Waco Hippodrome Theatre

724 Austin Avenue,
Waco, TX 76701

Unfavorite 10 people favorited this theater

Waco Hippodrome Theatre

Viewing: Photo | Street View

Construction began on the Hippodrome Theatre in 1913 after a group of Waco businessmen organized by Thomas P. Finnegan and Mayor J.P. Harrison garnered support for a downtown vaudeville theatre.

The Hippodrome Theatre’s opening night, February 7, 1914, featured a live seal act, a five-piece orchestra and a magic act on the bill. Tickets were ten cents for adults, five cents for children, and box seats were a quarter. The theatre was operated by Mr. H.P. Hulsey & known affectionately known by Wacoans as “Hulsey’s Hipp”. The Hippodrome Theatre was the place for road shows, vaudeville tours, movies and local talent shows and events.

As the vaudeville era came to an end, the Hippodrome Theatre became a Paramount-Publix silent movie theatre. As an affiliate of Paramount Pictures, the theatre served as a movie theatre until a fire in the projection booth in 1928 destroyed much of the front of the building, forcing a renovation of the facility.

The consequent renovation resulted in the Spanish Colonial Revival style that is still present in the building today. In 1929, Southern Enterprises leased the theatre to Louis Dent’s Waco Theatre, and management changed the name of the Hippodrome Theatre to Waco Theatre.

The facility remained in use as a movie theatre and performance venue while undergoing renovations in 1936, 1961 and 1971. During this time, a number of celebrities performed and visited the Waco Theatre. Elvis Presley performed on stage, as well as taking in a movie while stationed in Fort Hood. The largest crowd ever gathered at the Waco Theatre was over 10,000 people to see John Wayne in town to promote one of his pictures.

The Waco Theatre remained open until the late-1970’s, but an increasing number of customers turned to newer movie theatres in suburban areas, ultimately causing the theatre to shut its doors. The Waco Theatre remained unused until 1980, when the Junior League of Waco began the process of restoring the Waco Theatre. At the time, Waco was in need for a performing arts venue, and the empty Hippodrome Theatre fitted the bill.

Between 1981 and 1986, community volunteers, the Junior League of Waco, and the Cooper Foundation contributed $2.4 million dollars and countless hours of dedication to undertake the restoration. The Waco Hippodrome Theatre was reopened on February 28, 1987 and became listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. The facility was operated by the Waco Performing Arts Alliance and offered a variety of live theatre performances in the building until 2009-2010 when the Hippodrome Theatre once again closed its doors.

In December 2012, local developers Shane Turner and Cody Turner purchased the Hippodrome Theatre and began its current renovation. The theatre retained its classic look, but took on a few new changes. Inside the theatre, a retractable wall and movie screen was added to the balcony giving the building the capability to show two films simultaneously. The seating was refigured to be more stadium-like, as well as to give means for flexible seating with or without tables for dining. The second floor lobby has been renovated into a bar. An addition was constructed facing S. 8th Street that features two kitchens, a concession stand, a full-service restaurant and handicapped accessibility with restrooms on each level and an elevator to connect the floors.

While native Wacoans remember the Waco Theatre as a movie theatre, the Hippodrome Theatre has always been a performing arts center in one form or another. The new Hippodrome Theatre opening in 2014 will offer first-release films, along with classic films, live theatre, concerts, stand-up comedy, dance and much more. The Hippodrome Theatre is set to entertain Waco for another century.

Contributed by Jennifer Warren

Recent comments (view all 10 comments)

John P Keating Jr
John P Keating Jr on December 1, 2003 at 6:50 pm

I was in the army in nearby Fort Hood, Texas in 1955 to 1957. I saw “Giant” with Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean at the Waco Theater.

JV2k4
JV2k4 on March 27, 2004 at 9:12 pm

can the people who restored the Hippodrome restore the 25th Street Theatre?

jennidew
jennidew on August 31, 2004 at 10:17 pm

1) I would love to know where you found the postcard of the theater. It’s beautiful and I’ve never seen a copy of it.

2) Jake, the board hasn’t got the money it will take to renovate the 25th Street. Unfortunately, this theater is probably going to see the wrecking ball. I work for the City of Waco and the things I’ve heard is for awhile it was repairable, but really would take several millions to now restore.

3) I am now working on a project concerning the life of Mary Holliday, host of the Kiddie’s matinee that was performed at the Waco Theater in the 30’s and 40’s. If you know anyone who performed, sang, worked or went to the matinees, please have them contact me at

annabelltoo
annabelltoo on September 30, 2006 at 10:51 pm

At this time, I am working on the life and memories of Mary Holliday. Ms. Holliday was the first female radio announcer in the State of Texas and she hosted the Jones Fine Bread Kiddie Matinee at the Waco from 1932 to approximately 1956.

I am hosting a re-enactment of the show as a part of the Waco History Project at the theater on Friday, November 10th at 7 p.m.

texas25th
texas25th on October 31, 2007 at 11:19 pm

The following statement is from a dear friend and very knowlegable Theatre organist and longtime Waco resident, Mr Jim Pitts.

Pilsher built the organ but it was NOT a theatre organ in the strict sense. The organ was not installed in chambers but sat divided on both sides of the proscenium, perched atop access foyers to the stage and dressing room area. It was later sold to First Methodist Church of Waco and was removed before a fire in the theatre destroyed much of the stage and screen. The organ survived the 1953 tornado which unroofed the church and sent the steeple crashing down on the console. Actually, poor installation saved the organ from water and storm damage as the shutters were installed horizontally and fell closed when the wind supply ceased. This fault sealed the organ from outside influence during the massive storm. It was resurrected in the new First Methodist Church and two additional ranks and a new console were added by Robert Markham. With the building of a much larger sanctuary later, the organ fell into disrepair and was replaced with a 33-rank Shantz ~ but it still lives and plays today. A small protestant church in south Texas bought it about three years ago and it has been rebuilt and enlarged. The old gal is still going, and on its original blower, too. Efforts to reclaim the organ for the Hippodrome were not successful as there was no possible means to install it in the theatre’s current configuration.

CSWalczak
CSWalczak on February 26, 2010 at 3:07 am

This theater has, at least for now, suspended operations due to financial problems: http://www.kxxv.com/Global/story.asp?S=12044261

TLSLOEWS
TLSLOEWS on February 26, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Nice looking theatre.

hopewell
hopewell on March 6, 2010 at 1:02 pm

According to the local news, the Waco Hippodrome WILL remain open for the moment.

You must login before making a comment.

New Comment

Subscribe Want to be emailed when a new comment is posted about this theater?
Just login to your account and subscribe to this theater