City of Waco officials have dropped efforts to save the former 25th Street Theatre building and plan to demolish it before building a new fire station there.
Weather-beaten and rusted, the towering 25th Street Theatre sign has become a hazard to itself and passersby. Crews with A-1 Banner & Sign, Jackson Sign & Lighting and Wales Crane & Rigging will work Thursday to remove the sign with as little damage as possible before placing it in storage.
Barricades will divert traffic around North 25th Street at Grim Avenue in the North Waco neighborhood starting at 8 a.m. The city has set aside a six-hour window for the take-down, city spokesman Larry Holze said.
The 74-year-old movie house likely will fall to make room for a $5.1 million fire station that will serve as a replacement for Station No. 6, which is nearby. A groundbreaking is planned in August to kick off a 12-month construction project.
City of Waco officials have dropped efforts to save the former 25th Street Theatre building and plan to demolish it before building a new fire station there.
Recent rains and wind aggravated the sign’s decline, causing a crimp near the peak that alarmed a city staffer driving through the area. The topic came up last week during a regular meeting between fire department officials and other city officials, Waco Fire Chief Bobby Tatum said Tuesday.
A local sign company and structural engineer both inspected and recommended the sign come down because of its age, size and location “over a sidewalk and traffic intersection,” according to a city press release Tuesday.
The 25th Street Theatre opened in 1945 with 780 seats, a relative novelty called air conditioning, a wide screen and murals inside. It closed in 1982, bowing to multiscreen theaters, before becoming a nightclub for several years. It closed in 1992 and fell into disrepair. The city tagged it as unsafe in 2001, and ownership disputes hampered redevelopment until the city bought the property last year.
Discussions continue over whether the building is beyond saving. City staffers told the Waco City Council in December it was not salvageable, citing an inspection by a structural specialist.
“That is the unfortunate part of properties not being well-preserved, but I think the good news is that the city did purchase it and we can build a replica to keep a version of the theater in the neighborhood,” Councilman Dillon Meek said at the time. Meek, whose District 4 includes the North Waco theater site, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Holze said the council has not taken formal action to raze the building.
At 25th Street Furniture Store, dozens of piñatas hang from the ceiling, most of them carefully crafted by Daysi Barrera, the shop’s owner.
Addressing the troubled sign, A-1 Banner & Sign President Leonard Hooks said his company subcontractors “will preserve as much of its look as possible, hopefully in one piece. We don’t know if that will happen, or if it is even feasible, considering the ramifications of the sign having been there since, what, the 1940s. Until we actually get it down, we can’t really know what’s going to happen to it. Our aim is to save it. The city hopes to use it in a future building. We do know that the main structure of the sign, what’s holding it up, is steel that is pretty heavily rusted. That’s an issue.”
The “faces” of the faded sign, once light green and still accented with neon, are made of porcelain, Hooks said. The faces were made using a process common early in the 20th century that has all but disappeared.
“Our objective is to save those porcelain pieces, as they can’t be replaced,” Hooks said. “We can make new panels that look just like them, applying a powdered coating to aluminum. Certainly we do a lot of refurbishing of signs, and we’re experienced in creating new faces because we do all kinds of sign work. But we do not have many opportunities to take down and restore signs on a 60, 70, 80-year-old building, and that’s what we’re shooting to do.”
He said storing the sign will be Jackson Sign & Lighting’s responsibility. No one with Jackson could be reached for comment Tuesday.
“I saw ‘Bambi’ in that theater. I saw a lot of movies in that theater,” Hooks said. “It was one of the nicest theaters in Waco for many, many years, with its art deco kind of style and large graphics on the wall. The sign, if it is restored, will be covered and secured in the meantime. The process will begin in a short enough period of time that any additional degradation should probably not occur.”
City purchasing director Kelly Holechek said the city has a $13,000 contract with A-1 Banner & Sign to remove, transport and place the sign in storage for up to three years, which includes work by subcontractors.
Wales Crane & Rigging owner Greg Schroeder said he will assign one of his smaller pieces of equipment to the task: a 30-ton crane with a 112-foot boom. He will charge $185 an hour, with a two-hour minimum.
