ALICO Center

In the mid-twentieth century, 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, including Waco’s most prominent landmark, the ALICO building.

Between 1964 and 1966, the ALICO (American Life Insurance Company) building received major updates. 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. It stood as the tallest office building in the southwestern United States at its completion. Once located in the central business district, it served as a vital part of the city’s economy. In order to remain that way, it needed to keep pace with the rapidly changing business climate of Waco in the 1950s and ’60s.

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 such as the creation of the ALICO Center. The city wanted to attract conventions and shoppers to the downtown area. Twenty-nine-year-old architect and owner of Down-Tel Corporation, Jay Frank Powell, initiated the center’s proposal. According to an article in 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.”

When completed in 1966, the ALICO Center Inn contained 115 rooms for overnight guests and a second-floor meeting room that sat 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.

At the 1964 ALICO Center groundbreaking ceremony, the president of 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 mayor Roger Conger compared the event to “the historic groundbreaking for the Amicable building more than fifty years ago.”

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. 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. Like many other downtown businesses, the center struggled as many retailers moved out to the suburbs. The hotel and convention center were demolished in the late nineties, 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, including much of the 1966 addition’s façade at street level, wrapping around Austin Avenue, the parking garage along Fifth Street, and back to the Washington Avenue side of the complex.

The ALICO building has stood for over a century, remaining a successful combination of old and “new.” Most importantly, it continues to serve as Waco’s most prominent downtown landmark.

Images

ALICO Center Inn (c. 1966)

ALICO Center Inn (c. 1966)

A passing image of the ALICO Inn and Conference Center soon after construction. The view from Austin Avenue was far different from what had been there before the addition. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Urban Renewal Agency of Waco View File Details Page

Amicable Building (c. 1926)

Amicable Building (c. 1926)

This Fred Gildersleeve image shows the Amicable building before the mid-century additions, a time when Waco's famous Old Corner Drug Store occupied a wing of the street level. 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 façades are evident, as well as the original design of the first few upper floors.  | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Fred Gildersleeve View File Details Page

Dignified Guests

Dignified Guests

This image shows Congressman W. R. "Bob" Poage (far left with hat) with an entourage and black Cadillacs, using the accommodations of the ALICO Center's Hilton Inn. The congressman was there for the formal dedication ceremony of the Austin Avenue Mall, which took place on January 16, 1971. W. R. "Bob" Poage was the US Representative from Texas' 11th Congressional District. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Urban Renewal Agency of Waco View File Details Page

Changing with the Times

Changing with the Times

Completed in the spring of 1966, the ALICO Center was touted as "a downtown motor hotel with convention facilities, a motor bank, and a five-story parking garage." An expansion of the main building's existing National City Bank was also included. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Urban Renewal Agency of Waco View File Details Page

Architectural Changes

Architectural Changes

This view from Fifth 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 provides an idea of the architects' origianl intent with the building's design. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Urban Renewal Agency of Waco View File Details Page

Built to Impress

Built to Impress

The remodeled ALICO Center inn and convetion center kept its original name until a well-known hotel chain took over operations of the hotel and complex. As stated in the Waco Citizen on November 20, 1969, the ALICO "will invest several hundreds of thousands of dollars to make the Hilton Inn of Waco the finest hotel and convention center in the Central Texas area." | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Urban Renewal Agency of Waco View File Details Page

A Short-Lived Partnership

A Short-Lived Partnership

Part of the Hilton Inn is seen here on Austin Avenue. The structure was adjoined to the 22-story ALICO building. Despite intentions to develop a lasting partnership between the ALICO building and Hilton, the hotel remained for only two years. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Urban Renewal Agency of Waco View File Details Page

A Local Attraction

A Local Attraction

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 certian parts of Austin Avenue. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Urban Renewal Agency of Waco View File Details Page

End of an Era

End of an Era

This image, taken in May 1986, shows Austin Avenue returning to two-way traffic, after its transition from several years of being a one-way street. Part of Austin Avenue had been a pedestrian mall and in this year, the entire road reopened to vehicular traffic. At the time this photograph was taken, the ALICO Center housed the Brazos Inn. The conference hotel at different times housed the ALICO Inn, Hilton Inn, Waco Plaza Motel, Brazos Inn, Rodeway Inn, and Brittney Hotel. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Carlos Manchu View File Details Page

Modern Adaptations

Modern Adaptations

The lack of hotel and convention center is noticeable in 2015 shot of the ALICO building. The structure once joining the main building took up a large portion of 400 block of Austin Avenue and extended back to Washington. The five-story parking garage and section built for the motor bank are still present. The hotel and convention complex were demolished circa 1998. A parking lot stands there today. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Texas Collection Staff View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Geoff Hunt, “ALICO Center,” Waco History, accessed June 22, 2017, http://wacohistory.org/items/show/113.

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