The row of vacant one-story brick buildings in the 1100 block of Franklin Avenue may not turn heads, but local preservation officials are making a last push to save them.
The city’s Historic Landmark Preservation Commission last week agreed to put a 90-day demolition delay on the three buildings, which housed Schmidt Engraving Co. for decades until the business closed in 2007.
An out-of-town firm called Franklin Waco Properties bought the complex this year and filed for a demolition permit. But city officials said the buildings, especially the middle one with Mediterranean-style architecture dating back to the Great Depression, deserved a second chance.
Don Davis, chairman of the preservation commission, said the commission ultimately can’t stop the demolition, but the delay gives some time to discuss alternatives.
“We felt like if there was any way possible, we’d like to at least see them incorporate this facade into whatever their plans are,” he said Monday afternoon, standing in the shadow of the buildings as traffic roared by. “We want to preserve some of the things in downtown we feel are of quality design and character. We don’t preserve just to be preserving.”
At the same time, city planners and downtown development officials were meeting with representatives of the property owners.
City planner Beatriz Wharton said the owners appear to be willing to consider ideas for saving the middle building. She said they haven’t revealed their exact plans for the property, but it appears the idea is to complement the Balcones Distilling Co. that is under construction next door.
The middle building at 1124 Franklin Ave. has small arched windows and the remnants of what was once a terra cotta tile roof. Wharton said that Spanish-inspired style is rare in downtown Waco.
That building and the stuccoed building to the left were thought to have been built in 1939, replacing the Rebecca Sparks Inn, an old house that had once served as a Methodist boarding house for young working women.
In recent decades, the buildings were covered in a green pebbled facade, which was removed around 2007. The building on the right at 1126 Franklin Ave. was built in the mid-1960s and served as the entrance to the engraving and stationery shop.
Davis is related to the Schmidt family that developed the business, which he said once had a statewide reputation as the last business capable of doing hand-engraving.
Schmidt family members told the Tribune-Herald in 2007 that the advent of email cut down on demand for the firm’s core business, invitations for weddings and other events.
The Franklin Waco Partnership also owns a two-story building at 1118 Franklin Ave., but the preservation commission decided not to seek a demolition delay because of its poor condition. Between that building and the others is a building that belongs to another owner and houses iPhone Doctor.
The commission also passed on the opportunity to put a demolition delay on an old garage at the former Bird-Kultgen Ford dealership at 1225 Franklin Avenue, saying it didn’t have significant historic value.
The main dealership building is now being renovated as a climate-controlled self-storage warehouse.
The council-appointed landmark commission has had the authority since the late 1990s to put demolition delays on historic properties, even ones that don’t have an official historic designation.
But the board has used it more often this year, placing holds on demolition for three residential houses in North Waco.
Wharton said the demolition last year of the Bagby house near Baylor — an 1870s homestead that had a state historic marker — caused city officials to take a closer look at demolitions.
Since then, the inspections department has asked city planners to review proposed demolitions to discern whether the structures have historic value.
“We started doing this more in response to what happened with the Bagby house,” Wharton said.