I Was Waco, When Waco Wasn’t Cool


I Was Waco, When Waco Wasn’t Cool

I am a native Wacoan (yes, that’s a thing).  I was born here, raised here, live here, and will be buried here. This is my hometown, which I love. But it wasn’t always the exciting destination of silo pilgrimages it is today. 
Waco started small and emerged as a central city in the cotton trade in the 1800s. The Great Depression stunted industry growth, but Camp MacArthur in World War II introduced thousands of soldiers to Waco and many chose to put down roots following the war. Waco had the promise of becoming a big city in Texas. Then May 1953 happened. The tragic tornado tore through the center of the community shredding trees and dreams along its path. As rubble sat where buildings used to stand, the hope of a bustling city crumbled and Waco fell into decades of middle-sized city despair.  This is the Waco I grew up in.  As DFW and Austin grew, gained national industries, and became destinations, Waco sat as a quick stop between the “big cities” with mostly local industry and few visions of a brighter future. 
Waco wasn’t big, but it wasn’t small … I mean, we had a Piggly Wiggly and a Winn Dixie! We got our “nice clothes” at Cox’s or Goldstein-Miguel’s Department Stores, named for local families that founded them. We made the trek to the “Big D” Dallas once a year for back-to-school clothes because there weren’t many options in Wacotown. The opening of Richland Mall was quite the event as national stores made their way to this fabulous new location! The mall had everything you could want: clothes, shoes, arcade, ice cream, and movie theater all under one roof and on the edge of town! There was nothing between Hewitt/Estates and Richland Mall but fields and trees! And there was nothing between Hewitt/Estates and Midway High School (now Junior High).  We ate dinner on Friday nights at El Conquistador (still around and still amazing) entertained by the mariachi band or Miller’s Steakhouse with its log staircase and jukebox blaring Reba McEntire (until it burned down). We were amazed when chains, like Chili’s and Olive Garden, came to town, and thought we were big shots when Starbucks broke into the 254 (which used to be the 817). Lion’s Park was THE place for kids’ birthday parties; meaning, there wasn’t anywhere else to have them.  We were blessed to have an amusement park right in the middle of town complete with putt-putt golf, kid rides, and the Super Slide, which was a Friday night favorite for teenage groups. Over the years, the tennis courts turned into a go-kart track, and the swimming pool became an arena for bumper boats – proving that Waco could change with the times and have the same attractions as the big city. Downtown was filled with lawyers and banks and businesses supporting lawyers and banks; you simply didn’t go downtown unless you were taking your dad lunch.  
Then May 2013 happened. HGTV piloted a renovation show based in town and the Waco Revival began. Now we have 30,000 visitors a week to Magnolia, SpaceX in McGregor, and an In-and-Out Burger across the street! Waco now is a destination and home to many new residents from across the country who moved here in search of bigger yards, lower taxes, and a different way of life – the Waco Way. Welcome to those of you who are new to our hometown! We hope you learn to love this place as it is and as it will become, as much as we love it as it was. 

And to those of you who have been here from “back in the day,” hopefully we can learn to give directions using street names rather than bygone landmarks (aka. the old Winn Dixie, where TCBY used to be, etc.).  


So, below is an ode to the Waco of my youth, to be read to the tune of Barbara Mandrell’s “I was Country, when Country wasn’t Cool.”

I remember shoppin’ at Cox’s
Goldstein’s and Lewis Shoes
I remember singin’ with Pat Green
at the Coliseum and eating Chili’s back when it was new
My friends were cruisin’ the Valley
and swimmin’ at Spenco
And playing church league softball next to two old silos
I was Waco, when Waco wasn’t cool
I remember hangin’ at Mazzios 
with church friends on Sunday night
I remember Taco Rico
And Giovanni’s by the slice
We took a lot of kiddin’
‘Cause of the Branch Davidians
now look at everybody 
tryin’ to be what we were then
I was Waco, when Waco wasn’t cool
I was Waco, when Waco wasn’t cool
I was Waco, from Franklin to Lion’s Pool
I still eat at Cupp’s and drink DP
What you see ain’t nothin’ new
I was Waco, when Waco wasn’t cool
They called us crazy people
For slidin’ the Lion’s slide
I’m just glad we’re in a city
That Wacoans love with pride
I was Waco, when Waco wasn’t cool