The Geyser Ice Co. complex has long outlived its heyday, when it supplied ice for trains loaded with meat and vegetables, and when icemen drove their red horse-drawn wagons through Waco’s dusty streets.
The collection of industrial buildings at 927 Webster dates back to the company’s founding in 1892. Now the plant sits vacant, with crumbling bricks, broken windows and signs of squatters.
But a local investment group hopes to reinvent the plant for a new century.
Rydell Capital bought the 2.4-acre property Dec. 18 from Reddy Ice Co., which two years ago vacated its ice distribution business there, consolidating it with a facility in Whitney.
Rydell general counsel Dillon Meek said the company has no specific plans for the property but intends to renovate the buildings to suit a mix of commercial tenants. Meek said the buildings could lend themselves to a range of entrepreneurial uses, such as retail, craft manufacturing, office or athletic uses. The four-story, windowless storage vault facing Webster could even be a climbing wall, he said on a tour this week.
“I can put on the long-term goggles when I look at this,” Meek said, ducking into a low-slung brick building in the back that was missing a door. “People come in and say, ‘I don’t see what you see.’ But I think it’s neat. As Waco continues to grow, we want to see the culture we love of Waco preserved and see new businesses bring new life into these spaces that were a heartbeat away from being torn down.”
Meek, who is also a Waco City Council member, said he thinks the venture will benefit from the momentum in that part of downtown. New businesses in the area include Magnolia Market at the Silos, The Findery, The Backyard Bar and Grill and the new Balcones whiskey distillery.
Meek declined to give the exact sale price for the complex but said it was well below its initial listing of $299,000.
Meek said the most interesting part of the site is the building in the back that was used for ice manufacturing, which is made of brick and has large arched windows. Inside is what looks like a swimming pool with a horizontal boom over it.
Though the 1970s, that boom was used to pull 300-pound containers of block ice out of a pool of freezing liquid, said Chris King, market manager for Reddy Ice.
The brick building, or something similar in size, is shown on an 1899 Sanborn Fire Insurance map, and it may date back to the 1892 founding of the Geyser Ice Co., making it one of Waco’s oldest commercial structures.
The plant was owned by beer magnate Adolphus Busch, whose Anheuser-Busch Brewing Co. also had a beer distribution center next door.
Water for the ice plant came from an artesian well on the property and was distilled, according to an 1896 advertisement. By the 1920s, the plant was able to produce 200 tons of ice a day. It had a multistory cold storage facility that was insulated with cork, according to a Waco News-Tribune article on May 11, 1924. The company had a fleet of 14 horse-drawn wagons to deliver ice and was designated as a “reicing station” for the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railway.
The rapid adoption of electric refrigerators after World War II cooled demand for commercial ice. But the Waco ice plant survived, and in 1954, it came under the control of the Southland Corporation of Dallas, which greatly increased its production, according to a Waco News-Tribune article from the time. Southland was best known as the parent company of 7-Eleven, and it also owned Reddy Ice until the late 1980s.
By the early 2000s, Reddy Ice was using the multistory vault to store up to 1 million pounds of ice a day, but it had ceased manufacturing ice there. In 2001, the company tore down an older part of the ice plant, saying it was no longer usable.
Meek said he’s still researching the history of the plant and hopes to be able to preserve this relic of Waco’s industrial history.
“You don’t build stuff like this anymore,” he said. “The fact that this bears such a history, it’s fun to be able to preserve that.”