For a fellow whose likeness was being unveiled in bronze at the Dr Pepper Museum & Free Enterprise Institute Thursday night, founding president Wilton Lanning was doing all he could to make light of his role, even as the event acknowledged his long-ago part in the building’s restoration and its strides since then as one of Waco’s most popular museums. The bronze plaque marked his pivotal partnership with late Dr Pepper chairman W.W. “Foots” Clements.
“The best thing would be if it doesn’t look like me so it won’t frighten the children,” Lanning told me of his being bronzed.
While Baylor University’s $260 million, state-of-the-art McLane Stadium rises over the Brazos, the trend in Waco these days remains rehabilitating, renovating and restoring properties. Americans nationwide may soon associate Waco with such overhauls given the TV series “Fixer Upper” which Thursday nights finds Waco-based Magnolia Homes out and about transforming hovels into homes for eager if skeptical couples.
During Dr Pepper festivities at what was once a tornado-ravaged, decrepit bottling plant on South Fifth, the Waco Historic Landmark Preservation Commission was at Cameron Park honoring similar achievements such as the “extreme makeover” of the long-abandoned 1944 General Tire building into the Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative. Other feats recognized included:
Millions of dollars of improvements at Cameron Park, approved as one part of the first city bond issue to gain voter approval in 40 years. Purpose: to better accommodate the public’s increasing use of the century-old, 416-acre park. Rusty Black, director of the city parks and recreation department, noted that fortune seemed to smile on the project, given that it passed electoral muster in 2007 — just before the recession struck.
“The economy helped us a bunch,” he said. “We had about $6.7 million that went into the park. That money grew interest while we were waiting to spend it. And the bids we got were much less than what we expected.” Indeed, once the recession took hold, bids came in lower than anticipated, thanks to the sudden need by construction and renovation companies to be more competitive.
Not only two restorations but continued maintenance of the grand home at 2525 Austin Ave. since David and Carol Horner bought it in 1987. The home was built in the early 1900s. David Horner echoed comments I’ve heard from other homeowners in Waco’s Austin Avenue Neighborhood Association through the years — comments that suggest they’re all caretakers of a sort.
“Carol and I owned a couple of other houses before we moved into this house and we felt like we owned those houses,” he said during the ceremony. “In this case, we feel like we are serving the home. There are so many different children’s names in the concrete and so forth. We know it’s just our turn to take care of it and we hope the people who follow us will love it like we do.”
Massive renovation of abandoned buildings at the old Paul Quinn College campus in East Waco since early in the last decade, an effort led by Nancy Grayson and Rapoport Academy public charter school trustees. Even though she retired as superintendent a couple of years ago and opened a nearby bakery, the work continues. Some $3 million in renovation of the 15,000-square-foot Gomez Administration Building, built in 1952, will add 17 classrooms, a music facility, technology labs and offices to the academy campus.
“I went through every building (on the Paul Quinn College campus) in I think the year 2000 when there was water on the floor and the ceilings weren’t there and poison ivy was growing into every building and I said, ‘This is wonderful,’” Grayson recalled. “And they said, ‘You really are crazy.’ But I think we owe it to our community for each of us to save the rich history we have and move it into the future. That’s our job as members of this community.”