Temple, Texas – A faded downtown with surprisingly substantial buildings

Arcadia Theater - Temple, Texas

Arcadia Theater – Temple, Texas

Update: The large building featured above was in fact a hotel, as I speculated. Called the Doering Hotel or the Hotel Hawn built in 1928.

I have a growing fascination with old cities. These older places have better detailing which adds visual interest — they just work better with my urban photography. And even if many of the places in Texas are passed their prime, the resulting decay adds even more patina. I also have an interest on an anthropological level too. What made these cities thrive and what led to their downfall?

I made a quick stop at Temple, Texas yesterday, on the way back from my son’s tennis tournament. Temple is located about an hour north of Austin on Interstate 35. It’s the first time I got off the highway and drove into the old downtown. My visit revealed a curious city with several taller buildings. This is not a small town like the ones I visited during the summer. Temple has a significant downtown which has clearly passed its peak. Quick research indicates that Temple grew as a confluence of two major railroad lines, the Missouri-Kansas and the Santa Fe. In fact the city was named after Bernard Moore Temple, a civil engineer who worked for the Santa Fe.

I wonder if these taller structures were hotels. It’s not hard to imagine back in the heyday with bustling streets and trains. Perhaps people stayed here overnight on their way to distant lands. I’m sure the car culture and the decline of railway travel has doomed Temple. And while there are still major employers in the area, most of the development is out in the suburbs, along the highways, like most places in the U.S.

Arcadia Theater and a Tall Building - Temple, Texas

My favorite composition is of the Arcadia Theater with the tall building in the backdrop. It’s my lead photo and I added a second from a slightly different angle. The first photo was taken at a 22mm equivalent wide-angle, up close. The second photo, with the 28mm from across the street. I’m speculating that the tall building was once a hotel but there are no signs to be sure. Both buildings have lovely brickwork and detailing that sets them off from the norm.

A Hotel Like Building - Temple, Texas

Here is another view of that tall 9 story hotel like structure. I’m struck by the optimism that created such a building. In a city with 2 story buildings, this must have been built to impress. Looking at these images, devoid of people, I can’t help but conjure up some post apocalyptic scenario. Add your own zombies to spice up the story. There were certainly the occasional vehicle that passed by but on this Saturday afternoon, there were almost no pedestrians.

Ornate and Run Down Entrance - Temple, Texas

Across the street there is a less interesting six-story building. I like the detailing above the humble doorway. The boarded up businesses on either side seem to balance the composition.

Empire Seed Co. - Temple, Texas

I don’t want to portray a completely dead city. There are active businesses in the downtown district — even an unexpected Japanese Restaurant. The Empire Seed Co. still seems to be in business. I was drawn to the rusted clock and the patina of this aged structure.

Alleyway - Temple, Texas

Nearby, there was an alleyway that reminds me of black and white photos from the end of the 19th century. You know the kind that have telephone wires and power lines strung, multiple levels high, in those rapid growing East Coast cities. Take away the dumpsters and I get transported back to that age. It almost seems like this place was frozen it time.

Kyle Hotel - Temple, Texas

Finally here is a photo of the 13 story Kyle Hotel building which is now converted to apartments. Built in 1929, this appears to be the only historic tower that is still being used.

Temple also has some newer downtown buildings and a few businesses are renovating older buildings. The modern buildings don’t have the visual appeal of the older structures so I chose not to photograph them. Like usual, my photographic tours are mainly to capture what I consider interesting, rather than being a complete inventory of what’s there. The streets, sidewalks and the general infrastructure are very clean. I’m hoping the downtown has turned the corner and will be redeveloped. It’ll be a shame if these building are not put to good use.


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51 thoughts on “Temple, Texas – A faded downtown with surprisingly substantial buildings

  1. It’s also all that texture 😉 Grittiness, which you only find in old cities. You might not want to live with it, but it makes great photographs. This place looks like our closest local old city, Worcester. Love that grit. And you do it so well 🙂

  2. I lived in Temple Texas after I got out of the US Army at Ft. Hood, from 1992-2003. I had a job at the Texas Instruments plant there 92-96, but the plant was closed along with many other TI plants and the work moved to Asia. I worked for Texas Copy then Ikon afterwards. Temples main industry in the medical field now I belive, probably still some industrial. Quiet town that is a good place to raise a family if you have kids. I’m pretty sure it is still a dry county that does serve some alcohol, the blue laws have long since been repealed but give an indication as to the general idealogy of the area!
    It was great to see this article in my reader this morning where I could reminisce. I do remember working on a copier in the tallest building in the downtown, 13 stories, not very tall compared to where I live now!