“It won’t be a huge money-maker for us, but it should be interesting,” Schroeder said. “The city has set aside six hours, but I doubt we’ll be there that long with our part. We’ll probably be out of there in three to four hours.”
Schroeder said he grew up in Waco and also spent time at 25th Street Theatre.
“But the only movie I can specifically remember seeing there was ‘Jaws,’ ” Schroeder said. “Gosh, I imagine I was 10 or 12 years old, probably not really old enough to be seeing it, frankly. But, yes, I am familiar with that theater.”
Besides becoming home to a fire house, the 25th Street Theatre site will house fire administration offices and may offer community meeting rooms. There also has been talk of creating a museum to celebrate the theater’s history, with Tatum vowing to install a popcorn machine.
The city will have a public input meeting on the station once the project architect finishes a proposed design, Tatum said last week.
Waco Fire Station No. 5 crews will soon be back in a home base of their own, and its Bagby Avenue location will position them to protect growing areas of the city.
Skies may be sunny, but water is rising at Lake Waco and the Brazos River through Waco, closing parts of the riverwalk, lake parks and boat ramps.
Lake Waco was 16.3 feet higher than normal Tuesday and expected to rise as recent rainfall works its way down the North Bosque River upstream of the lake. All the lake boat ramps and parks will be closed for several weeks except for Midway Park campground, part of Reynolds Creek Park, the dam trail and the spillway area at Bosque Park.
At more than 478 feet above sea level, the flooded lake was releasing water Tuesday at the rate of 2,700 cubic feet per second, contributing to rising levels in the Brazos at Waco. Lake Aquilla was about 11 feet higher than normal and releasing 876 cubic feet per second toward the Brazos.
But their impact on the river was eclipsed by Lake Whitney some 30 miles upstream of Waco. At 22 feet above normal, the lake was releasing 20,912 cubic feet per second into the Brazos.
At Waco near La Salle Avenue, the river was flowing at more than 20,000 cubic feet per second, having risen more than 10 feet since Sunday to 17 feet. The National Weather Service predicted the river would reach 19.1 feet Wednesday morning.
The high water, which came from widespread storms that dumped 4.73 inches on Waco between May 2 and May 11, left concrete walkways flooded on both sides of the river.
“Currently, we have the riverwalk within downtown blocked off,” said Jonathan Cook, interim parks director for the city of Waco. “The boat ramps are closed. … We expect water to be flowing at the same rates as last October.”
He said the city’s section of the river, called Lake Brazos, is closed to watercraft until further notice because of high water.
“It’s really because of the pace of the water,” he said. “It’s hard, especially this time of year when more and more people are getting out on the river and wanting to fish.”
Lake Waco and Lake Whitney are among a half-dozen U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood control lakes that are holding back water from the Brazos River to protect downstream communities.
“We’ve been holding back water because of all the rain,” said Courtney Heuring, Corps of Engineers park ranger at Lake Waco. “It would definitely be worse if we weren’t holding it back.”
In Rosharon, south of Houston, the Brazos River crested at 87,770 cubic feet per second on Saturday and remained in moderate flood stage Tuesday.
Heuring said high water at Lake Waco could take a few weeks to subside, and roads cannot be reopened until 14 days after they emerge from the water. That means mid-June is the earliest the parks could reopen, assuming no more major rainfall.
The National Weather Service is forecasting a 70% chance of thunderstorms Saturday.
Heuring said that once lake levels are back to normal, volunteers will be welcomed to help clean up parks. Volunteers can call the Corps office at 756-5359.
District 2 Councilwoman Alice Rodriguez formally stepped down from her role to a standing ovation Tuesday night.
Rodriguez, Waco’s first Hispanic councilwoman, represented District 2 for a total of 24 years, split between two stints on the council. The rest of the city council recognized her during a meeting full of remembrance and barely suppressed tears, followed by a reception at the Waco Convention Center. Shortly after the recognition, Rodriguez’s successor, Hector Sabido, was sworn in alongside District 4 Councilman Dillon Meek and District 5 Councilman Jim Holmes, who were both re-elected.
