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’s opening night was February 7, 1914 and featured a live seal act, a five-piece orchestra and a magic act on the bill. The theatre was operated by Mr. H.P. Hulsey and was known as “Hulsey’s Hipp” by locals. The Hippodrome was a 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, an affiliate of Paramount Pictures. The theatre served as a picture house until a projection booth fire 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 the management changed the name from the Hippodrome to the Waco Theatre.
The facility remained in use as a movie house and performance venue while undergoing additional renovations in 1936, 1961, and 1971. During this time, a number of celebrities performed and visited the Hippodrome. Elvis Presley took in a movie here while stationed at 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 theatre remained open until the late 1970s, 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 and the Junior League of Waco began the process of renovation. At the time, Waco was in need for a performing arts venue, and the empty Hippodrome fit 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 reopened on February 28, 1987 and became listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. The facility was operated by the Waco Performing Arts Company and offered a variety of live theatre performances in the building until 2009-2010 when the Hippodrome once again closed its doors.