Alligators still stars among features in El Paso plaza renovation

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After several years worth of construction and waiting, the reconstructed San Jacinto Plaza is now open to the public, providing a place for families and friends to meet and enjoy their surroundings.

“It is quite exciting to see that the San Jacinto Plaza hasn’t fallen into just dirt and dust,” Estrella Gonzalez said. “It is a lot more beautiful due to the green scenery.”  

Gonzales was enjoying reading a book at the park on a recent hot afternoon and, like many other residents, quite happy about the “new plaza.”

Stephanie Piedra said she now brings her daughter to the plaza whenever she has time off from work.

“The park is quite a blast. My kid can play with the water and I can walk around on the beautiful green grass and look at the amazing alligator sculpture,” Piedra said.

AlligatorsAn alligator sculpture of fiberglass and polychrome, created by the late El Paso artist Luis A. Jimenez Jr., is on display at the center of the park and is a popular attraction, just as the live ones were 50 years ago.

“Seeing the gators sculpture is a huge remembrance of the time when they were alive; seeing the alligators gives me joy of the time when I was a kid,” said local resident and park visitor Charly Vasquez.   

According to local residents, live alligators were on display at San Jacinto Plaza from the 1880’s and until the 1960’s. No one knows how they  alligators got there or how they left, but historians say that during their existence, the reptiles endured abuse.  For a bit more history of the San Jacinto alligators see this 2011 New York Times article by Brandi Grissom of the Texas Tribune.

“Los Lagartos are engraved in our culture,” said local historian Robert Diaz.  “El Pasoans love the artwork, it captures memories of the time when they were actually alive, bringing so many people together.”

The plaza’s renovation includes protection for the beloved larger-than-life creatures. A 50-foot-shade sculpture was installed to protect the work.

“It is important that we have San Jacinto’s past protected from extinction. If not protected it is possible that our community will end up forgetting about what los lagartos were, and what they symbolized,” Stephanie Murrieta said.

Murrieta works at a cafe, new to the plaza, and built next to the statue.

The new San Jacinto Plaza also includes various activities. You’ll find ping pong and chess tables, a huacha court, a full-service cafe, and a splash pad for kids. Visitors enjoy more benches, plants, trees, and grass.

“I have visited the San Jacinto Plaza for many years now, and in all my years of visiting this great place I would have never expected it to be this beautiful,” Vasquez added.

The renovation was set in motion with voter approval in 2012, and was completed earlier this year after various delays. The more than $5 million expense has resulted in an increase in visitors, both local and tourists.

San Jacinto Plaza has no restricted hours. There is security at the location, and 24-hour cameras surrounding the plaza.

This article was produced as part of Borderzine’s Journalism in July 2016 summer workshop for high school students sponsored by the Dow Jones News Fund and the University of Texas at El Paso Department of Communication.

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