Members of the Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Rodriguez’s family and other guests filled the meeting room. She said the support of her family and her district made her tenure with the city of Waco possible.
“You can’t do anything without your family, and I’ve turned to my family and asked them, lots of times, to help me,” Rodriguez said. “I leave this post with mixed emotions. I love my family here at the city.”
Rodriguez said she decided not to run for re-election after the death of her husband, Joe Rodriguez, last year. He served as president and CEO of the Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce for years before his death.
“My council colleagues were awesome,” Rodriguez said. “They helped me through one of the toughest times of my life.”
Rodriguez said she mentored Sabido, who ran unopposed, for months before the election. Sabido has served on various nonprofit boards, and said he plans to continue the work Rodriguez started.
“Last year, we knew there was going to be a transition in leadership, and I just really felt a calling to go ahead and step into that role,” Sabido said. “I’ve known Alice for many years, and I’ve known her to be an advocate and a voice for the people of South Waco, so I’ve always respected her.”
Sabido said the Interstate 35 project, economic development and recognizing Waco’s diversity are his top priorities as he moves into the position.
The leadership transition in the District 2 Waco City Council seat will be quiet this spring as Hector Sabido takes the role from Alice Rodriguez, who held the seat for 24 of the last 28 years.
City spokesman Larry Holze, who has known Rodriguez since she was first elected as Alice Flores in 1991, said she exemplifies the council’s attitude toward teamwork.
“They work well together,” Holze said. “She was always very responsive and very defensive of her district, but she was always very sweet.”
Elaine Slaughter, a staff member for state Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson, presented Rodriguez with a Texas flag from the state Capitol. Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber board Chairman John Montez presented her with a plaque commemorating her work for the city council, then recognized her work with the League of United Latin American Citizens’ local Council 273. Montez is the local LULAC president, and Rodriguez will continue to serve as the chapter’s executive director.
“She’s been a great role model for our community, for the entire community, but specifically for the Hispanic community,” Montez said. “We can’t thank her enough.”
Rodriguez’s fellow council members spoke one by one, sharing anecdotes and thanking her for her years of work. Councilwoman Andrea Jackson Barefield, who was named mayor pro tem Tuesday, said she remembers her mother, former mayor Mae Jackson, working with Rodriguez.
“I’ve been so grateful for me to be able to begin my city council career with you by my side,” Barefield said. “So many times, I have listened to you all do business and make things happen and how to make a path, because that’s what you do. To be able to sit with you and do that again in this period of time has been such a blessing to me.”
Alice Rodriguez will not seek re-election to the Waco City Council, ending the 24-year tenure of the longest-serving council member in Waco’s history and the first Hispanic woman elected to the post.
Councilman Dillon Meek said Rodriguez’s experience and institutional knowledge after 24 years were indispensable and could not be matched.
“It was practically helpful, but there is also so much wisdom that you carry,” Meek said. “You are a fighter for your district. You always fought for the people because you love the people, and it was an honor to see, and to learn from you in that regard.”
Meek said she also helped create an environment and culture that make the council feel like a second family.
Rodriguez was first elected in 1991, took a break from the council from 2001 to 2005, then returned. After Tuesday’s meeting, Rodriguez said she is sad this chapter is coming to an end but is excited about what the future holds for her.
“I’m going to relax and not have to listen to the phone. That’s going to be great,” Rodriguez said. “Then, I’m going to contemplate what I’m going to do next.”
Before March, retired pharmaceutical salesman Richard Harold Reasor’s only brush with the law was a speeding ticket, perhaps two.
The 69-year-old was enjoying a second career as an elementary school teacher aide and officiated at school volleyball matches and area track meets. The 1972 Baylor University graduate also worked on the event staff at his alma mater’s football, baseball and basketball games.
Reasor’s work with children came to an abrupt stop after he was accused of harming an unruly student and arrested, but he has another chance now that a grand jury has declined to pursue a charge against him.
