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Waco Hippodrome theater celebrates 90th birthday

Jan. 22, 2004

By Aline Defreitas, reporter

The Waco Hippodrome theater will celebrate its 90th anniversary in the midst of a week-long musical series.

The series will run from Jan. 31 to Feb. 5, and will feature nationally touring musicals Titanic, The Unsinkable Molly Brown and Kiss Me Kate.

Party favors and gifts will be handed out at each of the special performances.

Tracy Baker, a box office assistant, said this was done to allow most citizens in the Waco community to take advantage of this momentous occasion.

A special birthday ticket package is being offered for the musicals, and single tickets for The Unsinkable Molly Brown are being sold at significantly lower prices.

'We're glad that we can still have an opportunity to provide Broadway shows at family rates,' Baker said.

The Hippodrome opened on Feb. 7, 1914, as a motion picture playhouse.

It was considered by many as the most modern building on Austin Avenue, and it focused on the elegance and sophistication of motion pictures.

The theater used a pipe organ for music when it played silent films. It also served as a place to hold local talent fairs and events.

It wasn't until 1979 that it became the Waco Hippodrome theater.

The theater has faced many challenges since it opened.

The tornado that devastated Waco in 1953 left most of the downtown area destroyed, but miraculously the Hippodrome remained.

Baker said the Hippodrome's history and legacy are significant because it 'is one of the main buildings that survived and came out of [the tornado].'

New movie theaters opened in the late '70s, and the focus moved from downtown Waco to other parts of the city.

Peggy Fortune, box office manager for the Hippodrome, said downtown was no longer a predominant area for many people who lived in Waco. She said the Hippodrome theater was no longer perceived as a focal point of the city, and it has continued to be overlooked by some residents.

'There are a lot of people in this town that don't realize the Hippodrome is open for business,' Lois Canada, volunteer coordinator for the Hippodrome, said.

Canada, who started as a volunteer at the theater, said it's important for the community to realize this historical resource is available to them, and they need to take advantage of it.

In some respects, the Hippodrome has changed with the times.

Today, the Hippodrome has expanded past its original role as a playhouse. The theater also provides a building for neighborhood schools to present their programs, recitals, graduations, conventions and much more.

'It offers the community the opportunity to watch more programs that would usually skip Waco,' Fortune said. 'Waco is lucky to have somewhere to put on these performances.'

The Hippodrome has come a long way from its sophisticated goals, and it has become more family-friendly since its opening, according to Fortune.

A documentary on the history of the Waco Hippodrome theater is airing on the city of Waco public television station.

A special anniversary party with a birthday cake and a showing of the documentary will be held at the theater after the last performance of Kiss Me Kate on Feb. 5.