The 1953 Waco Tornado, 70 Years Later

On May 11, 1953, the United States’ first recorded F5 tornado tore a path of destruction through downtown Waco. Wrapped in rain and debris, the tornado descended on shoppers and business people, schoolchildren and visitors alike: a “monster from the skies” that left 114 people dead and property damage totaling more than half a billion in 2023 dollars.

Rescuers carry an injured man on a stretcher down Franklin Ave.

In commemoration of the 70th anniversary of this major event in Texas history, we present this digital exhibit of photos related to the storm: images of the way things were before May 11, 1953, of the damage left behind, and the legacy of what is visible today. While some buildings weathered the storm, like the mighty ALICO at 4th and Austin, others were obliterated completely, like the R.T. Dennis Furniture Company right across the street.

Also included in this exhibit is an interactive Google Map plotting the locations of these featured sites on a current map of Waco. While it does not encapsulate the entirety of the damage created by the storm, it gives modern Wacoans a sense of just how widespread, random, and far-reaching its impact proved to be.

Waco Tornado Remembrance Walk

Click here to access photos related to the 20203 walk.

Google Map of Locations Featured in this Exhibit

Click on the image below to access an interactive map of locations featured in this exhibit.

Photos of Affected Locations

The photos below refer to locations on the map created for this exhibit. To expand them to a larger size, simply click each image; it will open in a new window.

The Square, circling City Hall between 2nd and 3rd Streets and Franklin and Washington Avenues.

Annotated view of Waco Square before the 1953 tornado

The Waco Square surrounded Waco’s City Hall in a configuration bounded by 2nd and 3rd Streets and Washington and Franklin Avenues. Points of entry included Bridge Street – which ran into the Square between the east side of the square and the Suspension Bridge – and Austin Avenue, which made its start at the Square and became a main thoroughfare through downtown Waco.

2023 aerial view of the former Waco Square. Of the buildings present in 1953, only Waco City Hall remains.

Note: For places in this exhibit that were located on the Square, there may not be a photo of the modern view included simply because it falls within an area that is a parking lot today. Others, which were located on the corner or near something more visually interesting, will include a modern day photo.

Featured Locations Around the Waco Square ca. 1953

  1. B&B Club (124 S. 3rd)
  2. Clifton-Simpson Hardware Co. (211 North Side Square)
  3. Will Copeland’s Food Market (127 S. 3rd)
  4. Cut Rate Drugs (113 S. 3rd)
  5. Harry Daum Dry Goods (115 S. 3rd)
  6. Dixie Appliance Co. (220 South Side Square)
  7. Fox Theater (105 S. 3rd)
  8. Goodway Tailors / Goodway Cleaners (111 Bridge St.)
  9. Iglehart’s Furniture & Appliances (100 S. 2nd)
  10. Lyon Bros. Grocery & Market (218 South Side Square)
  11. Oberlander’s (123 S. 3rd)
  12. Square Barber Shop (John Pinto) (121 S. 3rd)
  13. Universal Life Insurance Co. (120 1/2 Bridge St.)
  14. Waco Variety Store (224 South Side Square)
  15. Dave Wizig (210 South Side Square)
  16. Irving Wizig (214 South Side Square)

Ace Furniture Co., 207 N. 3rd Street

Ace Furniture (L) and Rubinsky’s Boston Store (R) in 1953
2022 Google Street View

Amicable Life Insurance Co. (ALICO) Building, 425 Austin Ave.

In the foreground of this image is the R.T. Dennis Furniture Co., located across Austin Ave. from the Amicable.
In this photo taken several days after the tornado, little remains of the Dennis building, but the ALICO stands largely undamaged thanks to its interior steel supports and high quality engineering.

Artesian Manufacturing and Bottling Co. (Dr Pepper Museum), 300 S. 5th Street

Automobile Repair Shop, 300 Elm Ave.

2022 Google Street View

B&B Club, 124 S. 3rd Street (South of the Square)

2022 Google Street View

Bell Tailors, 332 Austin Ave.

After the storm, Bell Tailors was remodeled into a single-story – and much less elaborate – version of its pre-1953 self, located at the same 3rd and Austin site.
2022 Google Street View

Brazos Valley Cotton Oil, 601 Webster (today’s Magnolia Silos)

2022 Google Street View

Bridge Street, south of Waco Suspension Bridge (today’s Waco Convention Center/Hilton)

Brown Manufacturing, 217 Jackson

2022 Google Street View

Central Supply Co., 218 S. 7th Street

2022 Google Street View

Central Texas Armature Works, 213 N. 3rd Street

2022 Google Street View

Chris’s Cafe, 420 Austin Ave.

2022 Google Street View

Clifton-Simpson Hardware, 211 North Side Square

Coffee Cup Sandwich Shop, 500 Austin

2022 Google Street View

Cooper Company, 300 block of 4th Street

2022 Google Street View

Will Copeland’s Food Market, 127 S. 3rd (South of the Square)

Cotton Belt Depot, 4th and Mary

2022 Google Street View

Cox’s Cafe, 413 Franklin

2022 Google Street View

Cut Rate Drugs, 113 S. 3rd (South Side of Square)

Cut Rate is at the far left of the block in this photo

Harry Daum Dry Goods, 115 S. 3rd (South Side of Square)

Dixie Appliance, 220 South Side Square

East Waco Elementary School, 409 Turner St.

