Calle Dos emerged in the early twentieth century as a haven for Mexican immigrants fleeing border violence and rapidly developed into a center of culture and community for Waco’s Hispanic population.
Prior to the establishment of Calle Dos, Mexican immigrants settled on the banks of the Brazos River in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in an area called Little Mexico, or Mexican Sandtown. The dawn of the Great War and arrival of a military base in Waco in 1917 led to the city shutting down the Reservation, a legal red-light district situated upon the banks of the Brazos River to the west of Sandtown. As prostitutes and madams left the city, houses sat vacant.
Around the same time as the closure of the Reservation, Mexican American laborers and immigrants fleeing violence at the border caused by the Mexican Revolution arrived in Waco. Although some Wacoans turned up their noses at the idea of moving into a formerly disreputable area, many immigrants saw the affordable houses as an opportunity to begin a new life.
Never an officially designated neighborhood, the boundaries of Calle Dos were often disputed. Some claimed the area simply to be an extension of Sandtown, while others claimed it as its own entity bounded by Fourth Street, Washington Avenue, modern-day Waco Drive, and the Brazos River. In either case, it is clear that the community along the Brazos grew to be a tight-knit center of Hispanic culture.
Many Calle Dos residents opened up businesses along Second Street, transforming the once avoided area into a busy thoroughfare. Various organizations established in the area to serve the immigrant community also contributed to the neighborhood’s sense of identity. A Baptist mission formed on Second Street in the late 1800s, which became the Mexican Baptist Mission in 1907. The Sociedad Mutualista Mexicana de Jornaleros formed in 1924 in order to assist Mexicans with their rights, jobs, funerals, and other needs, occupying the Baptist mission’s original building on Second Street. That same year, Franciscans arrived in Waco and established a Catholic church which soon became a center of community for Waco’s Hispanic population.
Former residents recall the poor but tight-knit neighborhood fondly. Most houses lacked indoor plumbing, and residents often tacked cardboard to windows and walls to keep the cold out during the winter. Yet many most vividly remember the vibrant community life centered in festivals and dances put on by area churches and fraternal organizations. Neighbors gathered at La Pila, a spring-fed fountain just off the banks of the river, and children often played and bathed in its waters. Hispanic community members who resided in other areas of Waco, such as on cotton farms in areas surrounding the city, also claimed ties to the area due to the wealth of cultural opportunities which Calle Dos provided Mexican Americans.
The beginning of Waco’s urban renewal program in 1958, established to alleviate inner-city blight, led to the demise of the culturally rich neighborhood. Local leaders declared portions of the city blighted and, after compensating owners, claimed the properties and demolished any structures not meeting the program’s requirements. The project cleared areas along the Brazos River from modern-day La Salle Avenue to several blocks past Waco Drive. The homes of Calle Dos were demolished and La Pila stopped up and buried, forcing residents to disperse to other areas throughout the city and state.
Today, only a few remnants of the former neighborhood stand, including a grove of ancient live oak trees, St. Francis on the Brazos Catholic Church, and the partially buried remains of La Pila. Recent efforts to excavate La Pila and establish a historical marker for the fountain which once centered an entire community reveal the importance of the former neighborhood. For half a century, Calle Dos provided cultural identity and community for Waco’s Mexican American population and the efforts of community leaders today ensure that this legacy will not be forgotten.