I regret to report that the County Commissioners Court, on a 3-2 vote, has moved to omit about half of Segundo Barrio from the planned Segundo Barrio Historic District. This happened under agenda item 19, with Judge Samaniego and Commissioner Stout voting to create a Segundo Barrio Historic District that closely conforms to the neighborhood’s historic boundaries, and Commissioners Perez, Leon and Robinson instead voting to go with a smaller district.
Many years ago, City HPO Providencia Velazquez and I launched the project to create a large national historic district in downtown El Paso. After a very lengthy process involving many stakeholders, the County opted to create two districts instead of one: the Downtown National Historic District and the Segundo Barrio National Historic District.
Segundo Barrio was established circa 1885 and has always been an extremely important historic barrio. Many El Pasoans have roots there since it is a place where countless Mexican-American families began their lives in the United States. In spite of the many demolitions of historic buildings over the years, the barrio still retains much of its special character and 135 years after its establishment is still a unique historical and cultural space. It has more historical markers than any other neighborhood in El Paso and most of these tell about Mexican-American history.
The neighborhood was declared to be endangered by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2016.
Today the County had the opportunity to establish a Segundo Barrio National Historic District that would have included 658 buildings potentially eligible for federal and state tax credits that could have paid for up to 45% of restoration costs. This was the so called “Option 3” that would have cost the County $49,824 in Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) funds to complete but was rejected today.
Instead the County went with “Option 2” (see attached), which will establish a much smaller Segundo Barrio Historic District, with only 446 tax-credit-eligible buildings, which will cost $5,659 less than Option 3 in HOT funds.
In the attached chart, I have plotted the approximate boundaries of the two proposed districts as well as the actual boundary of Segundo Barrio (in red). Note that under the County plan, Sacred Heart Church will not be located in the Segundo Barrio Historic District.
So for a savings of only $5,659, the County Commissioners Court went with the smaller district and ignored the recommendations of the local historians, its own County Historical Commission, and the other major historical organizations.
What is truly perplexing is that the County staff, led by Heritage Tourism Coordinator Valerie Venecia, actually supports this plan. Ms. Venecia did not inform local historians, much less the residents of Segundo Barrio, that she was going to proceed in this manner and we only learned about it during her remarks preceding today’s tragic vote.
I had previously warned her and the Commissioners Court that disrespecting the historical integrity of Segundo Barrio would have unfortunate consequences and anger a lot of El Pasoans.
I nevertheless wish to extend my heartfelt thanks to Judge Samaniego and Commissioner Stout for voting to create a historic district that would have been appropriate for the neighborhood, in spite of our defeat.
For my part, I am withdrawing my support for this project and am informing my non-profit boards about today’s outcome.
For the record, some time ago I made the decision to cease all political advocacy and involvement in elections. To that effect, I no longer have any connections with political campaigns or fundraising and I have withdrawn from all social media platforms that involve politics, even indirectly.
I have made this decision for personal reasons.
Henceforth, I will focus on my work for Preservation Texas and The Trost Society, educating the public about our historic buildings and promoting historic preservation efforts.
You will no longer receive emails from me unless they relate to architectural history or historic preservation.
Max Grossman, PhD
Executive Board, Preservation Texas
Vice-Chair, The Trost Society