ALICO's century-old windows receive facelift

Waco Tribune-Herald

Kourtney David

The ALICO Building is receiving a routine facelift this week, as workers can be spotted cleaning up some of its more than 100-year-old window panes.

Building manager Joe Webb said he tries to have all of the building’s 733 windows washed at least once every five years. The process generally reveals cracked windows and other structural woes, which will be repaired over the next week as workers replace some of the quarter-inch panes, clean the others and add caulking around the windows that leak the most, Webb said.

The ALICO was constructed with steel beams, an impressive feat at the time of its construction. However, as the brick and terra cotta at the top of the building’s facade weather, cracks in the outer structure could allow for water damage and pose a threat to the building’s integrity without routine preventive maintenance, Webb said.

The 22-story building has 16 windows per floor on the side facing Fifth Street, Webb said. Many of the windows are the originals from when the building was built in 1910. It opened the next year.

“They’re originally made of cypress wood, which is why they’ve lasted so long,” Webb said. “These are original windows, but you still have to maintain them. … We hope to keep them. We’ve replaced windows in the past, but it’s a major undertaking.”

Since the ALICO is on a corner, only the window frames that face the public on Fifth Street and Austin Avenue are made of cypress wood, Webb said. The windows that face away from the streets are cased with metal frames, which was done for protection in case a neighboring building caught fire, Webb said.

“Originally they thought there would be other tall buildings behind us and beside us,” he said.

Building fires were a bigger problem in 1910, Webb said. The metal windows are encased in chicken wire as another protective measure, preventing shards of glass from falling out of a busted window onto someone below if the building did catch fire, he said.

Webb said the seven-story Praetorian building at the corner of Sixth Street and Franklin Avenue, which also used to house an insurance company, has the same kind of window design as the ALICO. Waco’s Praetorian building was finished in 1915.

Workers at the ALICO this week are using a window-washing stage about 25-feet wide, making three drops along the widest sides of the building to cover each window, Webb said. In the years before the special equipment that attaches the stage to the top of the building was available, workers would actually stand out on the window ledge and clean while hooked on by their waists.

“The way they used to clean the windows is they would open the window and the individual would climb out there with a safety belt and they would hook on with these hooks,” Webb said.

The company performing maintenance, Waco-based Pyramid Restoration, has worked on the building before, Webb said. He said one year he used a company out of Dallas, which is normally where someone would have to go to find the kind of labor that is suitable for tall buildings.

Webb said since Waco does not have many tall buildings like the ALICO, there is not a huge market for the skilled workers, risky jobs and special insurance required for this specific type of building maintenance.

Besides preserving the building’s historical aesthetic, keeping some of the original elements in use with preventive maintenance also provides major economic and time-use benefits.

“To do a total restoration, to do all the windows the proper way, it would take much longer,” Webb said. “It would take six months and cost several, several thousand dollars, conceivably in the millions.”

While window repairs are set to finish up within the next week, Webb said the $1 million project to overhaul the ALICO’s elevators is still about three months out from completion.

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