Sandtown Neighborhood

Sandtown was a vibrant and predominately Mexican American neighborhood that was active from the turn of the twentieth century to the 1960s. It encompassed the area of downtown Waco between Third Street and the Brazos River, and the seven blocks between Mary Street and present-day Baylor Law School. There were multiple interpretations on the actual boundaries of Sandtown as no official borders were ever established by the city of Waco.

At its peak during the 1950s, approximately fifty working-class families, such as the Fuentes, the Martinezes, and the Vasquezes, resided in Sandtown. For many of the community’s families, the neighborhood was the first place they called home within the United States after emigrating from Mexico. Former resident Jesse Serrano, recalling his experience of growing up in Sandtown, remarked, “I wish that we were still at our neighborhood here and that I could return to live here because it was an enjoyable place and we did keep it clean in spite of everything – the storms, the sandstorms, for what reason Sandtown was named.”

There were a few businesses located within Sandtown such as Sunbright Waste Paper Company, Ruben Bravo’s Produce Company, and Rubles’ Grocery Store. Some of the schools in the neighborhood included South Third Street Elementary and A. J. Moore High School.

In 1958, the city of Waco voted to participate in the federal urban renewal program. As only property owners could vote, Sandtown residents, who were tenants primarily, had almost no chance of defeating the proposition. Only a small portion of the neighborhood’s residents were able to participate. One of the purposes of urban renewal was to eliminate slums in the downtown area, and the program directors quickly set their sights on Sandtown. As a result, the residents of the neighborhood soon found themselves scattered across the city, county, and beyond. “I’ve been quoted more than once as calling it ‘urban removal’ because it uprooted the Hispanic family in the worst way,” maintained former resident Robert Gamboa.

The people of Sandtown added greatly to Waco’s rich diversity and its working class residents contributed to the economic growth of the city. Though small in size and for many years lacking formal recognition, there is no dispute over Sandtown’s significance amongst its former residents. For these individuals, Sandtown was the place they grew up in, suffered hardships, and created countless wonderful memories. As Jesse Serrano affirmed, “Sandtown did exist, Sandtown is still here, and it will always be here in our hearts.”

Images

Bird's-Eye View (1950s)

Bird's-Eye View (1950s)

Depicted here is the eastern part of the Sandtown neighborhood that was located between First Street and the south shore of the Brazos River. The cemetery on the top right was, according to former resident Robert Gamboa, a frequent playground for the children of Sandtown. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Julius Genecov Wholesale Grocers

Julius Genecov Wholesale Grocers

While most of the businesses in Sandtown were owned by Hispanics, a few were not. One example, is Julius Genecov Wholesale Grocers, a Jewish-owned business located between the 300 and 400 blocks of Third Street. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Mapping Out Renewal

Mapping Out Renewal

This 1970s-era Waco Urban Renewal Agency map shows an inexact representation of where the former neighborhood once stood. The area of the Sandtown included the space north of First Street (now University Parks Drive) up to the Brazos River, located inside the individual sections called Riverside and Clay Avenue Areas. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Child-Friendly

Child-Friendly

When not playing outside their homes, Sandtown's children could be found at the nearby Boys and Girls Club located on the property of St. Francis on the Brazos Catholic Church. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

No Place Like Home

No Place Like Home

The houses of Sandtown, though not of the best quality, were kept up by the residents as best they could. In addition to the ever-present blanket of sand that covered their homes, the residents of Sandtown also had to deal with the constant threat of muddy roads and floods. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Audio

Making Their Own Toys

Emmett Gayton explains how he made his own toys as a child who lived in the Sandtown Neighborhood. | Source: Gayton, Emmett, interviewed by Michael B. McCarty, March 4, 2006, in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX. View the full interview View File Details Page

Sandtown Neighborhood in the 1930s

Lena Torres speaks of how the residents of Sandtown Neighborhood lived in the 1930s. | Source: Torres, Lena P., interviewed by Sean Sutcliffe, February 25, 2005, in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX. View the full interview View File Details Page

The Community of Sandtown in the 1950s

Robert Gamboa speaks of how people lived in the Sandtown Neighborhood, as well as how the people worked together as a community the 1950s. | Source: Gamboa, Robert, interviewed by Ali Clark and Mark Ruth, March 4, 2006, in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX. View the full interview View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Michael Woodward, “Sandtown Neighborhood,” Waco History, accessed July 22, 2017, http://wacohistory.org/items/show/71.

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