    1. Greg, thanks for your visit and your personal stories about Temple. Temple is certainly not big compared to some other Texas cities but it was certainly larger that I thought. I’ll have to visit some more and take more photos.

  3. Very nicely shot, and fascinating to boot. It must be the climate, but these views look as if the largely abandoned area was kept under a dome, hermetically sealed. And, praise any divine being you may choose, there’s no spray paint graffiti. I find the architectural detail, the decorative stuff, seen in these building as speaking of a time of optimism and confidence. They just seem to say, “This is going to be here a long time.”. The ebb and flow of capital (mostly the ebb) can undercut almost any endeavor.

    I remember visiting the town I grew up in, Clarksburg, West Virginia, in the mid-1990s. It was a prosperous county seat and regional hub of commerce during my youth. 35 years later, the one long block of Main Street which was the absolute center of the town’s larger commercial, area featured 22 empty storefronts. Banks, retail stores, office buildings, a hotel: vacant. It was eerie. That’s probably turned around again since, thanks to the flow of funds generated by the late Senator Robert Byrd in a supreme display of pork barrel politics in the decade before his death. At least I hope so.

    It’s odd how the sight of places totally unfamiliar still have the capacity to stir a response of nostalgia. Excellent job of capturing the essence.

    1. Mikes, thanks for your visit. Yes, Temple does look well preserved. Hopefully the buildings can be repurposed for a grander purpose.

      I also hope that your Clarksburg has also turned around.

  4. Great pics. I live in Temple, and there are rumblings of a downtown revitalization initiative in the works. This hinges on key developers and investors buying the hotel and theater and renovating to accommodate the growing young professional population.

    I would love to see a revitalized downtown, because this area just has so much character and potentail.

  5. Oh fantastic pics. I grew up in Temple. If my memory serves me correctly, my brother and I watched Star Wars and Benji at the Acadia when I was a child.

    1. Thanks Jennifer, for your visit. Great story.

      I remember my local theater in NY played Star Wars on a single screen for 1 year. That’s theater is no longer in use too.

  6. The leadership in Temple doesn’t seem to know what it wants to do in regards to downtown. On one hand they want to revitalize it. On the other they keep allowing street closings that lead to downtown. 1st street on either side of the public library has been closed. South to expand a parking lot when the Visitor’s Center was built. But they just relocated the Visitor’s Center to the old Santa Fe depot and to the north by a church that has since moved out of the downtown area. And the city closed 1st street at the railroad tracks because a couple of restaurants wanted to add live music on the weekends. With the street closed the trains don’t blow their horns at that location. Yet somehow everyone managed to exist with the train horns when everything was downtown, theaters, hotels, eating establishments, etc. Another church was allowed to close two blocks of 2nd street which has hindered the line up of the annual Christmas parade.

    Having lived all of my 51 years in Temple I just can’t see how downtown will thrive when more and more streets are closed.

    The downtown hotels are linked with the medical history of Temple. The Santa Fe railroad had a railroad hospital in Temple and many people traveled to Temple for medical treatments at both Scott & White and King’s Daughters.

    1. Myron, thank you for taking the time to write about your city. I do hope the city leadership can do something. Looks like there is a lot of interesting buildings to work with for a revitalization.

