Welcome To Historic Downtown Wichita Falls

Downtowns across the nation went through a period of abandonment in the 1980s and 1990s, for the most part, as businesses and people fled to other areas. A movement has been ongoing for more than a decade now as community leaders work to revive what some call their heartbeat.

  • Words by John Ingle, Photos by Torin Halsey

Downtown Wichita Falls was once the heartbeat of the city. But that changed Feb. 25, 1984, when Zales, which opened its doors at Eighth & Ohio streets in 1924, closed to move business to Sikes Senter Mall.

Cynthia Laney, executive director of Downtown Wichita Falls Development, said when she arrived in the city in 2006, she heard people say they hadn't been downtown in 15-20 years because there wasn't anything to do.

"I had so many people say, 'Gosh, I haven't been downtown in 15, 20 years,' and that really struck a chord with me. I thought, 'OK, why?'" - Cynthia Laney

Now, through concentrated efforts from Downtown Wichita Falls Development, the Wichita Falls Chamber of Commerce and Industry and local business owners and entrepreneurs, people can't use that excuse, as there are restaurants, antique shops, food trucks and other events to draw suburban dwellers and out-of-towners.

The corner of Eighth and Ohio streets has become a center of activity for several events in the downtown area, including the Krispy Kreme Pop-up Experience that Wichita Falls was awarded after convincing the company to let Wichita Falls celebrate its birthday here. The location includes the Downtown Farmers Market, The Holt apartment complex, the Zales Building, the Wichita Falls Railroad Museum and the Magnolia Building, among others.

The 8th Street Coffee House is an example of successfully repurposing a downtown space. Formerly the lobby of an office building, the space is now a popular sandwich and coffee shop that also exhibits the work of local artists.

Several businesses have moved to downtown Wichita Falls in recent years to take advantage of lower lease rates, greater square footage value and to be part of the revitalization.

Antique shops along the stretch of Indiana Street bring a few of their vintage wares out onto the sidewalk to catch the attention of people passing by.

A stretch of Indiana Street has become a haven for antiques, vintage collectibles and quirky reuse.

The Wichita Falls Art Association Gallery occupies a section of the first floor of The Holt apartment complex, and features work by local artists working in paint, photography, sculpture and jewelry making.

Mike Wilson (left) and Dick Wilson own Wilson's Office Supply, a business that has operated in downtown Wichita Falls for more than 70 years. Their father, Don Wilson, started the business in 1943, and built the current location at Eighth and Lamar streets in 1958.

"I see this now as maybe being just as positive as it was back then with all the retail, and a few years ago I didn't really think that. The last few years, I've gotten a lot more positive vibe." - Dick Wilson

Terry McKee (left) and Mike Wilson look over office supply orders at Wilson Office Supply.

The Yard, a new food truck park in downtown Wichita Falls behind Gidget's and near the Littlest Skyscraper opened in May. Patrons enjoy food from a variety of vendors with food trucks and trailers rotating through. A schedule of trucks at The Yard is posted on its Facebook page - The Yard, Wichita Falls Food Park.

Tara Henry munches down on a slice of Stone Oven Pizza at The Yard's grand opening in May.

The Yard food truck park also features a full bar with a variety of domestic and craft beers, soft drinks and spirits.

The Farmers Market at Eighth and Ohio streets is becoming a gathering place for people looking for fresh, area produce as well as other items from a variety of vendors.

"(Downtown's) beginning to come back. What we want is more of our citizens to come down and see what's really happening." - Cynthia Laney

Staff members of the Wichita Falls Chamber of Commerce and Industry take a photo at the Krispy Kreme Pop-up Experience next to the Downtown Farmers Market.

The facades of buildings downtown are enough to remind people of the bustling downtown where the character of the buildings was the proven allure of the city's heart.

The details in the concrete facade of the Zales Building and its two adjoining spaces are being preserved in restoration.
Classic architectural details set The Holt apart from more modern buildings around town that were covered or designed to look more sleek and simple.
The First Wichita Building, aka "Big Blue," at the corner of Eighth and Scott streets is a longtime fixture in the Wichita Falls banking and business world.
The back of a wayfinder sign bears Wichita Falls' new slogan. "Big Blue" can be seen in the background.
Residential life has bloomed of late in downtown Wichita Falls with Franklin Place, LaSalle Crossing and The Holt Apartments meeting the needs of those wanting to live downtown through the renovation of old buildings.

The Holt began life in 1910 as the Kemp and Kell Building with the City National Bank occupying the ground floor and office spaces on the other floors.

In 1926, it was convertd to a hotel and two floors were added. The building closed fifty years later and sat derilict for almost thirty more years until a huge effort to raise $7 Million saved the grand structure from demolition. In August 2005, the renovated building reopened as a luxury apartment building, and today enjoys 100 percent occupancy.

In August 2005, the renovated building reopened as a luxury apartment building, and today enjoys 100 percent occupancy.

New lighting shows off the architectural details of The Holt.

The lobby of The Holt viewed from the second floor common area. The complex houses 41 apartment spaces.

A hallway in The Holt apartment building downtown retains the charm of yesteryear with the mosaic tile and period architecture.

The original mosaic tile was saved when The Holt was renovated and the building retains the charm and character from when it was built in 1910.

Residential living is key to the revival of a city's downtown area. Wichita Falls currently has more than 100 apartment units in the area, with plans for more in the works.

"Wichita Falls downtown living is is the best-kept secret." - Christy Graham, downtown property investor

The work is far from over, though, and city leaders are looking for ways to entice people and businesses to settle in downtown Wichita Falls.

Deputy City Manager Jim Dockery says there are tools available to developers to help with downtown projects. The Holt Apartments and LaSalle Crossing Apartments were two projects downtown to benefit from downtown improvement funds.

"We're just one player in the entire process. Obviously it takes the public improvements, its takes public/private partnership for incentivizing renovations." - Jim Dockery

Downtown Wichita Falls Development is bringing the story of downtown full circle with its acquisition and renovation of the Zales Building. 
"We didn't want another building to decay and fall in, and we wanted to put our footprint on there. We wanted, to coin that phrase, we wanted to put our money where our mouth is." - Cynthia Laney
DWFD purchased the building in 2013 to preserve it. The organization hopes to have a restaurant and other shops fill its space.
Craftsman Bink Davidson rebuilds the front wall of the two spaces attached to the Zales Building using a concrete mixture to match the original construction.

There's a definite charm to downtown Wichita Falls during the day.

But it's nighttime scene is just as intriguing as its counterpart, if not more so.

"I don't think we're that far away. I think we're really close to having downtown as the destination." - Cynthia Laney

Welcome to Wichita Falls! Help us #MakeDowntownGreatAgain

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Torin Halsey

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