The ALICO building is iconic for its towering height in the center of downtown Waco, but did you know Waco life revolved around its location even before our beloved skyscraper was constructed?
Hundreds of years ago, a small pond filled the spot at the foundation of the ALICO. It was a watering hole for buffalo, which led local Native Americans to hunt on the site. Long-time Waco resident "Aunt Sophie" Bereal, who turned 90 the year the ALICO was constructed, had childhood memories of fishing at the pond. When building started, and the construction crew began digging the foundation, and instead of finding bedrock, they hit a "subterranean lake." Designers used this natural feature to their advantage and crafted an underground well system, which allowed the ALICO to subsist on its own water-source for many years.
During the construction, the ALICO was something of a spectacle for locals, and photographer Fred Gildersleeve captured scenes of people gathering downtown for the entertainment. The story goes that people in McGregor were even watching the skyscraper with binoculars from their homes over 20 miles away!
After it was built, the elegantly designed building was informally labeled the place to be by Wacoans and Texans from surrounding towns. Although the building was constructed by the Amicable Life Insurance Company, funded by Artemas Roberts and designed by architect Roy E. Lane, its beauty and modern features made it a coveted office space by all of Waco. The Old Corner Drugstore, home of the original Dr. Pepper, moved into the ALICO at one point, and there was an on-site beauty and barber shop for several years as well. Other professionals whose offices inhabited the ALICO include dentists, lawyers, doctors, bankers, and accountants.
It's no wonder that the space was so coveted, as it was outfitted with elevators with bronze details, polished granite columns, and Italian marble staircases. The office spaces were given electricity in the form of chandeliers and other outlets, porcelain water fountains, and the hallways held gas lamps. No detail went unnoticed from the eye of Roberts or Lane, and they kept extensive notes throughout the process.
The ALICO's builders were doing the building more favors than they knew by digging down over 40-feet when constructing the foundation. On May 11, 1953, when the tornado took a turn through town, the ALICO was left mostly unharmed, while buildings directly across the street were demolished. Thanks to its location, steel infrastructure, and strong foundation, the ALICO has survived for 107 years!
Even today, the ALICO stands as something of a central figure for all of downtown life. The Waco Downtown Farmer's Market takes place in the shade of the ALICO every Saturday, a smattering of coffee shops and restaurants are within walking distance, and Historic Waco is just a stone's throw away!