A downtown building with an illustrious history as a luxury car dealership, a National Guard armory and a warplane assembly plant is becoming a home for entrepreneurs.

The McDermott Motors building at 1125 Washington Ave. is being renovated for two growing businesses known for making promotional merchandise.

Joel Peel, owner of Hole in the Roof Marketing, and his brother, John Peel, owner of Sticker Universe, plan to move their businesses to the building by late February.

The brothers said they were attracted to the building because of its ample space, architectural character and location in a reviving downtown.

“We’ve been looking for buildings for five or six years and that one stood out to us,” Joel Peel said. “It was built in the ’20s, and basically, it’s never going to go anywhere. It’s built like a bunker.”

The 23,000-square-foot building was most recently the Caritas Thrift Store, but it has been vacant since a 2000 fire. The

Peels are putting in all-new plumbing, wiring and climate control, plus a new mezzanine and staircases in the cavernous interior.

Collectively, the brothers are more than tripling their space, John Peel said.

“I needed more space and he did, too,” he said. “We are very complementary businesses. It makes sense for us to combine our resources.”

Sticker Universe, which Peel started in his freshman dorm room at Baylor University in 1994, now has 60 licensing agreements and is the biggest producer of Baylor stickers.

Joel Peel, a 2001 Baylor graduate, has 22 employees at Hole in the Roof, which designs and makes promotional apparel and does print and Web promotions.

The company’s main location is on Speight Avenue near Baylor.

“We have been in business 13 years and we’ve grown every year,” Joel Peel said. “We’ll definitely be hiring more in the spring and adding to our production facilities.”

The brothers say they have more than enough room to grow at 1125 Washington Ave.

The building’s most recent owner, Len Dippel, did some renovations and got the property listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but never realized his vision of turning it into a loft development.

Built in 1928, the building was designed by celebrated Waco architect Milton Scott, whose work also included the old Waco High School building, the Dr Pepper Museum building, First Baptist Church and the Louey Migel mansion.

The building was built for Wilford Dees McDermott as a Buick dealership.

It featured huge windows, reinforced concrete ceilings, an interior car ramp and a foyer with decorative tile and an ornate fireplace.

McDermott’s dealership closed in 1930 as the Great Depression worsened, according to the application for the National Register of Historic Places.

The local National Guard soon made the building its armory and headquarters, using it for drills, weapons storage and social functions such as dances.

The armory, named “Fort Fiske Wright” after a local World War I hero, ceased operations in early 1941 but was soon in use again as a clandestine factory for North American Aviation during World War II.

The windows were painted over, and a workforce of about 100, mostly women, assembled B-24 bombers inside.

After the war, the building served as the D.T. Hicks Plymouth and DeSoto dealership, then Hill Printing and Stationery until 1960.

It was vacant for nearly 20 years. Between 1978 and 2000, it served as a Christian bookstore, then as the Caritas thrift store.

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