  7. There has been a fairly successful move to revitalize downtown–several restaurants have located in older buildings downtown, and the “In the Mood Ballroom” also renovated an old store into a useful and interesting facility. Per today’s newspaper, there has been a grant application to build a major pedestrian center along Central Avenue, and other projects may be coming after the I-35 expansion is finished.
    There is some background information as to why the Arcadia sits abandoned. It was an active movie theater into the 70s, then closed. There have been a couple of attempts to revamp and repurpose the building; the latest attempt was around 2000, but it was discovered that the roof was not fully intact and much of the building had been open to the elements and was in much worse condition than anticipated. There has been talk again recently about trying to renovate it. It’s just not been feasible in light of the recent economy.
    But it’s not accurate to term Temple a “faded city”–it’s just that the heart of the city has shifted from the center, as is true of almost every city. The hotels downtown were necessary when Scott and White was downtown and when people traveled by train; now, Scott and White and the Children’s Hospital (both outstanding medical facilities) are on the south side of town, and there are numerous restaurants, hotels, and businesses in that area. Residential areas have also moved to the south, west, and east, as have numerous employers, so it is only natural that the more current buildings are in those areas. Please check the rest of the city before terming it “faded”!

    1. Nella thanks for letting me know about the history.

      I tend to equate the downtown with the city even though I know that the actual city boundaries extend into more suburban type developments. Perhaps the title will be more accurate if I said “A faded downtown” That said, I do consider the downtown to be the heart of a city and I know many cities in the U.S. have suffered the fate of people moving to the suburbs.

      The problem is that a suburb of one city pretty much looks like a suburb of an another. It’s the downtown that gives a unique character to the place. A city should be more than highways connecting subdivisions and strip malls.

      Downtown Temple looks like it has so much promise and as I mentioned, I did see new development and restaurants. The Doering Hotel building looks lovely as well as the adjoining Arcadia Theater. Let’s hope it can be redeveloped in the future.

  8. And, the more I think about it . . . you really missed some lovely areas downtown, only a couple of blocks from the Arcadia–like the square around City Hall, the various churches, the old library (now part of Temple College), the train station . . . and several restaurants, like Pignetti’s, Nami’s and Cheeves’; and quite a few active businesses, right around city hall. Several blocks to the north you would have driven through a lovely historic district, with some beautiful old homes. So come back to Temple and drive around a little more, to get a more accurate picture.

    1. Nella, I do want to go back and take photos of the Temple Amtrak station. I read about it after I got back from Temple and did some research. I’ll make sure to take a look at the historic district too. Thank you for your suggestions.

  9. Another good shot would have been at the north end of the 3rd st. overpass looking toward downtown. There is an old brick building that was a cotton exchange and in the back there are some stairs that lead up to the old cotton exchange saloon. You can still see the faint outlines of the letters painted on the brick.

  10. Just wanted to thank you for the great pictures of the old Hawn Hotel. I only lived in Temple for six years 65 -71. Seeing the old hotel brought back great memories as my dad managed it for a few years so spent a lot oftime there . Remember watching the moon landing on a old black and white tv in the lobby. Thanks again for bringing those memories back.

    1. Craig, what a wonderful story. I’m sure seeing such a historic event there will live in your memory for a lifetime.
      Thanks for sharing.

      BTW, what did the hotel look like inside?

      1. Nothing lavish by any means. It had seen it’s heyday. I do remember on the top floor was an old bar with a large dance floor. Pretty run down but I’m sure at some time was a happening place. I seem to remember there were many elderly permanent guest with a few transient traffic. My dad was only there for a couple of years.

  11. Yes there are some great buildings in Downtown Temple … We own one of them – In the Mood Ballroom … We bought the old McLellan Five & Dime Store.. In 1999 renovated it to be our business & our home – purchased the two buildings next to us in 2010 – have our Dance Studio & one empty building …it is an Awesome space – the ballroom is 6600 sq. ft. & our home upstairs is another 6600 sq. ft. The dance studio is 2800 sq. ft. per floor. If you ae interested in seeing it all, give us a shout next time you plan to be up this way. We are also part of the Temple Downtown Alliance Group. We hear there is some Breaking News about the Hawn & the Arcadia – meeting is scheduled this week. Lots of interesting History & pics on our buildings & development of the city. Look forward to a visit …..Karen Gonzales

    1. That’s fantastic. Great to hear that you are renovating the old buildings. Not sure when I’m going to be there next but I might take you up on the offer. Thank you.

      After you mentioned it I did find the article about possible redevelopment of the Hawn. That would be wonderful, a real boon for downtown.

