The Praetorian

Joining the recently completed Amicable building, the Praetorian building towered over the city in 1915 as one of the first skyscrapers in Central Texas. The building’s unique architecture and distinctive character ensured that it continued to serve Wacoans long after the renowned Praetorian Insurance Company closed its offices.

The Modern Order of Praetorians, a nonprofit fraternal insurance organization founded by Charles Gardner in Dallas in 1898, rapidly expanded in the early twentieth century to cities throughout Texas. At that time, five of the state’s largest insurance companies held home offices in the rapidly urbanizing Waco, contributing to the city’s reputation in trade publications as the “Insurance City of Texas.” This prestige, combined with Waco’s rapid development, drew the attention of the Praetorians as the fraternal organization searched for new locations, and in 1911, a Praetorian office opened in Waco.

The Praetorians employed C. W. Bulger and Son to design a high-rise building to house a Waco chapter. The Dallas-based firm, strongly influenced by the Chicago architectural style, had previously designed the Praetorian’s home office in Dallas in 1909 and based the Waco building off a similar design. Begun in 1913 and completed in 1915, the seven-story building featured a gray granite base, terra-cotta tile detailing, large show windows, and the Praetorian shield logo. The interior featured marble wainscoting, tile floors, and high ceilings with deep cornices and pilaster at its construction, although alterations to the building in the 1950s removed some of these details.

The opportunity to lease space in Waco’s newest skyscraper clearly interested many Waco businesses. By 1916, floors three through seven housed tenants, with the Praetorian offices on the sixth floor. The seventh floor housed operations for several railroad companies which played an integral role in twentieth-century commerce in Waco. When First State Bank and Trust rented out the first floor and basement for its operations between 1917 and 1933, the Praetorian building became known as one of the most attractive and functional bank buildings throughout Texas.

Over the years, the historic building has borne several names. In 1934, it became known as the Service Mutual building. The name changed to the Southwestern building in 1956 when the Praetorians sold it as a part of the consolidation process that accompanied the firm’s shift from a fraternal organization to a mutual company a few years later. For short periods of time, the building was also known as Franklin Tower, One Liberty Place, and the Liberty building as it changed hands between different insurance companies.

Following its sale, the once grand Praetorian building entered into a period of disuse. For a few short years between 1962 and 1965, the Veterans Administration operated from its premises. However, tenancy dropped rapidly after 1965, and beginning in 1973, the building sat vacant.

Yet some saw the unique structure's value and sought to restore its historic dignity. W. S. Service Corporation later purchased the building and identified it as a candidate for rehabilitation and renovation. On July 26, 1984, the National Register of Historic Places added the building to its list as an exemplar of the Chicago School of architecture. In 1989, a new owner dubbed it Williams Tower, although it became known as the Praetorian building once again beginning in 1996.

Though the Praetorian building of Dallas was torn down in 2013, the Waco Praetorian remains largely the same as it did in 1915. The building’s current owner, Peter Ellis, received a tax incentive in 2013 to renovate and restore the building. Several floors today contain loft-style apartments. Other portions of the building house Anthem Studios, and the owner continues to consider options for opening a restaurant and retail stores in the future.

Just as the extravagant structure reflected twentieth-century prosperity at the time of its construction, the newly renovated Praetorian building towers over the city today, an integral part of the reinvigoration of downtown Waco. 

Images

Souvenir Postcard

Souvenir Postcard

The Praetorian logo, featured prominently in several places on the exterior of the building, consists primarily of a shield with a blue top and the inscription "non nobis solum" or "not for ourselves alone," in gold. The logo emphasized the way in which the fraternal organization served as more than a typical insurance company for its members. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

A New Neighbor

A New Neighbor

According to the Waco City Directory, construction likely began in 1913. Just two years after this picture was taken, the seven-story Praetorian building towered over its neighbors such as Hill Printing and Stationery Company and the Masonic Grand Lodge. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Fred R. Gildersleeve View File Details Page

Distinctive Style

Distinctive Style

Two Praetorians stand at the front of the construction site, overseeing the work on the building planned to be a near-exact replica of the first skyscraper in Texas, the Dallas Praetorian. Though based off of another building, the Praetorian stood unique in Waco as one of only two Chicago-style structures in the city. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Fred R. Gildersleeve View File Details Page

Built to Last

Built to Last

Reinforced concrete served as a popular building material in the early twentieth century because of its relatively low price and resistance to flame. The Praetorians clearly realized this, touting the building as fireproof on the Hughes O' Rourke construction sign on the Sixth Street side of the building. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Fred R. Gildersleeve View File Details Page

Innovative Publicity

Innovative Publicity

Though the first life insurance company to be chartered in Texas in 1898, the Praetorians found much competition by the time they reached the "Insurance City of Texas." The fraternal insurance organization likely expected the skyscraper with distinctive architecture to serve as a form of innovative marketing for the new Waco business. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Cotton Palace Booth (1916)

Cotton Palace Booth (1916)

One of the largest events in Waco for many years, the Cotton Palace exposition drew large crowds every year. Bearing a poster of the stately insurance building completed just one year before, the Praetorians probably found a booth at the Cotton Palace to serve as an effective means of recruitment. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Fred R. Gildersleeve View File Details Page

Towering Hub

Towering Hub

The Praetorian once towered over the city as a unique architectural structure as well as a center of commercial activity. Recent renovations and adaptive reuse have ensured that the building retains this role at the heart of the city for many years to come. | Creator: Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 3.0. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Amanda Sawyer, “The Praetorian,” Waco History, accessed July 26, 2017, http://wacohistory.org/items/show/106.

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