San Elizario’s unique revival gathers local history, gardening and hundreds of artists

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SAN ELIZARIO, TX – There’s only one place in El Paso County where a family can see work by hundreds of artists, visit a veteran’s museum, get a homemade empanada at a café, see a live band at a restaurant that’s right next to the jail that once housed Billy the Kid, then walk a few blocks down the street to a community garden.

This is the San Elizario Historic district, also known as “San Eli,” home to the only art district in the county, located about 10 miles east of the city limits.

San Elizario Historic Art District.

San Elizario Historic Art District.

“We started this madness out here in 2009 with the Main Street Gallery and things just quickly grew,” said Al Borrego, a self-taught artist who invests most of his time promoting San Elizario and all the artists. “I take pride in my community and I think with the history and talent out here, it’s the perfect place for something like this.”

There are over 100 artists exhibiting their artwork in about 40 galleries, with more venues on the way. The artworks range from traditional acrylic and oil paintings, to iron and woodwork as well as sculptures, stained glass and jewelry.

Artists include Alberto Escamilla, Maria Branch, Stephanie Conroy, Bob Mack, Bert Saldana and others. Visitors won’t be able to miss the life-size statues by sculptor Guadalupe Jacquez Calderon along Main Street.

“This really is a place where you can find everything,” said Borrego.

With the Old El Paso County Jail in the center of it all, fans of live performances can enjoy the Pistoleros de San Elizario with their “Billy the Kid Breakout Reenactment,” complete with authentic costumes and props.

Borrego has continued to add galleries and restore buildings in the hope of bringing more culture and artists to San Eli.

“We have to maintain the integrity of the buildings and we enjoy the guidelines of being in a historic site,” Borrego said. “It’s like stepping into a different time period.”

With events like Art Markets held every third Sunday of the month and Art Walks held every first Friday of the month, new artists and vendors get a chance to meet the public.

“This is my first time out here,” said artist Adrian Rivera. “I’m always looking for places to show my art and I like it out here so far.”

San Eli is home to 17 historical sites but there are also new sites. One of the latest additions is the Hacienda de la Viña Bed and Breakfast, located on the old Butterfield stagecoach stop, which has reservations for nearly the entire month.

November marks the district’s festive “Native American Month.”  Which will include this year’s first ever “Celebration of our Culture” event on November 11. It will feature historic presentations by the Pueblo, Navajo, Apache and Taino Native Americans.

Community Garden

Onions and potatoes can’t grow side by side in a garden. Maya Sanchez and her gang are learning this and much more as they help their community by growing a sustainable ecosystem. The San Elizario Community Garden is located at 12339 Socorro Rd. right across from the fire station.

“I inherited this land from my grandfather who was a farmer and was always talking about how things used to be different,” Sanchez said. “Initially the goal is to grow these healthy veggies and fruits for our families. And eventually the dream is to have a Farmer’s Market we can be proud of here in El Paso.”

To start the garden Sanchez worked closely with County Commissioner Tania Chozet who shared her dreams of starting a garden and something the community could share.

“When I met Maya and we started talking about making this garden happen, everything just fell into place,” said Chozet. “A lot of people were involved and we received a lot of donations and help and hands-on support from people who wanted to help and make sure this project succeeded.”

Sanchez and Chozet agreed they and the community have a lot to learn. They are hoping that monthly educational trainings and workshops will help everyone who is interested in gardening.

“I’m looking forward to seeing a younger generation out here,” Sanchez said. “We want to work with neighboring schools and we encourage our members to bring the children in their family with them.”

Phyllis Price, a Master Gardener and nature enthusiast said growing up on a farm changed her opinion about outside work at an early age.

“I hated it,” Price said. “There was always something to do and after awhile I just wanted to get away from it. After college I found something planting my own vegetables and herbs and soon my little garden just started growing and taking over my yard.”

Now in her seventies, Price has her certification as a Master Gardener, but admits there is always something new to learn about gardening.

“There’s just something about my bare feet and hands touching the earth,” said Price. “It’s critical to my spirit and something I think everyone should experience. I take great delight in watching a seed grow into something beautiful and how the earth supports us.”

Members pay a $30 annual fee for a four-by-eight foot plot, which includes its own drip irrigation valve to customize how much water each plat will get. Members receive a welcome bag, which includes gloves, a basic gardening tool, seeds, markers and popsicle-sticks and other goodies.

“I’ve lived here my whole life and I’ve tried growing tomatoes and chile,” said Martha Vasquez a new member who is anxious to grow her own vegetables. “They grow, but not how I want them to. I’ve always wanted to take a class to learn more. I think this is perfect for me and I’m very excited to see what happens.”

For more information:

The Historic Art District is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 12 noon to 4 p.m. (with exceptions for special events). For more information visit www.SanElizarioHistoricArtDistrict.com or call 915-851-0093.

The next meeting for the Community Garden is Nov. 17 at 10 a.m. at 12339 Socorro Rd. For more information e-mail sanelizariocommunitygarden@gmail.com or call 915-412-6076.

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