Bridge Street: 1950-1968

In 1953, before May 11, Bridge Street was kept lively by Waco's black citizens and visitors coming and going from the following businesses (1):

 

107 1/2: Skylight Tavern
108: Waco Barber College
109: Smith Printing Company, publishers of the Waco Messenger
109A: Excelsior Life Insurance Company
110: Simmons Barber Shop
112: Mayfair Beauty Shop
113: Henry's Beer Tavern
114: Squeeze In Cafe
115: Ralph's Paradise
116 1/2: Victory Hotel
117 1/2: Gayety Hotel and Picture Show
119A: Hawkins Cafe
120: Universal Life Insurance Company
121: Bridge Street Taxi Company
124: Rube Livingston Barber Shop
125: Torres Inn Beer
125 1/2: Sally Hughes
126: Samuel's Barber Shop
126A: Gene's Shoe Shop
127: Fridia Building: first floor, Mecca Drug Store; second floor, Dr. L. R. Adams, M.D.; Dr. W. G. Sorrelle, D.D.S.; and the Continental Casualty Insurance Company; third floor, fraternal hall

Also in 1953, before May 11, around the corner from Bridge Street on South Second Street, black patrons did business with Iglehart's Appliance and Furniture Company, Ladies and Gents Beauty Bar, Watchtower Life Insurance Company, Atlanta Life Insurance Company, K & K Tailors New & Used Clothing, Sam Horne Dominoes, Preston Murphy Barber Shop, and Flapper Inn.

 

At 131 South Second Street was the three-story Conner & Willis Building, housing on its ground floor the Jockey Club Barber Shop. On the second floor were the offices of Pizarro R. Malone Real Estate, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Extension Service county agent, the McLennan County School District supervisor, American Woodman Lodge, and dentist Garry H. Radford. On the third floor, the Knights of Pythias lodge held its meetings. Dr. George S. Conner had offices in this building until his death in 1939. His wife, Jeffie Obrea Allen Conner, held the positions of district cooperative extension agent for the rural black population from 1923 to 1948 and supervisor of McLennan County schools from 1948 to 1957.

 

And then everything changed forever . . .

On the afternoon of May 11, 1953, a vicious tornado struck Waco. On Bridge Street, some buildings collapsed, killing or injuring the occupants. The Waco Barber College building fell and the school never reopened.(2) People lost their lives in the fall of the Gayety Theater and Mayfair Beauty Shop.

In the aftermath of the tornado, some lots were left vacant. The newspaper office and the physicians relocated their offices elsewhere in town, many on or near Clifton Street. Some businesses, however, rose from the rubble and dust and kept going. The Mecca Drug Store survived to anchor the corner of Bridge and Second, and the Jockey Club Barber Shop reopened on Second and Franklin after an extensive remodeling of the Conner Building, which suffered damage in the storm.

 

PERSONAL GLIMPSES

"It leveled everything, nearly everything on Bridge Street and all around the square." -- Lonnie Belle Hodges
Read more.

 

What the tornado left of Bridge Street, extensive urban renewal demolished in the 1960s. The Waco Convention Center stands today over the former location of historic Bridge Street on the downtown side of the Brazos River.

 

(1) This list comes from a combination of two sources: Garry H. Radford, African American Heritage in Waco, Texas (Austin: Eakin Press, 2000), 117; and Morrison & Fourmy's Waco City Directory 1953 (Dallas: Morrison & Fourmy, 1953).
(2) The brief but significant history of the Waco Barber College is available in Radford, African American Heritage in Waco, 97.