City condemns Old Fort Bliss barracks; owner, historians want site preserved
El Paso, TX (KTSM) — A historical landmark, now used as private housing in West El Paso, could soon be demolished.
The site of Oñate's Crossing, where Spanish Conquistador Juan de Oñate crossed the Rio Grande into El Paso in 1598, would become the site of Old Fort Bliss centuries later.
"Fort Bliss moved here in 1879, primarily as a base of operations to chase Geronimo and some of the other natives that were creating problems for the settlers and the landowners of the old west," said Bernie Sargent, Chairman of the El Paso County Historic Commission.
In a meeting on October 30, the El Paso Buildings and Standards commission voted to condemn the apartment buildings that used to be barracks at Old Fort Bliss.
The owner, Charles "Chip" Johns, was given 60 days to make necessary repairs to bring the buildings up to compliance. City representatives said the necessary work includes repairs to the flooring, roofing, walls, plumbing and also need electrical work.
Residents who live in the apartments received notice in October that they would have to be out of the apartments by November 15. A resident who lives in one of the apartments said he believes about 14 apartments are occupied by approximately 50 people.
Arturo Salazar said he has lived in the apartments with his wife for about eight years. He said he still hasn't found a new place to live.
"They caught us unprepared. None of us here have money. The rent is affordable and we live very comfortably here," said Salazar.
Once the residents are out, the fate of the buildings will still have to be decided. Historians like Sargent want a say in that decision.
"We're hoping maybe we can facilitate this area, the Old Fort Bliss barracks, as well as Hart's Mill, to become maybe a visitor's center, some kind of heritage and cultural center," said Sargent.
Sargent said he talked to Johns before the city made the decision to condemn the building.
"I offered to help him in trying to find a suitable owner for it, wherebeit the city, the state of the federal government," said Sargent.
If Johns does not complete the necessary repairs within the alotted 60 days, or come up with an alternate plan such as selling the land, then the building could be demolished. That's even though Old Fort Bliss is a state recognized historical site.
In a phone conversation, Johns said the required repairs might be too costly for him, but he would like to see the site preserved, possibly as a cultural center.
According to Sargent, Fort Bliss moved to its present location in 1893.