EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — El Paso’s El Segundo Barrio, or the Second Ward, has been nominated by El Paso County to become a national historic district.
The neighborhood’s cultural and historic significance is evident through a tour of the neighborhood, which is located south of Downtown El Paso.
“This is one of the first communities in El Paso,” said Dr. Selfa Chew, an assistant professor of history at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). “And it is a vibrant population with a rich culture.”
Known as “the other Ellis Island,” Segundo Barrio was one of the main ports of entry from Mexico to the United States. Though one of the poorest neighborhoods in the country, it was here that many families made a life for themselves. In fact, those fleeing the Mexican Revolution settled here and in neighboring communities.
Segundo Barrio houses many of El Paso’s historic buildings — more than 650, according to the county, including Bowie High School and Sacred Heart Church. Founded in 1893, Sacred Heart Church, with its faded red brick exterior, is perhaps the most important building for neighborhood residents.
“The church is the heart of Segundo Barrio because it congregates the community,” Chew said. “People in the barrio not only seek religious guidance but information.”
Not far from the spiritual heart of the neighborhood is an unassuming apartment complex, but one that housed a great literary mind. “It is the landmark that establishes the date and the person who wrote Los de Abajo,” Chew said.
Written by Mariano Azuela, Los de Abajo, or The Underdogs, tells the story of a group of people who are pulled into the Mexican Revolution. Chew said the book is important because it is considered the first Mexican revolutionary novel.
Segundo Barrio is also home to many tienditas, or small stores, that line El Paso Street that have been around for decades. These stores are essential to the community’s survival, selling clothing, household goods, toys, food and more to both American and Mexican customers, she said.
The Colon Theater, which was opened in 1919, is a cultural and historic icon of the neighborhood. This theater was a place for entertainment for El Paso’s Latino and African American communities.
“(Patrons) had to dress up to come to the theater, because that was the nature of this entertainment,” Chew explained.
El Pasoans who grew up in the neighborhood express pride in their community, most often through colorful artwork. In the 1970s, when many homes were being torn down, residents beautified the neighborhood with murals, including one with Aztec symbols to represent the deep Mesoamerican culture rooted in the neighborhood’s history.
In 2016, the community was placed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of Most Endangered Historic Places, making the designation of the neighborhood as an historic district ever more urgent.
The nomination from the County will be sent to the Texas Historical Commission in Austin, and then to the National Park Service in Washington, D.C. The process is expected to be complete in 2021.