combined with a tough economy led to the business’ end at the onset of the Great Depression. After Robert Buchanan passed away in 1930, McDermott struggled to keep the Buick dealership afloat. The shop closed, but McDermott refused to sell the building, instead choosing to lease it to Waco’s National Guard unit.

Prior to the 1930s, the National Guard made use of the grounds of Waco’s famous Cotton Palace for their training and storage facility. Yet the demise of the cotton industry concurrent with the Depression led to the closure of the Cotton Palace. The vacant McDermott building—with its spacious, sturdy structure which lent itself to vehicle maintenance and storage—proved to be an ideal replacement. After the lease began in 1931, the National Guard temporarily renamed the structure Fort Fiske Wright, to honor a revered local officer who died heroically in World War I. In addition to its utilitarian purposes, Fort Fiske Wright served as a sort of civic center where veterans gathered to smoke and play dominoes and their sons brought dates to dances.

The advent of the Second World War led to the building transitioning from military use to wartime aviation production. Few National Guardsmen remained in Waco, and in 1941, Fort Fiske Wright closed. In 1943, McDermott leased the property to North American Aviation, one of the US military’s main suppliers of aircraft. The company painted over the windows and the army supervised the assembly site, but despite these efforts at secrecy, Wacoans discussed the airplane wings which were constructed there and shipped elsewhere for assembly. 

At the conclusion of World War II, the McDermott Motors building served once again as an automobile dealership for a short time when leased to D. T. Hicks, before entering a period of twenty years of disuse. Although McDermott received several offers from prospective buyers, he refused to sell the property until 1978. For a short time, a Christian bookstore resided in the historic building, and beginning in 1988, the charitable organization Caritas ran its operations there. Yet after a furnace fire resulted in enormously high repair costs, the building once again sat vacant.

The turn of the century brought about new uses for the McDermott Motors building. Texas physician Len Dippel purchased it in 2001, completing some renovations on the building as well as an application to list the building on the National Register of Historic Places. However, his plans to adapt the building into loft-style apartments were never realized, and in 2014, local entrepreneurs Joel and Josh Peel, owners of Hole in the Roof Marketing and Sticker Universe, respectively, bought the property. The brothers plan to complete renovations on the historic building and move their growing businesses into the unique and spacious structure.

This recent revival and repurposing of the McDermott Motors building ensures that the building will continue its legacy of adapting to meet the needs of the city.

Images

A New Purpose

A New Purpose

McDermott purchased the lot on Twelfth Street from renowned Wacoan Louis Migel in 1927. Although McDermott demolished the then-vacant humble family home, he salvaged the lumber from the house and used it for the construction of the dealership. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Fred R. Gildersleeve View File Details Page

Luxurious Lifestyle

Luxurious Lifestyle

Even the cars McDermott sold reflected his extravagant taste. Buick advertisements promoted the cars as not only the most reliable and well-liked cars on the market, but proclaimed that Buicks represented high standards of living. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Fred R. Gildersleeve View File Details Page

The Complete Experience

The Complete Experience

Despite a post-World War I recession in the automobile market during the 1920s, McDermott Motors thrived for several years, offering customers the ultimate shopping experience in the luxurious and lavishly decorated showroom. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Fred R. Gildersleeve View File Details Page

A Feat of Daring

A Feat of Daring

McDermott invited daredevil H. L. Lockwood to drive one of his cars for a publicity stunt in 1925. Lockwood agreed to be handcuffed to a new Buick touring car and drive for one hundred consecutive hours without rest to see whether he or the car would wear out first. Some Waco papers reported that the stunt drew nearly fifteen thousand people out into the streets to see Lockwood arrive at McDermott Motors for his first six hours of rest in four days. Though the man was clearly spent, the touring car survived the journey. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Fred R. Gildersleeve View File Details Page

Distinctive Architecture

Distinctive Architecture

Despite the wear on the nearly century-old building, its distinctive architectural features which distinguish it from the host of Greek Revival structures throughout Waco remain clearly visible. Note especially the red ceramic roofing tile lining the top of the building as well as the miniature brick towers at each corner which are indicative of the Spanish Colonial Revival style. | Source: Image courtesy of the Waco Tribune-Herald | Creator: Rod Aydelotte View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Amanda Sawyer, “McDermott Motors,” Waco History, accessed May 29, 2017, http://wacohistory.org/items/show/104.

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