Enrique Medrano position paper


Put Museums Downtown, Not Arenas



ENRIQUE N. MEDRANO EnrMedrano@aol.com June 19, 2004

A SPORTS ARENA WILL NOT revitalize downtown El Paso. El Paso's HISTORY WILL revitalize downtown to a degree that would amaze most El Pasoans.

What El Paso DOES NOT NEED downtown is a sports arena that will bring El Paso, Juarez, and local area residents downtown for the sole purpose of watching an arena event. Most of the time the arena will be empty, like the County Coliseum, the Don Haskins Arena, the Sun Bowl, and Cohen Stadium. Construction of the sports arena at the proposed site south of the Civic Center would require the elimination of one of the last two residential areas remaining of what in 1859 was the Town of El Paso, as surveyed by Anson Mills. This is too high a cost for a building that will do little to draw money into downtown El Paso.

What El Paso DOES NEED downtown are attractions that will bring in tourists from all over the world, all year round, staying in downtown hotels, and patronizing downtown restaurants, night clubs, art galleries, gift shops, clothing stores, and other retail establishments. Those tourist dollars, euros, pesos, yen, and other forms of tourist money will revitalize downtown.

All El Paso has to do is develop those attractions in the downtown area. Develop what is already there. Develop what belongs only to El Paso and cannot be found anywhere else in the world except El Paso. Develop what will attract those tourists from around the world: HISTORY MUSEUMS AT THE LOCATIONS WHERE THAT HISTORY WAS MADE.

Yes, El Paso is building its history museum downtown. But just as Las Vegas did not become a tourist Mecca on the basis of one casino, El Paso cannot realize its full tourism potential on the basis of one history museum. There is way too much rich history in El Paso for one history museum.

THE HISTORY MUSEUM being constructed at Cleveland Square should focus on the following phases of this area's history: 1) The indigenous peoples who populated the area before their colonization by the Spanish - the Manso, the Suma, and the Jumano; 2) The explorations and colonization of the area by the Spanish; 3) The establishment of the Camino Real through this area linking Mexico with Northern New Mexico; 4) The founding of the Mission of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe and the settlement of Paso Del Norte in what is now downtown Ciudad Juarez; 5) The flight of the Spanish, along with Tigua and Piro Indians, from the Pueblo Revolt in Northern New Mexico, leading to the establishment of the Missions at San Lorenzo, Senecu, Ysleta, and Socorro; 6) The history of the Paso del Norte area during the 1700's and the first half of the 1800's, including the establishment of the Spanish presidio, or fort, at San Elizario; 7) The conflicts with the Apache; 8) The taking of Paso del Norte by Colonel Alexander Doniphan's unit in 1846 during the Mexican American War; 9) The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo under which Mexico ceded most of what is now the Western United States, including West Texas and New Mexico; 10) The Gadsden Purchase; 11) The Butterfield stage coach trail through El Paso; 12) The retreat of the Confederate forces out of El Paso in April 1862 during the Civil War, leading to Union control; 13) The history of Fort Bliss in the downtown and Concordia area, with prominent mention of the Buffalo Soldiers; 14) The history of the City of El Paso, beginning with Ponce's Rancho and continuing with the critical arrival of the railroads and consequent establishment of El Paso as one of the most important transportation centers in the Southwestern United States prior to the development of automobile and air transportation; and 15) Other important historical events in El Paso not covered by the specific focus history museums detailed in the following paragraphs.

THE OLD EL PASO MUSEUM. The building at the Southeast corner of El Paso and San Antonio Streets, known as the Wells Fargo Building in the 1890's, had a very well known tenant in 1895 - John Wesley Hardin, Attorney at Law. Hardin, of course, was and is better known as an outlaw. El Paso had more than its share of gunfighters and outlaws during the latter half of the 1800's. A museum of El Paso's outlaws, and of the lawmen who pursued them and captured or shot them, would be a great tourist attraction. There is no better location for this museum than the old Wells Fargo Building and the Union Trust building next door. There remains a world wide interest in the Wild West. Tourists would come from all over the world to step into John Wesley Hardin's law office. That space on the second floor of the old Wells Fargo Building, which is now probably empty or used for storage by the current retail tenant, could be worth millions in annual tourist revenue to El Paso's downtown businesses. Gunfight reenactments could be staged daily outside this Museum. The story of El Paso's efforts to rid itself of the outlaw, gambling, and brothel elements could be told in this Museum.

