By JP Graham | Reporter
The Waco Hippodrome is a landmark to the city of Waco, yet many of those unfamiliar with the area are unaware of the goings on inside. Driving down Austin Avenue, tourists might notice it because of the construction; However, if one expects to see ads on TV, or a billboard on Interstate 35 advertising this hidden treasure, they likely won’t.
The Hippodrome, a historic entertainment venue and dining destination, began a process of expansion this past fall. In order to increase capacity, The Hippodrome is adding three screens to their repertoire, totaling to five throughout the complex, and are expected to be completed by May of this year. In addition to adding theaters, they are also building a balcony patio and expanding event space, adding to the recent focus among other businesses on improving Waco’s nightlife experience.
Mark Gillham, the general manager of the Hippodrome, shared his appreciation for the versatility of the theater.
“The Hippodrome is 103 years old and was originally created for plays and acts in 1914, not digital or audio,” said Gillham. “It adapted in 2012 to show two movies at once, allowing for digital and live acts.”
The Hippodrome was limited in capacity due to their lack of screens, forcing employees to be selective about which films they decided to show. Movie contracts bind the Hippodrome to a schedule of showings, because films have to run for the duration of the agreement. This prevents other acts and movies from the main stage in the meantime.
Despite any restrictions, the Hippodrome diversifies their screenings by hosting themed movie nights. They have even teamed up with Student Activities at Baylor to host “Movie Monday’s,” in which an independent film is displayed and Baylor students receive free admission.
Gillham spoke on some of his most memorable experiences at the Hippodrome, none of which were movies themselves.
“I’m from Texas and love country music — Texas country, not the other stuff,” said Gillham. “We’ve had people like Kris Kristofferson. We had an Elvis impersonator this weekend. It’s fun to meet the people who perform here and hear them say they love the venue.”
The Hippodrome doesn’t limit itself to musical acts, concerts and movies. They also have a full-service restaurant that allows moviegoers to dine during showings. Hungry customers can also dine on the second floor overlooking Austin Avenue. The bar, currently located upstairs, will be moved downstairs following construction to make room for more dining space.
Dr. Randy Wood, professor for Baylor’s School of Education and 33-year Waco resident, shared his thoughts on dining at the Hippodrome.
“It is certainly one of the more positive places when thinking about old Waco,” Wood said. “It’s quaint yet makes you feel like you’re experiencing the history of Waco while dining.”
The Hippodrome has withstood the test of time and remained a prominent Waco icon. As the recent boom in tourism sparks a new era for Waco, the Hippodrome will grow alongside the city, all the while preserving its old traditions.