  12. Im glad to hear that someone is interested in the Arcadia. I convinced an investor to make a low ball offer on the Arcadia in the 80s but the owners refused. Back then the roof was still intact. I think the Arcadia would make a nice dinner theater like Alamo drafthouse. You could probably be able to fit two or three screens in that space and restore the lobby and retain the outside original look.

  13. I was born and raised here in Temple. I would walk to the Arcadia to watch a movie. I was always intrigued of the beauty of the theater. Red carpet, soft plush seats. Up stairs were the bathroom and an entrance to the balcony that was reserved for only important people and up above that was the projection room. And the Hawn Hotel. I have only been in it twice after its hey days. But still so intriguing. Never went up to the top floor. That was the Ballroom. At that time I was told everything was still intacted. Been many years

  14. Like several others have said, I,too, was born and raised in Temple. I moved away after college, but I still go back frequently as I still have family in the area. I love to drive around town and see how things have changed; but I have now reached the age where I am deeply interested in the history of Temple and most especially pictures from the past. Two books that I have truly enjoyed because of their historic pictures are “Temple in Vintage Postcards” (TX) (Postcard History Series) by Michael LeFan and “Temple” (Images of America) (Images of America (Arcadia Publishing)) by Michael Kelsey and Nancy Kelsey. I have been trying to reconstruct – even if only in my memory – the Temple I grew up in. The CBD (Central Business District) is usually the first area to be deserted as businesses move to the suburbs; and in too many cities the area becomes totally deserted and rundown or is torn down. I am so pleased to see Temple renovating the downtown section and putting the old buildings to good uses. When the Arcadia project was first announced, my husband and I were some of the first to donate. I know it has been an on-again and off-again project, but I really hope that it is eventually completed. As has been mentioned earlier, it was a tremendously regal theater in its day.

    Thank you for your gorgeous photographs and all the comments by various people that have helped to bring back memories.

    1. Hi Kalendaj; Do you remember the Drive In Theatre, it sat near the Temple Mall? We always drove past it going to Rogers to visit family and I would turn around in the seat watching as we went. I really hope something is done with the Kyle, Hawn and Arcadia. They revamped most of the downtown area to bring people back and help with tourism, but leaving out the hotels and movie theatre was a mistake. They could have revamped them also and they could stay in the areas in the hotels for the visit. You would have all the stores right there which I wish many more were there (the originals like Sears, Cheeses Shoe Store, RX Drug with their soda fountain and floats Amazing. They could open the old library up, that building is a work of art. In the evening while spending the night in one of the old hotels they could go to a movie at the Arcadia. The hotels could have a shuttle bus to other areas around town and in the summer shuttle people to the Temple Lake Park, so much to see and do. The Railroad Museum and they could work out a special deal with the hotels to go out on a train ride to surrounding areas as a packaged deal. Enjoyed your comments!

  15. The building that houses the Amtrak station…built in1910 was the former Southern Division Headquarters of the Santa Fe Railroad. The city acquired it in the 1990s. It had been vacant for more than 20 years. The main occupant of the building is now the Railroad Museum and has thousands of collectionsand archives from the golden days of railroads. Temple was actually founded by the Santa Fe in 1881when the railroad wanted to expand its facilities in the nearby countyseat of Belton the county seat and failed to reach a deal with community leaders. By the 1930’s Temple had five hotels and three hospitals. Its location along the interstate and the intersection of the BNSF & Union Pacific railroads provide the infrastructure that has allowed Temple to become a major distribution center with several million square feet of warehouses for several entities.

    Remember the deterioration of downtowns occurred over a period of several decades…and restoration and revitalization will take time. Temple has had been making progress, but it takes money and time to repair 60 years damage and neglect to the heart of a community.