Reasor’s wife and daughter are teachers, but he never really thought much about it being a career path for him. Then eight years ago, he got a job at Woodway Elementary School as a teacher aide, and his second career was launched.
He enjoyed working with the kids, and they seemed to love him. Each year, Reasor helped the fourth-graders build models of the Alamo that they displayed in the school hallway and he presented what he calls his “13 Days of Glory” lesson about the iconic San Antonio mission siege for kids studying Texas history.
When Midway school officials transferred Reasor to Woodgate Intermediate School in October, he was overwhelmed by the emotional displays of the students and teachers he left behind. They wrote letters telling him how much they loved him and would miss him and stood in line for hugs and high-fives when he left.
Reasor became a teacher aide at Woodgate and was assigned to what the district calls the IBIS program, short for Intensive Behavior Intervention and Support, a classroom for students with behavioral problems.
Two weeks after he started his new job, Reasor was asked to escort an 11-year-old student who had been disruptive in class to the “calm room.” There are conflicting stories about what happened next, but an incident ensued, and the 5-foot, 6-inch, 150 pound Reasor and the boy both ended up in a tangle on the floor.
Reasor was fired the next day after Midway school officials took statements from two teachers who said they saw the tussle.
To make matters worse, Reasor was arrested by Hewitt police five months later on a charge of injury to a child, a third-degree felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. He spent a night in jail, but worse for Reasor, he had to give up his sports-related officiating and staffing positions because he was precluded from being around children younger than 17 as a condition of his bond.
He was slated to work six track meets this spring, but he had to tell officials he would not be available, he said.
Reasor hired Waco attorney Cody Cleveland, who realized Reasor’s case was not the type that needed to be dragged out because, as Cleveland put it, “Richard’s life was on hold.”
He knew Reasor wanted to clear up the matter quickly with hopes he could get back to doing what he loves, connecting with kids.
Cleveland took a scrapbook filled with pictures of Reasor and school kids and testimonial letters from students, teachers and others who know him to the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office. The letters depicted Reasor has a caring, kind person who would never harm a child intentionally.
Prosecutors presented Reasor’s case last week to a grand jury, which determined there was insufficient evidence to indict him. Likewise, Reasor took his case to the Texas Workforce Commission, which conducted its own investigation and found no misconduct on Reasor’s part and that he was unjustly terminated.
“I think it turned out the way it should have,” Cleveland said. “I commend the DA’s office. Their job is not to just prosecute cases but to seek justice, and I think they took their time and did their due diligence and looked into the facts of the case and they presented the case fairly to the grand jury.
“I also commend the grand jury for looking at the evidence and making the right decision. I think in this instance, the justice system worked as it should and Mr. Reasor is the beneficiary of that.”
According to a Hewitt police arrest affidavit, a Woodgate instructor was outside looking through a window and said he saw Reasor wrap his arms around the 11-year-old boy and force him to the ground. A second educator who was in the classroom stepped in to intervene, the affidavit states.
A school resource officer was called to the room and interviewed the student. The boy said he was in pain from Reasor forcing him to the ground. Police continued to collect witness statements and investigate the incident, according to the affidavit.
“(The officer) then spoke with (the student), and (the student) told (the officer) that Reasor had him on his stomach and had a knee on his back,” the affidavit states. “He advised that Reasor then pulled his arms behind his back. (The student) advised (the officer) that when Reasor had him on the ground it caused him pain.”
Another teacher at the school took out a protective order against the boy after the student reportedly threatened the teacher, Reasor said. Reasor was asked to escort the boy to the calm room. When they got there, Reasor said the boy kicked a desk and it struck him, re-injuring a foot he had been having trouble with.
He saw the boy eyeing a container of sharpened pencils on a desk, and Reasor said he grabbed them just ahead of the lunging student. The boy grabbed a clipboard, and Reasor tried to take it from him, fearing he would use it as a weapon, Reasor said.
While both were struggling over the clipboard, their feet got tangled and they lost their balance and tumbled to the floor. There is no video of the incident, and Reasor denies he put his knee in the boy’s back and pulled his arms.
