Waco Hall: Celebrating 90 years of a campus landmark
Ninety years ago this week — May 27, 1930 — Waco Hall was officially dedicated during Spring Commencement activities. But you may be surprised to learn that the building, which has given so many Bears happy memories of Sing performances and Chapel performances, was a child of tragedy and struggle.
The tragedy? A fire that gutted Carroll Chapel and Library in 1922. When the facility was rebuilt, it was decided to move chapel to a “temporary” building which would be used for more than a decade, during which time it doubled as the university gymnasium. (After the opening of Rena Marrs McLean Gym opened in 1938, the chapel/gym was torn down to make way for what is now Pat Neff Hall.)
The struggle? In 1928, the Baptist General Convention of Texas voted 13-2 to recommend relocating Baylor to Dallas, thinking that Dallas boosters’ promises of land and financial support could shore up the university’s then-shaky finances.
Waco civic leaders quickly joined with university officials to convince Baptist leadership to leave Baylor in Waco. In just a few weeks, they were able to rally enough support to convince BGCT leadership to reverse their recommendation. Specifically, Waco citizens pledged to raise $1 million over the next seven years if Texas Baptists would match the gift. In just three weeks, $400,000 was collected; the first funds were marked to build a new auditorium — which was immediately named Waco Hall. (See photos of Waco Hall’s construction.)
Since then, the building has been the site of countless historic Baylor moments. President Samuel Palmer Brooks’ “Immortal Message” was delivered from the Waco Hall stage to the Class of 1931, and Enid Eastland Markham’s revised version of “That Good Old Baylor Line” debuted during a Chapel service two years later.
Concert lineups have included everyone from Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald to Doris Day and Henry Mancini, from John Denver and Tom Jones to Waylon Jennings and Amy Grant. Performers and speakers such as Bob Hope, Katherine Hepburn, Harry S Truman, Eleanor Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan and Condoleezza Rice have all graced the Waco Hall stage.
Sic ’em, Waco Hall!