Today the County Commissioners Court voted 5-0 to proceed with “Option 3A” for Segundo Barrio, establishing a national historic district there that will conform closely to the neighborhood’s historical/cultural boundaries and will include Sacred Heart Church and the adjacent urban fabric. The discussion and action was carried out under item 12 of the agenda.
The attached map shows the just-approved boundaries of the proposed Segundo Barrio National Historic District (green) and the Downtown National Historic District (pink).
You will recall that on June 15 the Court voted 3-2, with Judge Samaniego and Commissioner Stout dissenting, to divide Segundo Barrio between these two districts, with Sacred Heart Church and more than 200 other historic buildings placed inside the Downtown National Historic District. The item was brought up again on June 22 and the Court stuck to the same plan.
What followed was a major outcry from historical organizations, grassroots activists, and institutions and residents of Segundo Barrio, the publication of a petition with more than 2,200 signatures, and the submission of letters from the Diocese of El Paso, Sacred Heart Church, and numerous individuals.
Today Commissioners Carlos Leon of Precinct 1, Vince Perez of Precinct 3, and Carl Robinson of Precinct 4 changed their minds. County Staff, which had initially backed the division of Segundo Barrio, swerved 180 degrees and threw their full support behind Option 3A.
Representatives from the historic preservation consulting firm Hardy Heck Moore as well as from the Texas Historical Commission were on hand to answer any questions.
Commissioner Leon made very clear that he backed Option 3A after hearing from the public via email, phone and public comment. Commissioner Robinson claimed he had been poorly informed before his previous vote, and now that he understood the issue better, he backed Option 3A. Commissioner Perez, who earlier had cast several votes obstructing the district nomination process and who two weeks ago opposed establishing a united Segundo Barrio Historic District, was the only commissioner who declined to comment before casting his vote today.
It is telling that among the 40 or so public comments during the last three Commissioners Court meetings, there was not a single voice supporting the division of Segundo Barrio.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR SEGUNDO BARRIO
There are currently only 25 buildings in all of downtown El Paso and the adjacent barrios that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 24 are in downtown and one is in Segundo Barrio. The new Segundo Barrio District National Historic District will add 677 buildings to the National Register, most of which will be eligible for federal and state tax credits that can pay for up to 45% of rehabilitation costs.
In 1980, an attempt had been made to establish a national historic district in Segundo Barrio but that process was aborted because of political opposition. Up until the last five years, aside from the registration of a single building, the Silver Dollar Cafe, the rich history of the barrio had been all but ignored by political leaders. In 2006, the City partnered with the Paso del Norte Group in an effort to destroy more than 30 acres for big retail.
It is thanks to the County that the history and architecture of the barrio, which had been marginalized and abused by various government administrations for decades, will finally be treated with respect. Of course, the County Historical Commission had placed numerous historical markers there over the years, and Dr. David Romo and other local scholars had amply treated the neighborhood’s history. But now for the first time since its establishment in 1885, Segundo Barrio will be commemorated and honored not just locally, but also at the national level. Many of its buildings will be restored and a new heritage tourism economy will develop there.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR DURANGUITO
And let us not forget that north of Paisano Drive there will be a new Downtown National Historic District which will include 100% of Duranguito, including 13 building that will be added to the National Register of Historic Places and fully eligible for the same tax credits. The City of El Paso, which had refused to implement the recommendations of its own 1998 architectural survey, will see them implemented instead by El Paso County. No City employee will ever again be able to claim “there is nothing historical there.” It is unfortunate that our City demolishes our barrios while our County honors and rehabilitates them.
I wish to thank the City Historic Preservation Officer Providencia Velazquez, who co-authored the survey boundaries with me back in 2014 and applied (successfully) for the first grants. The City ultimately rejected proceeding with an architectural survey of downtown and the barrios, in July 2015, but then the County took up the project enthusiastically. County Commissioner David Stout has been the primary force in government driving this process forward, and County Judge Ricardo Samaniego has stood firm with him from the day he assumed office. These two men deserve all our thanks, as do the three Commissioners who supported them in today’s vote. Valerie Venecia, the County Heritage Tourism Coordinator, and Andrea Adkins-Hutchins, the County Director of Economic Development, put hundreds of hours into this project and in spite of some last-minute bumps saw it through to today’s successful outcome. Emily Payne and her colleagues at Hardy Heck Moore conducted an excellent architectural survey and I know they will do a fine job completing this process. Many thanks also to the County Historical Commission, Preservation Texas, The Trost Society and the El Paso County Historical Society for their steadfast support of the two new historic districts. Heartfelt thanks also to Father Rafael Garcia of Sacred Heart Church, Bishop Seitz, CHC Chair Bobbie Welch, Pablo Lopez of the South Side Neighborhood Association, Dr. Oscar Martinez, State Sen. Jose Rodriguez, Carmen Rodriguez, Sito Negron, Lily Limon, Veronica Carbajal, Dr. Mark Calamia, Miguel Juarez, HLC Chair DJ Sevigny, the members of Paso del Sur, Bernie Sargent, Crysti Couture, and the numerous current and former residents of Segundo Barrio who assisted this effort. There were many others who contributed time and effort who are too numerous to name. Thanks also to the El Paso Times, El Paso Inc, El Diario, Univision, Telemundo, KTSM, KVIA, KFOX, El Chuqueno, and the Facebook pages of the El Paso History Alliance, Segundo Barrio, Save the Union Plaza, Remember in El Paso When, Remember El Chuco, Community First Coalition, and Paso del Sur for following this issue closely and keeping the public informed.
LATEST MEDIA REPORTS
The nomination application will soon move forward to the Texas Historical Commission for review and then will make its way to the National Park Service in Washington, DC for final approval, in 2021.
Have a marvelous evening!