‘A tornado kill zone’: Alico Building left mostly unscathed while others destroyed in 1953 Waco tornado

Reports say the Alico Building swayed between several inches up to six feet when the 1953...
Reports say the Alico Building swayed between several inches up to six feet when the 1953 tornado struck.(Alex Fulton)
Published: May. 10, 2023 at 6:17 PM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - The Alico Building is an iconic Waco landmark, but it doesn’t just serve as a beautiful backdrop. It has withstood the test of time including one of the deadliest tornadoes in U.S. history that descended upon Waco on May 11 1953.

Seventy years later, along and around Austin Avenue now lies a growing food scene and new apartment buildings. It’s a far cry of what once stood in the months and years after the powerful EF-5 tornado.

”The area around it was almost like a tornado kill zone,” said Bradley T. Turner, an author who has written about the devastation. “Its worst areas were right there along 4th and 5th street, Franklin and Austin Avenue.”

In the heart of downtown Waco, while new buildings have since replaced the destroyed ones, the Alico Building still stands to tell the tale. Experts like Turner say the reason the Alico Building is still standing now is because of its construction.

”Think of it like if you are imagining the story of the three little pigs,” Turner said. “You have some that are built of sticks, straw, steel or brick in that case.”

Waco historian Eric Ames said crews started laying steel and brick when construction first began in 1911.

”They were able to build this 22-story skyscraper in 1 year that withstood an EF-5 tornado,” he said.

Then 42 years later when the tornado hit, some say the skyscraper swayed up to several inches while others say it swayed six feet.

”You can see why it survived,” Geoff Hunt with the Texas collection at Baylor University, said. “It swayed 10 inches or so, according to some accounts. Office furniture was even swaying back and forth.”

While the Alico swayed and stood, other buildings swayed and fell, never to be rebuilt again, even now 70 years later.

”There’s a reason why a lot downtown today remains parking lots,” Turner said.

What does stand in downtown Waco today is a historical marker remembering the 1953 tornado that forever changed the downtown area.

”You have to imagine this as a war zone at the time,” Turner said. “What was still standing there at the heart of downtown Waco is the Alico Building.”