  16. Do any of the oldtimers remember or have pictures of the Shamrock Drive In at 615 N 3rd St Temple TX?? My father was stationed
    At Ft Hood Tx in the mid 40s and I came across a souvenir from the place when he was there…

    1. I do remember it. It was a favorite place for teens to hang out after a movie in the fifties. I graduated high school at Academy High School and we had our Junior-Senior Prom on the rooftop of the Kyle Hotel. That was in 1961! The Arcadia was the nicest place to take a date. It was very nice inside. We also had the Texas theater, the Rio, and the Temple theater. Might have been one more but I can’t think of it. There was a square downtown where lots of people hung out on Saturdays. It’s now a parking lot. Downtown was really busy in the day. Woolworth and McClellands were always busy too. Lots of businesses open and the town would be crawling with people and GI’s from Ft Hood. Makes a so nostalgic

      1. Hi Gay I was born in 56 there in Temple, some of the places you mentioned I don’t remember. I do remember the Arcadia and others, my Dad was a window washer for the Kyle and Hawn Hotels. Do you remember the Drive in Theatre near the area the Temple Mall stands now? Those were the days. My Brother graduated in 66. I wonder do you know Forrest Fenn? I follow his Thrill of The Chase, then we heard he was from Temple. Have you followed his site? Do you still live in the area, we lived on 43rd for years. They revamped downtown, but they overlooked so many business’. Since Dad worked at the Kyle my youngest son had dreams of buying it and fixing it up, in memory of Dad. I still have no idea, why they let it go like that. I’ve heard the owner of the Arcadia will not allow anyone to revamp it, and doesn’t care to either. My first movie, first time to see any film even TV in color and heard the first bad word on film at the Arcadia. Gone with the Wind. When Rhett said what he did, a friend Beverly and I giggled so much, her mother was embarrassed about our behavior. Wish they would fix it up and bring it back. First ever folding seat I had ever sat in, it was like I was in another world. Belton has a theatre now and you can eat there too. Temple should fix it the same way, redoing the hotbed would be great and people could make a weekend of it. Good to hear from you, write when you want. Sincerely Virginia

  17. My Grandmother always talked about how she worked in the coffee shop at the bottom of the Kyle Hotel. If I remember, that’s where she also met my grandfather after WWII.

    1. I remember the Shamrock Drive-In. One of my girlfriends worked there in about 1962. They had an inside dining area but I was never in there. They served beer so I didn’t hang out there. Just went to wait for her to get off work.
      The Kyle Hotel also housed Kyle Drug where I worked at the soda fountain there from age 12 to 19. My older siblings had all worked there too. In earlier times it also had a pharmacy. Lots of Scott & White patients stayed in the hotel, while in town. It was a really nice hotel then (’50s). The coffee shop was very fancy. There was a drycleaners & a flower shop in there too.

  18. I really enjoyed these photos. The sky is so blue to contrast with the sand colored brick. I have only been in the downtown area a handful of times and had the same impression as you. I noted an old furniture store near the 13 story building that also looked like it could have been a really classy store back in its prime. The Sante Fe depot referenced by other comments is one of Temple’s finest works of historical preservation. I have visited there often (I live in a nearby town) as I am a railroad fan. That building was designed by architect Jarvis Hunt, the same architect who did the Kansas City Union Station the second largest grand depot in the US, after Grand Central Station in NY, one of the best examples of Beaux Arts depots. Don’t know who was behind the preservation/renovation of the Temple Sante Fe depot, but is worth of a visit if you haven’t been there. Thanks again, for these photos; hope you go back and post some more.

  19. Cool images.

    I graduated from college in baltimore 1999. immediately afterwards i moved to TX. I somehow wound up living in the Kyle Hotel. Place was filled winos, dudes with one arm, and just plain odd people. I LOVED IT! The downtown area overall was dead after 5:00. A ghost town with all these amazing abandoned buildings. You could walk everywhere and not see a person.

    I moved into an apt on the top floor of the Kyle Hotel. It used to be the ballroom. my friends and i would play music as loud as we wanted and, once we tossed frozen turkeys off the penthouse balcony. the next morning there were raw splattered bird parts everywhere. Good times.

    Always wanted to explore the Hawn, and this was before they boarded up the fire escape. Never saw the interior, but it was a great mysterious building. There used to be an old man who would just sit at the Hawn lobby in a lawn chair all day long. He would never let me go exploring. Thanks for the memories

  20. Does anyone remember temple theater? It was the one that was one or two doors down from texas theater. To me, it was the best in town. I remember mr. stone,who was a great guy.On weekends,they would show triple features for one price of admission.You could stay all day and night if you wanted to.The thing i liked were the different movies, not only from here,but other countries.Thanks for the memories!

