by Melinda Luna PE | History & Heritage Committee Chair
If you travel Interstate 35 through Waco, you may notice a tall building with the letters ALICO in red letters. This building has a story that starts with the Amicable Life Insurance Company (ALICO) needing a building for a headquarters in August of 1910. The team of Sanquinet and Staats headquartered in Fort Worth and Roy E. Lane of Waco were tasked with the building’s construction. They decided to put a steel frame in place so that the structure could withstand any disaster. Sanquinet and Staats were involved in many buildings in Texas that include the Neil P. Anderson Building (Fort Worth), Sam Houston Hotel (Houston), Wilson Building (Dallas), and many others, most listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). The firm was one of the first large office teams of architects, engineers, and other support professionals to offer statewide services with branch offices in Dallas, Wichita Falls, San Antonio, Waco, and Houston. Roy E. Lane was an architect in Waco, who built several buildings in Central Texas, including the Waco Public Library, the Southwestern Motor Freight Bureau, and the Guilberson Corporation office.
After hearing that the Adolphus Hotel would be 20 stories as was planned for the ALICO Building, two more floors were added, making the ALICO Building one of the tallest building in Texas at the time. As it usually does, construction started with clearing of the site—a bank building which took 30 teams of workers to remove it and excavate the site. A 45-foot foundation was dug to anchor the building. Many archaeological finds were unearthed during this dig, including a well and an old pond, which was believed to be frequented by the local indigenous people and the buffalos that once roamed the land years before. With these discoveries, the designers changed the plans to include the well and pipe the water through the building’s systems.
The building was state of the art and rightly, big news at the time. Throughout construction, newspapers featured photos of the progress. The building had its own electric generators and its own water source from wells. As mentioned above, spring water was piped into the building and fountains were installed on each floor where its occupants could get a cold drink. The building stands 282 feet from the basement to the top of the building. Structural steel used would be 3.7 million pounds, which held granite in stone for the lower floors and brick with terracotta on the top. The steel was shipped to Galveston from New York City, then traveled by rail to Waco. The building plan tried to avoid using wood and was primarily made of metal or other inflammable material. Elevators were installed running at a speed of 650 ft per minute, were equipped with safety dives, and fireproofed. Designed with a classic look to withstand overtime, the building cost $755,000 ($20.5 million in 2021).
As you would imagine, opening day was a huge area attraction. During the building opening, planes flew around the building and every suite in the building was occupied by paying tenants. Many tenants promoted their new space with postcards displaying the building. First National Bank would be on the first few floors, with Amicable Life Insurance Company and others occupying the rest of the building.
The building would become the center of Waco. The city promoted their newest marvel with postcards, touting itself as the “Wonder City”. Visitors would marvel at the building. General Electric used the building in its ads to market A/C services until the 1960’s. Over the years, the building would house a radio station, corner drug store, onsite beauty shop. In 1953, there was a tornado outbreak, but it did not suffer any heavy damaged. Several tenants reported the building swayed several feet when the tornado hit it directly. Not shortly thereafter, in 1966, the building underwent renovations.
In 1982, the Texas Historical Commission dedicated the ALICO Building a historical landmark, primarily due to it being one of the very early skyscrapers in Texas. In 2012, the building was added the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Waco Downtown Historic District.
Located on the corner of Austin Ave and 5th Street in Waco, the ALICO Building is still the tallest building in Waco. It has defined the Waco skyline with its red lettering for over 100 years. It is the backdrop for celebrations and many a photo as the definitive Waco skyline. As one of the most photographed buildings in the area, the ALICO Building is an engineering wonder for its time and is a symbol of Waco’s strength and resilience.