Monday, June 10, 2013

A walk along Elm Avenue

The East Branch Library where we're working is located at 901 Elm Avenue. The building has been a library since the 1970's when it took over the space from the original tenant, an H.E.B. grocery store. Nowadays it's one of the few active spots in what was once a thriving retail district.

   This is the first H.E.B. built in Waco, a nearly identical design to the building we are working on.
In our research for the mural, we took a couple hours to walk along Elm and see what evidence there still is of its bustling past and to get acquainted with what was happening today. At first glance it doesn't appear that much is happening at all. There are countless abandoned buildings and just as many forlorn staircases leading up to empty lots. But look a little closer and you'll see signs not only of a more active past but also of new life just beginning to emerge on this storied avenue.

Old maps show that more than one hundred years ago Elm Ave. had a good cluster of retail buildings a twelve square block residential neighborhood and a train station.

East Waco in 1892
    Floods were an annual problem until a dam was built downstream on the Brazos in the late 1960's.

Here's a glimpse of Elm in 1946 and the same view from just the other day.

Elm feels a little lonely and abandoned today - not many people on the streets and lots of hand painted signs fading into obscurity. But on our walk we encountered remarkable echos from the past like these names from the senior class of 1925 embossed in the sidewalk in front of the Paul Quinn Campus,

and current efforts to cultivate a healthy future through community gardens.

We missed it this spring but there's also a new arts festival here called Art on Elm that brings artists and musicians from around Waco to celebrate the culture of the East side.

Our most welcome discovery was the growing family of murals that have begun to sprout along Elm. Supported by NeighborWorks, these murals by local artists like Ira Watkins, Chesley Smith and Sam Torres reflect a range of themes and styles. Their work beautifully enhances the neighborhood and points the way toward a creative renaissance on the horizon. We are grateful to be able to add one more to this growing outdoor gallery.

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