A factory that once baked everything from canned fruitcake to Girl Scout cookies is hastening to a bitter end, a year shy of its 70th birthday.
The city of Waco last week issued a demolition permit for the old Weston Biscuit Co. building at 2000 Franklin Ave. after historic preservation officials agreed that it was unlikely to be rescued.
The 28,000-square-foot factory is a part of Waco’s architectural and industrial history. The art deco facade with a three-story tower features glass block and intricate brickwork. The interior is lighted by skylights.
But the building, surrounded by poison ivy and brush, has been vacant for 27 years and has become a magnet for vagrants and vandalism. Co-owner Martin Schwartz said he is giving up on his long effort to find an end user.
“It was a tough decision,” said Schwartz, whose family owns Schwartz Design Center and Centex Flooring. “When you have an asset like that that was once a thriving business, you try to explore everything you possibly can.”
Schwartz explained to the city Historic Landmark Preservation Commission last week that he has worked through the years with real estate brokers and architects to find an appropriate use for the building, but nothing has worked out.
Up to code
The building is structurally sound and could be brought up to code for about $400,000, but its low ceilings, numerous interior columns and lack of parking make it unattractive for most businesses, Schwartz said.
The commission had considered using its power to put a temporary moratorium on demolition to give potential buyers a chance to step up. But city planner Beatriz Wharton said the commission and city staff concluded that it was too late.
“It almost seemed we would be delaying it just to delay it, because there’s not much of a possibility for something to be done,” she said. “It was challenging for staff, because it does have character and it’s a solid building that’s pretty unique. . . . But we have to have realistic expectations.”
The factory had its genesis in the aftermath of World War II, as America looked to satisfy its sweet tooth with the end of sugar rationing.
Southern Maid, a Waco-born bakery, announced plans in the Waco News-Tribune on Sept. 6, 1946.
“The new plant, modern in every respect and designed by the nation’s best baking engineers, will be air-conditioned,” the article stated. “From this new plant, one of the largest and best equipped in the country, will come a new line of high-quality packaged cakes and cookies.”
The bakery, led by Vic Ballowe, had its start in 1940 in South Waco and grew rapidly as it started providing the armed forces canned fruitcake. By 1944, a million pounds of the fruitcake was shipped overseas, according to the article.
By the early 1950s, the Canada-based Weston Biscuit Co. had bought the factory, and one of its products was Girl Scout cookies, newspaper articles from the time show. It appears the company ran the factory until the mid-1970s.
Schwartz’s father bought the building in 1984 along with the entire block and leased it to a box manufacturer, Thomas Container Co. The business ceased operations in the late 1980s and the building has been vacant since.
Martin Schwartz and his brother, John, have been scouting opportunities for the building long before they inherited it from their father in 2011.
Schwartz’s father sold part of the property to a car lot, limiting the potential of the factory building.
Schwartz said if the building had been closer into downtown, it could have benefited from downtown’s resurgence and gotten renovation incentives from the downtown Tax Increment Finance Zone.
But no one could make a renovation work at its given location, and the building has become more of a liability than an asset, Schwartz said.
Noting the success of the new Stripes convenience store a few blocks up Franklin Avenue, he said the property may be more marketable without an old building on it.
“If I live long enough, that land will become really valuable,” he said.