      1. During my senior year of high school I worked at the Arcadia & Texas theaters. Somewhere in my photos I have a picture taken in the lobby of the Arcadia with all the staff at a party. It must have been Christmas, but not sure. When I would balance my register, the assistant manager would come escort me up the steep stairs concealed by the photo of the Now Playing Movie poster to the right of the ticket booth. It would be nice to see it restored to its original beauty. Lots of good memories!

  21. Glad you put the photos in here. When City of Temple revamped downtown I wish they would have includes the Hawn, Kyle and Arcadia. These buildings were at the Heart of Temple for many years. At their luxurious timeline they were gorgeous inside and out, with many famous people staying there. My Dad Herbert Morris Davis was the window washer for both hotels. He often told us stories about the gorgeous hotels and hanging on the scaffolding as he washed the windows. Many a day he and my Mom watched Movies at the Arcadia.
    I went to the Movies for the first time at the Arcadia with a friend and her Mom. We watched the first Color film at my first visit at the Arcadia first movie was Gone With The Wind. As Rhett said frankly my dear I don’t give a ________ my friend and I about 11 years old we started giggling at the word and her Mom said GIRL’S in shock we were laughing and that it was said. Many people in Temple and surrounding areas have their stories to tell. We have hopes in the future they will being all of them back to their luster. I remember sitting down at the Movie theatre and the chair slide into place scaring me, since I had never sat in such a chair before. I told her Mom I think I broke it. She giggle’s and said Oh Diane its suppose to do that. Memories we need to cherish them and to start those memories is to also protect them, by protecting those building’s. They are Historical and should be protected and repaired. Thank you for bringing them into the light. Very Sincerely Virginia Diane (Davis) Bennett

  22. While you were here in Temple I wish you could have visited the old Library. The building is gorgeous inside and out. Upstairs they have gorgeous paintings hanging on the walls and the architecture and design is unbelievable. In your photo of the Arcadia, the building on the left was Sears and Roebuck building and on the side street I believe maybe 4th theta was where their Auto Shop was located, where the Help Center now stands. When. I was very young Mom and Dad would take me to Sears and buy me a gorgeous Easter Dress with Bonnet, White Patten Shoes and a little purse always so gorgeous. Sometimes they would wait and get my She’s at Cheeses. Shoes downtown. I always loved finding some excuse to ride up and down the escalator at Sears, also first one I had been on. Please come back for a visit and maybe you can see the old Library now its Mason’s meeting place I believe. In Belton I hope you can visit Carnegie at the Bell Co Museum and the old County seat building Courthouse for Bell Co upstairs they have many old photos of Craddock family some of our family members with JACKSONS Childers and many more. In the County Clerks Office 2nd Street Belton they have old record Ps deeds and so much more you can see and the Library there also has many books. The Belton Journal I believe still has their large books filled with Journal Stories you can view.

  23. Temple is a very vital City with a lot of business being conducted in Downtown —these shots do look post apocalyptic but if you are two blocks from that shot at Cheeves and Pignettis on a Friday or Saturday –good luck getting a table. The atmosphere in my opinion is better that 99% of restaurants in Austin–very vital and alive and business is good! Temple in 2015 had a MSA (metropolitan statistical area) population of about 450,000 people, which compares to Austin MSA of 1.3 million and Waco of 262,813 and Bryan College station of 251,252. Located on I35–Downtown Temple is about to catch fire and really grow. I have had an office in Downtown Temple since 1983 and own three buildings–I think the future is bright for Downtown –the very near future……

    1. The family for the first time ate at Pignettis on Valentines and loved it. They loved the food, atmosphere and his Son came to their table and spoke with them. When they came home they said It was wonderful and they had met a Star. While there a couple at another table with their young son had a flowers and the boy got down took a flower and walked over to my daughter-in-law and handed it to her. Amazing a true gentleman! I hope in the future they work on the buildings. I was born and raised in Temple its really grown through the years.

  24. Sitting here in Temple, TX with time to kill so started driving around and found this old building wondering the history so I looked it up thank you for your article. I just love old buildings.

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