What started out as a change of life business venture has resulted in an renewed awareness of the uniqueness of my hometown. As a lifelong resident of Waco, Texas. I am just now discovering its rich heritage. Less than two years ago my sister and I were looking to buy a house close to the downtown area to use as a bed and breakfast in Central Texas. It was fate that took us on a drive down Austin Avenue. We had become discouraged because we couldn't find anything that we liked. We didn't know exactly know what we were looking for - we just knew we would know it when we saw it. And sure enough there it was at 1910 Austin Avenue. A house I had been in many times and had always loved had a For Sale sign in front of it. We realized immediately that this was what we had been looking for. What we had yet to discover was the historical significance of what had once been one of Waco's finest ; homes. While the renovation was in progress I began to research the history of the house.
The house at 1910 was designed by Roy Elspeth Lane for the W.H. Johnson family. Mr. Lane was the premiere Waco architect during the early 1900's. His best-known work was the Amicable Building which still dominates the Wacoskyline. He designed many of Waco's landmark downtown buildings. The Raleigh Hotel, the Hippodrome, Nash Robinson, First Baptist Church, and St. Francis on the Brazos are examples we can still see today. Unfortunately, many of Mr. Lane's designs have been destroyed. He designed the Huaco Clubhouse, the Waco Opera House, the State House Hotel, and the Archenhold Building. A few prominent Waco families were fortunate to have Mr. Lane design their homes. The Sanger brothers, S.P. McLendon and Wm. W. Cameron homes are gone but you can see his touch at 1910 and The Castle. He wasn't the original architect of The Castle. He was brought in after the original architect left.
At the height of cotton production in the South, all roads led to Waco. Farmers gathered here to have their cotton bales shipped to all corners of the world. To honor the "cash crop" of the area, Wacoans established the Texas Cotton Palace Exposition. It was a three week festival of exhibits, demonstrations, and social events. The name of our bed and breakfast - The Cotton Palace - comes from the fact that Roy E. Lane was the architect hired by prominent Waco businessmen in 1910 to rebuild The Cotton Palace. The original Cotton Palace at 13th and Clay opened in 1894 but was destroyed by fire six months after it opened. Mr. Lane was building the house at 1910 Austin Avenue the same year he was redesigning The Cotton Palace. The Texas Cotton Palace Exposition was held every year until the early 1930's but ended when cotton prices began to fall. The tradition was revived in recent years and includes the Cotton Palace Pageant and Brazos River Festival held the last weekend in April.
Dwayne Jones, assistant director of the Texas Historical Commission in Austin, included the house at 1910 in a lecture he gave on historic buildings in Waco. "People outside Waco dismiss Waco because they think a lot of it's gone," he said referring to the legendary May 1953 tornado that demolished several downtown buildings. "But a large number of historic buildings in Waco still remain." He cited the house at 1910 for its Arts and Crafts style. Our renovation has restored many of the distinct characteristics of that style. Most notably, the original green Rookwood tile fireplace that through the years been painted a variety of colors, the original light fixtures, the brass door knocker, the ceiling beams and woodwork.
Not only is the house at 1910 distinctive because of the architect and style but many prominent Waco families have lived in the house. It was built for William H. Johnson. He and his father, C.L. Johnson, owned a large lumber company at 8th and Clay. The younger Johnson moved to California in 1917 and sold the house to the Staton family. They lived there until 1946 hen J.D. Metz and his wife Margaret moved in with their family. G.A. Durham of Durham Business College moved in during 1962. During that time it was a private residence and then became a series of kindergartens. The Roane M. Lacy, Jr. family took possession of the house in 1973. It remained a private residence until a partnership opened a retail establishment called The Austin Arrangement in 1980. It operated for several years until a new owner opened Max's restaurant in the house. William and Doreen Ravenscroft opened a retail flower shop in the house in 1985. They sold the house to my sister and me in August of 1998.
In renovating this beautiful old home we originally thought of the opportunity we had to share that beauty with others, but our greatest joy now comes from sharing the rich history of Waco through the story of the house, the architect and its owners at 1910 Austin Avenue. We invite you to stop by and share the story with us.