magnoliatable

Work continues at Magnolia Table, formerly the Elite Café on the Waco Traffic Circle. Behind the central tower are clerestory windows added to the roofline to bring light into the dining rooms.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson

A reshaped roofline and other changes that Chip and Joanna Gaines are making to the former Elite Café building have won approval from Waco historic preservation officials.

The city’s Historic Landmark Preservation Commission last Thursday recommended a “certificate of appropriateness” for the restaurant that will now be called “Magnolia Table.” The committee also recommended local tax incentives that could save an estimated $7,000 a year.

The Gaineses’ company, Magnolia Prime Real Estate, is spending an estimated $2 million on the renovation, which will result in a restaurant that serves breakfast, brunch and lunch. Magnolia officials would not give an estimated opening date, but city planning officials expect it to be early 2018.

The firm has been working with the Texas Historical Commission to follow federal historic preservation standards, so last week’s vote was mostly a formality, planning director Clint Peters said.

The federal standards call for preserving the architecturally significant elements while avoiding new features that “create a false sense of historical development.”

Advisory board chairwoman Marylaine Driese said the board agreed with state historic preservation officials that the additions meet those standards.

“For whatever is new, it needs to be clear that it’s not trying to be part of the original structure,” she said. “It sounds strange, but they want it to be clear where the addition is.”

The roof addition, called a clerestory, features a line of square windows that let daylight into the building below. To satisfy THC concerns, architect Sterling Thompson set back the clerestory from the main facade of the building and used a different roof material from the original Mediterranean-style red tile roof.

Meanwhile, the old doors, windows and awnings, which were not original to the building, are being replaced, and the neon “Elite” signs have been removed. The marquee sign on the circle is being retained but repainted with the Magnolia Table name.

The building, which dates to 1941, is described by its state historic marker as “one of the best remaining regional examples of mid-20th century roadside architecture.”

“The building exhibits a distinctive Spanish Colonial style popular in the Southwest,” the marker says.

Greek immigrant brothers George and Michael Colias opened the restaurant as a second location after the success of their downtown café, which they started in 1919 on Austin Avenue.

The building on the Waco Traffic Circle was modified several times over the years, including 1986 and the early 2000s. Owner Creed Ford III closed it in February 2016 after several years of declining business.

Driese, the advisory board chairwoman, said she was surprised that the Gaineses opted not to preserve the Elite name.

“I can’t say that I was upset by it,” she said. “I know they have their Magnolia trademark. … I love the way the building looks, and I think they’ve done a very good job of keeping it recognizable.”

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