By Courtney Sosnowski | Reporter
Driving through East Waco today, one might not think that it has much to offer. Old brick buildings, beautiful but abandoned, line the streets with nearly empty streets. However, Nancy Grayson, owner of Lula Jane’s and East Waco resident of 39 years, sees the evolution of East Waco coming soon.
“What people don’t realize is that East Waco is very solid. It’s very tight,” Grayson said. “It’s hard to break in to the community if you’re not part of the community, because that’s decades and decades of families entrenched in a stable, intertwined community of their own. And it’s a wonderful community. I don’t know so much that it has changed as that it has continued to evolve.”
Originally from Georgia, Grayson’s first entrepreneurial step was founding Rapoport Academy. The school, which opened in 1998, was a result of Grayson’s conclusion that the East Waco students could get higher test scores if they had better resources.
“My energies for East Waco are always about the people,” Grayson said. “It’s not about how can we develop. It’s about what do the folks in this community need and want. So people say ‘Oh, you came in to develop.’ No I didn’t. I came in to the meet the needs, to help meet the needs. I’m not the one meeting the needs; I’m helping meet the needs.”
Her latest investment in the community has been building cottages. Last year, Grayson started building on infill lots. So far Grayson and her husband have built and sold three cottages. Each house is new, but built in the 1890s-1940s style fitting the East Waco charm. Each house comes with landscaping and curtains done by Grayson.
Elise King, the assistant professor of interior design and her husband recently bought property in East Waco. King said they were drawn to that area because of walkability, location and history. King, who specializes in architectural history, said she is drawn to the rich past of East Waco and thinks that it is important to preserve that character.
“The older buildings help create what we might call a specific sense of place and that’s what makes living in Waco different than living in Austin or Dallas or California,” King said. “We want to preserve those buildings so that it feels different; [so that] it has its own character of that area, even versus somewhere else in the city.”
Several years back, Elm Avenue was not the safest part of town. It used to have several bars and became a hubbub of illegal activities such as drugs and prostitution, Grayson said.
“On Friday and Saturday night when I first came over and started the school, you couldn’t drive Elm [Avenue] at all on Friday or Saturday afternoons and evenings because the cars were four deep across the street and nobody could move. But there were lots of activities.”
Grayson said that after she founded Rapoport, they worked hard to prevent activities that weren’t healthy for the community. Grayson said that when many of the bars closed, a lot of the crime declined.
As Waco continues to develop, East Waco will likely see more change.
“I think East Waco will be a slower pace,” King said. “But that’s not a bad thing. Hopefully people will individually continue to work on projects and to put a lot of care into them and that’s what’s been occurring so far. So I really hope that that continues on that side of the river.”