By Rory Dulock | Staff Writer
More commonly referred to as the ALICO building, the Amicable Life Insurance Company building is one of Waco’s most famous landmarks. While it is well-known for being the city’s only skyscraper, many are unaware of the historical significance it has had on the local community for over a century.
According to the Waco History website, construction on the ALICO building started in 1910 and finished by the end of the year in 1911. While its original purpose was to house the Amicable Life Insurance Company, in the past century, it has served as a crisis center and been home to many other businesses.
Dr. Stephen Sloan, professor of history at Baylor, said one interesting aspect of the history of the ALICO building is the competitive circumstances surrounding its construction.
“Interestingly, when it was planned, it was originally supposed to be an eight-storied building,” Sloan said. “At the same time, they were building a hotel, which is now a historic hotel in Dallas, and [the hotel] planned for a taller building. So, ALICO increased the size of it to 17 [stories], and the hotel increased the size it was going to build, and ultimately [ALICO] ended up with a 22-storied building.”
Sloan said ALICO also had a very modern approach to construction for the time period.
“It has a very heavy and very deeply rooted steel frame for the building — for when it was built, a very modern way to engineer a building,” Sloan said. “It also had an advanced elevator system installed in it when it opened. So, it was quite a structure when it was completed. Now it’s the oldest historic skyscraper in Texas, but at the time when it was finished, it was the tallest building west of the Mississippi and south of the Mason-Dixon Line.”
Sloan said the ALICO building had a big impact on the Waco community during the 1953 tornado.
“[The ALICO] was always office space, but it became the crisis center, the center of the response to the tornado,” Sloan said. “Most of the lives during the tornado are lost in [the R.T. Dennis building] that is actually directly across the street from the ALICO building. [The ALICO] is the largest building that survives the tornado. Not only does it become a center for the crisis recovery in the midst of trying to recover from the tornado, it’s really kind of a symbol, I think, in many ways of Waco’s resilience with the storm.”
Sloan said ALICO is significant to the Waco community and should be remembered and recognized for its distinctive history that continues today.
“As far as its history, I think in just the ways that everything else has changed around it, it still stands,” Sloan said. “The landscape, the makeup and the look of the city have kind of changed around it, and I can imagine flipping pictures through time and how everything has changed around it, but it has remained the same. Even the fact that the Amicable Company still has offices in the ALICO building is a little remarkable to me after 110 years now.”
Since its beginning, the ALICO building has been home to many businesses, and today, there are a variety of tenants who use it for just that.
“The ALICO building provides a place for this realty company, and business is going good,” Josh Collier, representative of JR Grace Realty, said. “I’ve actually been doing realty since college and been doing it for 10 years. I did it part-time in college and liked it.”
Collier said the business has been in the building for a little over a year, and ALICO provides not only a convenient location but also surprisingly cheap rent for downtown.
“[The ALICO was chosen] mainly because the rent is cheap for office space compared to other places in Waco,” Collier said. “It’s a good place for local, small businesses to go to. It’s a really good place to get an office.”
Sloan said the ALICO building is a landmark that ultimately represents Waco’s character.
“I think places like the ALICO building are what makes places distinctive and unique,” Sloan said. “It’s what gives character to our skyline and our city, so I think appreciating and embracing places like this are really important.”