After a drawn-out ownership dispute, Waco’s 25th Street Theatre is one step closer to reopening. The historic theater has been abandoned since 1992 but its tall, iconic sign has remained a landmark fixture in North Waco’s Sanger Heights neighborhood. The theater was once the center of what Wacoans used to call the “Silk Stocking District.”
25th Street used to be a thriving business district with a mix of storefronts serving the surrounding Sanger Heights neighborhood. They called it the “Silk Stocking” district; it was well known for its mansions, shopping and entertainment, dominated by the 25th Street Theatre and its towering neon marquee.
Trey Concilio works with the Texas Museum of Theater and Broadcast, which recently got partial ownership of the building. He says there are a lot of Wacoans with good memories of the 25th Street Theatre.
"It’s when anybody that’s old school Waco, as soon as you mention that, they instantly light up," Concilio said. "Anybody that’s from out of town doesn’t really get it, especially because it’s been closed. There is a certain connection to that theater that is a kind of trance…its’ kinda got a hold on you if you’ve ever been to that theater."
The theater opened in the late 1940's. It was the only theater in Waco to project 70 millimeter film. But it’s fallen on hard times. It closed its doors in 1992 after becoming a dance club for almost a decade. And it’s been abandoned since then. Concilio says the building is still structurally sound, but the inside will have to be completely gutted.
"It’s going to have to be stripped down to structural and all the cosmetic stuff stripped down to structural then put back because just the slow water leaks from the roof at different points now," Concilio said.
Concilio says the group has already purchased another 70 millimeter projector and is refurbishing classic theater seating. The space won’t show movies full-time, but the space will be used as a mixed-use events center.
Sanger Heights has changed quite a bit since its 'Silk Stocking' days. The neighborhood’s storefronts are still there, but the mix of businesses has been replaced by a variety of car repair shops. The nice houses remain, too, but many are in disrepair—some fell victim to the last year’s string of arsons in North Waco.
Fernando Arroyo is the president of the Sanger Heights Neighborhood Association. He says the theater will help draw attention to the neighborhood’s better qualities.
"To me it tells me that it is a cultural and historical icon that represents n aspect of Waco," Arroyo said. "What it means to me is to be able to preserve something that to take interest and care for take care of of rich memories, take care of sharing the stories that our neighborhood has developed over time.
As far as an opening date? Concilio says that depends on fundraising. More detailed plans for the theater will come later this summer.