AUSTIN, Texas - A state historical review panel voted unanimously Saturday to support the designation of south El Paso's Segundo Barrio as a historic district.
With the vote by the Texas Historical Commission's State Review Board, the proposal for the historic district can advance to the National Park Service for potential inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.
This would make state and federal tax credits available for renovation or restoration of nearly 700 properties in the area. The barrio is currently on the Preservation Texas list of "Most Endangered" places, and in 2016 it was named to the "Most Endangered" list by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a national non-profit that advocates for historic preservation.
The Segundo Barrio was one of the main entry points for Mexican immigrants into the U.S, according to historians. It became known as the "Ellis Island of the Southwest."
"In El Paso, in our barrio, we have living and breathing tenements, still filled with immigrants and the children and grandchildren of immigrants. These tenements are functioning, many of these buildings going back well over 100 years still serve their original purpose. This is a unique neighborhood, probably in the entire United States," said Max Grossman, an El Paso architectural historian who supports the plan.
According to the application, the Segundo Barrio Historic District lies along the international boundary between and the United States and Mexico. This dense mixed-use district has provided housing, neighborhood-scale commerce, and community service amenities for a predominantly working-class Mexican American population since 1884.
El Paso County Commissioner David Stout told members of the board "Segundo Barrio's significance arises from this position at the intersection of Mexico and the United States, embodied by the district's ethnic history, social history and architecture. And while this history is primarily that of Mexicans or Mexican Americans, it is important to note that the immigrant experience in El Paso is global."
The district includes the iconic Sacred Heart church, a 1923 Gothic Revival structure at the center of a restoration effort. It could be the first building to take advantage of the tax credits if the district is included in the National Register of Historic Places, said Grossman.