Waco Hippodrome Theatre
724 Austin Avenue,
13 people favorited this theater
Waco Hippodrome Theatre (Official)
Previously operated by: ABC Interstate Theatres, Interstate Theatres Inc. & Texas Consolidated Theaters Inc., Paramount-Publix
Architects: Roy E. Lane
Firms: Lang & Witchell
Functions: Concerts, Dance, Live Performances, Movies (Classic), Movies (First Run), Performing Arts
Styles: Spanish Colonial
Previous Names: Hippodrome Theatre, Waco Theatre
News About This Theater
- Oct 25, 2006 — Mary Holliday event in Waco
- Oct 12, 2006 — An Evening with Mary Holliday - sponsored by the Waco History Project
Construction began on the Hippodrome Theatre in 1913 after a group of Waco businessmen organized by Thomas P. Finnegan and Mayor J.P. Harrison garnered support for a downtown vaudeville theatre.
The Hippodrome Theatre’s opening night, February 7, 1914, featured a live seal act, a five-piece orchestra and a magic act on the bill. Tickets were ten cents for adults, five cents for children, and box seats were a quarter. The theatre was operated by Mr. H.P. Hulsey & known affectionately known by Wacoans as “Hulsey’s Hipp”. The Hippodrome Theatre was the place for road shows, vaudeville tours, movies and local talent shows and events.
As the vaudeville era came to an end, the Hippodrome Theatre became a Paramount-Publix silent movie theatre. As an affiliate of Paramount Pictures, the theatre served as a movie theatre until a fire in the projection booth in 1928 destroyed much of the front of the building, forcing a renovation of the facility.
The consequent renovation resulted in the Spanish Colonial Revival style that is still present in the building today. In 1929, Southern Enterprises leased the theatre to Louis Dent’s Waco Theatre, and management changed the name of the Hippodrome Theatre to Waco Theatre.
The facility remained in use as a movie theatre and performance venue while undergoing renovations in 1936, 1961 and 1971. During this time, a number of celebrities performed and visited the Waco Theatre. Elvis Presley performed on stage, as well as taking in a movie while stationed in Fort Hood. The largest crowd ever gathered at the Waco Theatre was over 10,000 people to see John Wayne in town to promote one of his pictures.
The Waco Theatre remained open until the late-1970’s, but an increasing number of customers turned to newer movie theatres in suburban areas, ultimately causing the theatre to shut its doors on December 15, 1974. The Waco Theatre remained unused until 1980, when the Junior League of Waco began the process of restoring the Waco Theatre. At the time, Waco was in need for a performing arts venue, and the empty Hippodrome Theatre fitted the bill.
Between 1981 and 1986, community volunteers, the Junior League of Waco, and the Cooper Foundation contributed $2.4 million dollars and countless hours of dedication to undertake the restoration. The Waco Hippodrome Theatre was reopened on February 28, 1987 and became listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. The facility was operated by the Waco Performing Arts Alliance and offered a variety of live theatre performances in the building until 2009-2010 when the Hippodrome Theatre once again closed its doors.
In December 2012, local developers Shane Turner and Cody Turner purchased the Hippodrome Theatre and began its current renovation. The theatre retained its classic look, but took on a few new changes. Inside the theatre, a retractable wall and movie screen was added to the balcony giving the building the capability to show two films simultaneously. The seating was refigured to be more stadium-like, as well as to give means for flexible seating with or without tables for dining. The second floor lobby has been renovated into a bar. An addition was constructed facing S. 8th Street that features two kitchens, a concession stand, a full-service restaurant and handicapped accessibility with restrooms on each level and an elevator to connect the floors.
While native Wacoans remember the Waco Theatre as a movie theatre, the Hippodrome Theatre has always been a performing arts center in one form or another. The new Hippodrome Theatre opening in 2014 will offer first-release films, along with classic films, live theatre, concerts, stand-up comedy, dance and much more. The Hippodrome Theatre is set to entertain Waco for another century. By 2018 it had 4-screens.
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Recent comments (view all 15 comments)
My close up of the WACO / HIPPODROME sign.
The following statement is from a dear friend and very knowlegable Theatre organist and longtime Waco resident, Mr Jim Pitts.
Pilsher built the organ but it was NOT a theatre organ in the strict sense. The organ was not installed in chambers but sat divided on both sides of the proscenium, perched atop access foyers to the stage and dressing room area. It was later sold to First Methodist Church of Waco and was removed before a fire in the theatre destroyed much of the stage and screen. The organ survived the 1953 tornado which unroofed the church and sent the steeple crashing down on the console. Actually, poor installation saved the organ from water and storm damage as the shutters were installed horizontally and fell closed when the wind supply ceased. This fault sealed the organ from outside influence during the massive storm. It was resurrected in the new First Methodist Church and two additional ranks and a new console were added by Robert Markham. With the building of a much larger sanctuary later, the organ fell into disrepair and was replaced with a 33-rank Shantz ~ but it still lives and plays today. A small protestant church in south Texas bought it about three years ago and it has been rebuilt and enlarged. The old gal is still going, and on its original blower, too. Efforts to reclaim the organ for the Hippodrome were not successful as there was no possible means to install it in the theatre’s current configuration.
This theater has, at least for now, suspended operations due to financial problems: http://www.kxxv.com/Global/story.asp?S=12044261
Nice looking theatre.
According to the local news, the Waco Hippodrome WILL remain open for the moment.
Architected by Lang & Witchell
May 1920 photo added of the original Hippodrome exterior, photo credit Fred Gildersleeve & courtesy of the Texas Scotish Rite History Collection. Via the Lee Lockwood Library and Museum in Waco. This would be before the 1928 fire mentioned in the Overview.
This link has two 1920 interior photos as well.
The exterior of this theatre showed up on a TV crime documentary on the Investigation Discovery cable channel.
The Waco Theatre became part of the Interstate Theatres chain of Dallas when it started its Interstate expansion to Waco in 1933. Many other theaters in Waco would later take over the business. Along with the Waco, the Rivoli, Strand, Texas, and Orpheum Theatres were also operated by Interstate during World War II. The 25th Street Theatre and the Lake Air Drive-In were soon to be operated by Interstate later on.
The Waco Theatre’s relationship with Interstate Theatres lasted until New Year’s Day 1972 when ABC Mid-South Theatres (later ABC Interstate Theatres) took over operations. The Group Vice President of the non-broadcasting operations of the American Broadcasting Company, Samuel H. Clark, said that the merger would transfer the properties of the name “ABC Mid-South Theatres” to “ABC Interstate Theatres” in connection of the ongoing boost of the Interstate chain.
Its relationship didn’t last long. The Waco Theatre ran its last film on December 15, 1974 in connection of the Christmas Day 1974 opening of the 800-seat capacity ABC Interstate operated Cinema I & II and the Waco Theatre became the Waco Hippodrome Theatre.
In the other hand also in connection of the I & II, the Lake Air Drive-In closed its gates for the final time on December 8, 1974, a week prior to the movie-ending relationship to the Waco Theatre.