Now that he is clear of the charges, Reasor becomes emotional when discussing the gratitude he feels for the people who supported him after his firing and arrest.
“It’s a very scary situation, and teachers, I think, go through that every day, trying to work with kids who maybe don’t appreciate what they are trying to do,” Reasor said. “It is pretty scary to know you can have it all taken away in just a heartbeat.
“But you also find so many people who reach out to you and want to help you. I had just an outpouring of people from Baylor and from Woodway Elementary, people I know and people I hadn’t talked to in years who got in touch with me and said they knew me and knew I wouldn’t do that kind of thing. They wanted to know what they could do to help and it meant so much to me.”
Even after he was fired, Reasor was asked to return to Woodway Elementary to present his Alamo program for the fourth grade. Before his arrest, he saw students at Lady Bears basketball games who rushed over to give him hugs and say hello.
“That part of it is really amazing,” he said. “The rest of it, not necessarily.”
Midway schools spokeswoman Traci Marlin said administration thought it “was in the best interest of the students to release” Reasor. She said he is eligible for employment there again, like any candidate with no criminal history.
Hewitt Police Chief Jim Devlin said he is “kind of disappointed” that the grand jury chose to no bill Reasor.
“We felt like the case was pretty strong with two independent witnesses,” he said. “But I don’t know what was presented to the grand jury, so I don’t have the information to support the reason for the no bill.”
A Waco man who robbed a Hewitt bank in February and shot a police officer while fleeing pleaded guilty to federal bank robbery and weapons charges Tuesday.
Dallas Scott Bohanan, 25, pleaded guilty in U.S. Magistrate Court to two counts of bank robbery using a deadly weapon and three counts of discharging a firearm during the commission of a violent felony, charges that could land him in federal prison for up to 55 years.
Bohanan, who remains in federal custody, pleaded guilty to robbing the PointWest Bank in Hewitt and the Sante Fe Community Credit Union in Temple. He also was indicted in the robbery of the Chase Bank, 320 N. New Road in Waco, but federal prosecutors agreed to waive that count as part of the plea agreement.
The indictment against Bohanan alleges he discharged a .22-caliber rifle in the Hewitt robbery, an AK-47 in the Temple credit union robbery and a 12-gauge shotgun in the Waco bank robbery.
In accepting the guilty pleas, U.S. Magistrate Jeffrey C. Manske told Bohanan the maximum sentence for the bank robbery charge is 25 years on each count and a maximum fine of $250,000. The three weapons counts carry mandatory minimum sentences of 10 years that are required to be served consecutively, for a total of 30 years.
U.S. District Judge Alan Albright will sentence Bohanan in mid-September.
Bohanan also faces state charges from the Hewitt incident that include aggravated assault on a public servant and evading arrest in a vehicle. He has not been indicted on the state charges.
Bohanan’s attorney, Russ Hunt Jr., has said Bohanan is “really broken-hearted and super remorseful” about what he did.
Hewitt police have said Bohanan exchanged gunfire with Hewitt police officer Clint Brandon after Bohanan exited PointWest Bank at 420 Hewitt Drive on Feb. 5 and Brandon confronted him.
Bohanan then drove away as Brandon gave chase, police said. Bohanan stopped in the 100 block of North Hewitt Drive after he realized Brandon was following him and fired at least four shotgun blasts into Brandon’s patrol vehicle, hitting the officer in the upper left arm and also injuring him with broken glass, according to reports.
Bohanan was about 20 feet from the officer’s vehicle when he jumped out of his truck with the shotgun and started firing, police said. The pellets pierced the windshield of the patrol vehicle, injuring the officer. Brandon put his car in reverse and tried to escape the attack. Pellets also shattered the back window and hit the police vehicle’s light bar and dash cam.
Bohanan returned to his truck and continued to flee. Hewitt Police Chief Jim Devlin said Brandon continued the pursuit despite his injuries until other officers called him off and took him for treatment.
The chase continued about six miles until Bohanan crashed his truck in a residential neighborhood.