Places in Time
of Friendship | Dr. Pepper Museum
Shrine for Dr Pepper on day time stood still
By John Young, Waco Tribune-Herald
March 17, 1991
Like many Waco residents, Wilton Lanning remembers exactly where he was on May 11, 1953. He also knows exactly where he'll be May 11, 1991.
He'll be where the face and fortunes of this town were changed in the blink of an eye 38 years ago. He'll be at a point where Waco's face now takes a change for the better — at the door of the Dr Pepper Museum, Fifth and Mary Avenue.
May 11 has great symbolism. On that day the roof of the old Dr Pepper plant on Mary was torn off by a tornado that killed 114 people.
That afternoon Lanning was a student at Waco High and was driving on Austin Avenue doing chores for his father's business — Tom Padgitt, Inc. — which would become his. It was a black day, literally, "so black you couldn't see the street."
At about half-past Dr Pepper time, 4:36 p.m., Waco 's clocks stopped. Some said it was the day downtown died.
Now, with many improvements, downtown has been resuscitated. So, too, the Dr Pepper plant.
"On the day that took that side out of the building, we're going to dedicate it, because we've put that thing back," said Joe Cross, president of the museum project.
It's not that the plant hasn't been standing. It's just been standing vacant. Now the original bottling plant built in 1906 will become a shrine to the nation's oldest soft drink and to the beverage industry.
Dr Pepper was invented in 1885 by Waco pharmacist Charles Alderton, who tinkered with flavor combinations behind the soda fountain of the old Corner Drug Store, which was then on Austin Avenue .
Dr Pepper went from a fountain treat to a national commodity when the formula was obtained by R.S. Lazenby's Artesian Manufacturing and Bottling Co. The company also produced Lazenby's Liquid Sunshine, ZU ZU Ginger Ale, and Celery Champagne .
Dr Pepper, of course, endured. The Fifth and Mary plant-turne-museum is a testament to endurance.
Despite the 1953 tornado, production continued at the plant 10 more years. The scar from where the tornado ravaged the building is plainly evident on its west side.
It had long been the hope of many Waco residents that the Dr Pepper Co. would build the museum all by itself. In the early 1980s, in corporate transition, it dropped any plans.
Lanning and Calvin Smith, then director of Baylor's Strecker Museum , formed a corporation to keep the museum idea alive, and they did so on only a wisp of hope. The corporation's' franchise fees came out of their pockets.
In 1985, Lanning summoned community leaders to pitch in. The Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce threw its support behind the idea. It appointed a task force to pursue private means of bringing the idea to fruition.
The Dr Pepper Co., which had merged with 7-Up, responded by donating the old bottling plant, plus seed money, artifacts and a replica of the Old Corner Drug soda fountain.
Meanwhile the task force set out to raise some $4 million.
The artifacts on hand represent a mother lode of images certain to send visitors bak in time. Audio-visual presentations help tell the story.
Most enticing for the Dr Pepper lover is to sample the drink as it was when prepared by Dr. Alderton — a dollop of syrup wed with a shot of carbonated water, stirred in your glass for you. It makes the mouth — and eyes — water.
The plant is sparking much as it did in 1906, with a rooftop cupola restored, just like the one that vanished in the winds of 1953.
Dr Pepper is back in downtown. The storm is history. Dr Pepper and Waco survive.
For more information, contact: John Young • Waco Tribune-Herald •