2017 Google Street View
2022 Google Street View

First Methodist Church, 5th and Jackson

2022 Google Street View

Fox Theater, 105 S. 3rd (South Side of Square)

Franklin Ave., between 4th and 5th Streets

2022 Google Street View

Fred Lee’s Cafe, 316 Elm

Google Street View, 2007. Fred Lee’s Cafe was located at the far end of the block.
2022 Google Street View

Goodfriend Shop, 700 Austin Ave

2022 Google Street View

Goodway Cleaners, 111 Bridge Street (Just off the Square)

Health Camp Malt Bar, 107 S. 5th

2022 Google Street View

Higginbotham Hardware Co. / McLendon Hardware Company, 220 S. Third St.

2022 Google Street View

Hollis Smith’s Food Market, 112 S. 4th

2022 Google Street View

Iglehart’s Furniture & Appliances, 100 S. 2nd (Bridge Street at the Square)

Joy Theater, 422 Austin Ave.

2022 Google Street View

Katy Park, 600 Block of Jackson

2022 Google Street View

King & Genecov Wholesale Grocers, 300 S. 3rd St.

Lewis Shoe Store, Shannon Optical, Pioneer Savings and Loan, 700 block of Austin Ave.

2022 Google Street View

Lyon Brothers Grocery & Market, 218 South Side of Square)

Missouri, Kansas & Texas (Katy) passenger depot, view up 700 block of Jackson toward the Brazos Valley Cotton Oil facility

2022 Google Street View

McCrory’s 5-10-25 Store, 618 Austin

2022 Google Street View

Modern Loan Service, 508 Franklin Ave.

2022 Google Street View

Montgomery Ward’s Department Store, 3rd and Austin Ave.

The “Teardrop Memorial” dedicated to the victims of the 1953 Tornado is located at the site of the old Montgomery Ward’s Department Store. 2022 Google Street View

Neely Paint Co., 423 Franklin

2022 Google Street View

New Waverly Hotel, 217 S. 3rd

2022 Google Street View

Nortex Hides and Produce, 116 N. 1st

In this view from the Washington Ave. bridge, Nortex is visible across the lake in the middle left.
2022 Google Street View

Oberlander’s, 123 S. 3rd St. (South of the Square)

Padgitt Building, 423-427 Franklin Ave.

2022 Google Street View

Howell Radio Company & Praetorian Building, 600 block of Franklin

2022 Google Street View

Railway Express Agency, Hicks Rubber Co., Star Tire, 200-300 block of S. 4th Street

2022 Google Street View

Residential Neighborhood, near intersection of Faulkner Ln and Gholson Rd.

This residential neighborhood is located off of W. Waco Drive near Clifton St. Special thanks to Sam Wilson for geolocating the area that corresponds to this photo.

R.T. Dennis Furniture Company, 426-428 Austin Ave.

2022 Google Street View

Rubinsky’s Boston Store, 205 S. 3rd

2022 Google Street View

Sellers Tool Co., 304 S. 8th Street

2022 Google Street View

Sun Pool / Cotton Palace Pool, 601 S. 13th Street

In this photo, photographer Jimmie Willis refers to the pool as the “Cotton Palace Pool.” Evidence suggests it is the pool residents referred to as the Sun Pool, which was located in the same area as the grounds of the Cotton Palace Exposition, hence Willis’ use of the “Cotton Palace” name.
2022 Google Street View. The site of the Sun Pool is now part of the campus of Cesar Chavez Middle School.

W.A. “Rosie” Taylor – Distributor of Southern Select Beer, 314 S. 11th Street

2022 Google Street View

Texas Seed Co., 417 Franklin Ave.

Thomason Drug Store, 300 Block of S. 8th Street

2022 Google Street View

Veteran’s Cafe, 401 Elm Ave.

2021 Google Street View
March 2022 Google Street View

Waco Marble & Granite Works, 105 Elm Ave.

2007 Google Street View
2021 Google Street View

Washington Ave. Bridge, Washington Ave. at the Brazos River

2022 Google Street View

Unknown Residential Areas (likely East Waco)

This gallery shows a collection of images taken in residential areas following the storm. Though their actual location is unknown, evidence suggests these houses were located in East Waco based on the general track of the storm as it exited downtown.

Digitized 8mm Film of Rescue and Recovery, from the audiovisual archives at The Texas Collection

The footage in the video below was digitized from original 8mm film found in the archives of The Texas Collection. It was originally shot by William Louis Trice, Cecil Johnson and Whayne Farmer, Jr. and digitized by specialists in the Riley Digitization Center at the Baylor University Libraries.

2 Replies to “The 1953 Waco Tornado, 70 Years Later”

  1. This is a tragic, but informative part of Waco’s history. The “Tornado Walk” brought the reality of this tragedy closer to home. Thank you to everyone who spent so much time to put this together.

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