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.”