THE MUSEUM OF THE MEXICAN REVOLUTION (EL MUSEO DE LA REVOLUCION MEXICANA). El Paso had a very significant role throughout the period of the Mexican Revolution. The crucial battle won by Francisco Madero's revolutionaries, led by General Pascual Orozco, Colonel Pancho Villa and Colonel Giuseppe Garibaldi, an Italian soldier of fortune, took place in Ciudad Juarez in May, 1911. Immediately after the capture of Ciudad Juarez by the revolutionaries, the Dictator Porfirio Diaz resigned and was exiled from Mexico. A Mexican Revolutionary Junta organized by Abraham Gonzalez operated from fifth floor offices in the Caples Building at the Southeast corner of Mesa and San Antonio Streets. Dr. Ira Bush, serving as head of the medical corps for Madero's revolutionary forces, also set up his offices on the fifth floor of the Caples Building. No doubt, these offices, and the roof above them, provided excellent opportunities for surviellance of Porfirio Diaz's forces in Ciudad Juarez prior to the attack by the revolutionary forces. The Mexican Revolution was actually a series of violent upheavals that took place mainly between 1910 and 1920, followed by a two decades of great turmoil between the different segments of Mexican society. Pancho Villa became a frequent visitor to El Paso during the most violent period of the Revolution. Evergreen Cemetery on Alameda Street is the final resting place of Victoriano Huerta, who assumed the Presidency of Mexico after taking Francisco Madero prisoner and putting him before the firing squad in February, 1913. All of these events impacted El Paso in many ways. This remarkable story is best told in a museum setting. The Caples Building is an ideal site for a museum on the Mexican Revolution. Millions of Mexicans will be commemorating the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Mexican Revolution in less than 7 years. How many thousands of tourists from Mexico and throughout the world would take advantage of the opportunity to step into the offices in the Caples Building utilized by the Revolutionary Junta to plan the beginning of the Mexican Revolution? How many millions of dollars would those tourists bring into downtown El Paso? Will El Paso be ready?

THE 1966 MINERS MEN'S BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIP TEAM MUSEUM. Sports museums are big tourist draws. What better place for this museum than Memorial Gym, the site of that beloved team's undefeated home stand during that championship season? The story of that championship season and the extreme social importance of the victory by Coach Don Haskins' black players over the white-only Kentucky team in the championship game will soon be on movie screens all over the country and throughout the world. Within the year after the movie's run in theaters, it will be released on VCR and DVD. After that it will be seen on network and cable television. Hopefully, the movie will garnish numerous awards. Wouldn't those billions of viewers throughout the world appreciate the opportunity to step into the same gym in which that great championship team played? Fortunately, memorabilia of that championship team and season exists to fill this museum. Texas Western College occupies a respectable place in the history of the elimination of racial barriers in higher education. The stories of Thelma White, the first black woman admitted to a Texas public college in 1955, and of Charlie Brown, the first black athlete to participate in intercollegiate athletics in the South, could also be told in this museum. Will El Paso be ready?

THE RAILROAD HISTORY MUSEUM in downtown El Paso, if fully developed to showcase El Paso's two steam locomotives and passenger railroad cars, would also be a great tourist draw. There are thousands of rail fans traveling throughout the country each year to museum sites featuring railroad locomotives and railroad cars of days gone by. The old freight depot next to the Franklin Street downtown onramp to Interstate 10 East is an ideal location for this museum.

THE HOLOCAUST MUSEUM, which will be built downtown northwest of Cleveland Square, will draw thousands of visitors every month, as another important component of El Paso's tourist magnet museums.

The buildings and storefronts between the sites of these museums in downtown El Paso will soon find thousands of money-bearing tourists walking by their doors. These tourists will not be interested in many of the retail establishments that now occupy downtown El Paso. They will patronize businesses in the Union Fashion and Café Central genre. Soon, fine restaurants and cafes, night clubs, top of the line clothing and shoe shops, theaters, art galleries, gift shops, and similar businesses will be able to conduct business downtown because of the constant flow of tourists. Hotels will reopen downtown to handle the demand for hotel accommodations. Drawing and scheduling conventions bringing thousands of conventioneers every month to the Judson Williams Convention Center will become easier. Downtown El Paso will become a desirable place to live. The Union Plaza district, with its trolley terminal, can become a moderate to high rent residential area for downtown workers. Perhaps, empty warehouse buildings in the Union Plaza District could be converted into trendy rental units or art studios. An ideal location for a Spaghetti Warehouse would be in the area close to the Union Depot.

Sales tax revenues, rental car tax revenues, hotel occupancy tax revenues, and downtown property tax revenues will greatly increase. Employees of downtown businesses catering to the tourist industry will be well paid.

The City of El Paso should invest 80 to 100 million dollars or more in downtown El Paso, but not on a sports arena. Invest the money in showcasing El Paso's past, in order to build El Paso's future. The investment will soon be recovered.

The sports arena should be built next to Cohen Stadium, the location recommended by the City's sports arena study. The City already owns the property, therefor it can be built without taking property off the tax rolls and without the long delays and expense of property acquisition through the eminent domain process. Construction can begin immediately. There is plenty of parking space. Cohen is easily accessible from all areas of El Paso, Cd. Juarez, and Southern New Mexico because of its proximity to the Patriot Freeway, Loop 375, and Transmountain Road. The City will also have better leverage in contracting with private parties to operate the sports arena and in awarding concession rights.

El Paso's downtown history museums will also provide a tourist base for other downtown attractions such as the Plaza Theater and the Art Museum. UTEP's Centennial Museum, UTEP's Paso al Norte Immigration Museum, the Archeology Museum, the Border Patrol Museum, the Fort Bliss Museum, Fred Morales' El Paso/Juarez History Museum, the Missions in the Lower Valley, the Natural History Museum, the Chamizal Monument, the Magoffin Home, the Karl Wyler Aerial Tramway, Indian Cliffs Ranch, Viva El Paso, and other local attractions will also experience a great increase in tourist traffic and tourist income.

The community commitment to invest in local history as the basis for El Paso's tourism industry also has a personal aspect. El Pasoans need to know their local history. This knowledge leads to great appreciation for what we have and a desire to preserve and promote our rich local history. Each of our school districts should require that all students learn our local history as part of their social studies course work.