History of the First Ward


By: Valerie Alva

EL PASO — El Paso’s first barrio may soon be wiped out by its own city officials. Duranguito, or Union Plaza to its residents, has been selected by city council to be the new home for the proposed multipurpose arena.

The history of Duranguito is constantly ignored, according to Paso del Sur activist Cynthia Renteria. “The area has a lot of historical significance and it’s part of a past that isn’t often recognized in the narrative of El Paso,” she also reflects and explains that the story of the city is only vaguely explained up until 1881.

“So it’s like the Spanish arrived here. Then we got the Mexican community. Then, the train came and White people came, that was it,” jokes Renteria that this is the general story that is mistakenly considered as the only timeline in El Paso.

The main goal of the community group Paso del Sur is to save Duranguito; its last hope is to get various buildings and homes designated as historic sites. If accomplished, it will make it harder and possibly illegal for the City of El Paso to carry out the arena project altogether.

Eighteen different areas within the arena footprint, comprised of buildings inside the San Antonio Avenue, Leon Street, Santa Fe Street, and Paisano Drive perimeter are believed to be historical.  “The area would be designated historical and it adds another level of protection making it harder to demolish,” Renteria explains.

The iconic Flor de Luna building, built back when El Paso was just thirteen years old, is just one of the eighteen proposed historical buildings in Duranguito. Up until very recently it was an art gallery that served the downtown community. Now it is vacant, neglected and boarded up along with many other buildings in the area.

The Chinese Laundry, The Mansion, Victorian Households, and the Firehouse are other buildings that have the potential to become a historic venue. Each one has a different and extensive history. From being one of the oldest brothels in the city to one of the first emergency response areas of the downtown area, they all were part of the pioneering ward of El Paso.

The poor conditions of these local homes and businesses are likely the cause of negligence from the city. “Eighteen buildings in this area should be historic. Some conditions you see here are the cause of neglect and that’s on the part of the city,” said Renteria.

Explaining that landlords haven’t made any repairs to the Duranguito area because of the strong sense that eventually the arena was going to be build, this though dated back since 2006.

“They [city officials] have allowed people like Alejo Restrepo to come in and buy buildings, let them go, not maintain them, and maintain these poor conditions. They knew since 2006 and before that they wanted an arena in this area,” she added.

At this moment various city officials declined to speak and voice their side of the story in regards to Duranguito.

Next week, on the seventeenth of July, a judge in Austin will decide Duranguito’s fate. This will ultimately decide if the City of El Paso will be able to legally take away the homes and businesses that are dear to its residents.

“To me that’s an extension to the city’s lack of transparency and lack of community engagement that they won’t even have this discussion and decision made here,” Renteria said.

Photo by Valerie Padilla for Journalism in July

Photo by Valerie Padilla for Journalism in July

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