Friday, November 29, 2019

Photo That I Found

The Killam family has been celebrating their 100-year presence in Laredo with TV and newspaper ads.  The latest entry included a vintage photo of the Main Boys Club.  The building looks like it hasn't changed at all over the years.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Trees Will Grow If You Let Them

(Photo via FB)

City officials invited the public to a tree-planting event billed as the "Return of the 100 Acre Woods." It took place Saturday at North Central Park.  The park is ten years old, according to details released by organizers.

In 2010 I wrote about this same kind of event, back when Gene Belmares was in office.  Man, that's like two political weenasos ago.  Belmares wanted to create an environment where the 'foliage will change color in the fall, creating a true "New York Central Park" feel' for outdoor enthusiasts.

One tree that does well in this climate and has a remarkable fall foliage is the Chinese Tallow.  You can spy one at the northeast corner of Clark and Meadow.  I digress.

(Info via FB page event invitation)

I love that Laredoans help in giving public spaces some TLC.  It's a win-win for everybody.  The thing I take issue with is that outdoor settings are over-managed.  With trees, especially, only several types are planted.  Outdoor design in Laredo ends up being predictable and sparse; and locals try to create scenes that are not natural to our area.  

In the photo above, you see volunteers gladly posing next to a new planting.  (Mulch should not suffocate the base of the trunk.)  Close behind you see a small native tree, probably a mesquite.  That tree will likely be mowed down, in due time, to keep things tidy.    

A true 100 acre woods, I think, would do well by having native trees alongside hand-picked varieties.    Letting native trees mature can save a lot of energy and money.  And ten years from now, when the city hosts another 100 Acre Woods shindig, the park won't look as bare as it does in the photo above.

Our approach needs to change.  And it wouldn't hurt to have an arborist's input in all of this.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

No Fat Chicks

Paul Young's looking-for-love ad has been appearing in the newspaper for a week or more.  Man needs companionship.

Paying Off Their Donors

The City of Laredo has apparently purchased more properties in the downtown area, along Houston and Santa Maria Ave.  The rationale for doing so is to provide space for two departments that are currently housed at the Bruni Plaza library: building development and planning & zoning.

The now-former owner of the properties was a political insider.  He has made out like a bandit.

The city owns other properties downtown, but they can't be used for needed office space because they're already spoken for, according to Councilman Balli.  According to him, they've got things lined up for: the Plaza Theater, the old federal courthouse, the Southern Hotel, the Canseco house, the Slaughter house, etc.

It's been six years since the federal courthouse was donated to the city.  I have no idea what it's being used for, other than a police substation.

The Plaza Theater has sat vacant for about two decades.  It's basically laying there in waste.

It's been three years since the four vacant blocks near bridge 2 were going to be spruced up.

Property after property is acquired by the city and they just sit there.    

Saturday, November 16, 2019

A Bridge So Close

The Azteca neighborhood will never be seen in a favorable light by locals.  Its unique history and character gave rise to the barrio's sullied reputation.  The main culprit that gave the Azteca its infamy was the sewage treatment plant, situated close by, and near the Rio Grande.  The stench that came from the plant made driving through the neighborhood an unpleasant experience.  I can't imagine how residents of the area got along every day.  

Now the odor is non-existent, but challenges still remain.  The streets of the Azteca are too narrow, housing is decent to subpar and the only destination point that's available is a colorful mural situated at a busy intersection.  Traversing the area by car can be an adventure; going by foot can be even more interesting.  The neighborhood is not dangerous -- it's just that the infrastructure, for both motorists and pedestrians, has been ignored for a long time.

(courtesy photo)

One of my Twitter followers - one who also appreciates historical facts about Laredo - recently shared the photo of a rusty fence that's been abandoned alongside the Iturbide St. bridge, which sits above the tail end of the Zacate Creek.  (Destination*)

Iturbide cuts the Azteca neighborhood in half.  The street connects the 3 Points and Montrose barrios, in the eastern part of Laredo, with Laredo's downtown and St. Peter's neighborhood in the west.  The bridge on Iturbide, in the Azteca, is the thing that ties neighbors together.

The bridge in the Azteca is pretty understated.  It's a two-lane span, with walkways on each side and an unremarkable barrier that helps to keep pedestrians from falling into the creek below.

More than a century ago, the bridge looked entirely different.  There were rail lines on the structure and its path was unpaved, it seems.  By the way, my Twitter buddy made the connection between the vintage scene and the accompanying iron fence.  (The Laredo Electric Railway Company operated from December 1889 to December 1935.)

On the left side of the photo, next to the light poles, you can see the iron fencing that once stood proud.  Part of it is still present on the north side of Iturbide, but it's a remnant of days past.  The oxidized frame is a souvenir from another era, sitting idly by and neglected.

This photo, with my shadow at the bottom, was taken in July.  You get a view towards the west.  The previous photo, the one in black and white, is of the observer looking east.

The plaque on the current bridge's fencing is dated 1928.  Albert Martin was the mayor.  Sound familiar?

Three years ago I wrote about a two-story building that was destroyed by a fire.  The structure was eventually demolished.  That building was something I noticed every time I drove by.  I never photographed it, though.  The image above, which I included in the 2016 blog post, I borrowed from Google Maps.  What was staring me in the face then was the iron fence that I'm writing about now.  That thing has been there since before my parents were born.  It's been steadfast through the better part of three generations.  Today it's clinging to dear life, with the help of the terra firma and foliage that surrounds it.

To me the fence is a reminder of the way we treat Laredo's history: it's neglected to the point of being pushed aside.

The Azteca is full of historical architecture -- housing templates that point to different periods in time.  The facades are worth an occasional viewing.  The creek that straddles the old neighborhood has its own potential.  It could be a sanctuary for native plants and trees that can be more inviting for birds and butterflies.  Alas, it's only use is for the diversion of excess water.

On the north side of the Azteca, you can see a giant flag pole that sits of the cemented grounds of a drive-thru banking facility.  That whole scene is a sign of progress.  The bank is located where "la escuela amarilla" used to be.

On the other side of the Azteca is an ignored fence, a piece of metal that has lost its usefulness.  It's the lowly counterpart to the soaring flag pole.  Each piece has a story.  Unfortunately for the fence, it's fading from our consciousness, as is Laredo's history.      

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Racism Courtesy Of The Sheriff's Office

(The title of this post is pointed in order to counter the grave ignorance of this community and its leaders.)

The photo above appeared in the Laredo Times last week.  It was apparently taken, and shared, by staff of the Webb County Sheriff's Office.  The image appeared on social media a day before I saw it in the newspaper.  The topic of controversy is the person who chose to wear blackface for the costume party.

As of this writing, there seems to be a small group of Laredoans who see this as a major lapse in judgement.  Going through the countless comments posted on Facebook feeds, I get the feeling that people in this town aren't that smart.  Many don't see this as a racist act.  Instead it's viewed as a harmless portrayal of an iconic black character, and to make more out of it is to be foolish.

Sheriff Cuellar, who hosted the costume party, replied to the brouhaha by defending the woman's appearance and dismissing any ill will toward others.  But he insinuated that the lady had an intellectual disability.  He stood firm against the supposed attacks on the defenseless party participant, ignoring the fact that he put his name, and that of Webb County, on an image that is racist.  He didn't take any responsibility for the moment.  And why should he, when nobody else has a clue about this.  (The sheriff's comments appeared in Sunday's paper.)

Luckily there was an editorial entry on the same page that countered the sheriff's idiocy, COURTESY OF Marco Guajardo.

We are the least ethnically diverse large city in the country.  As a result of this segregation, many are simply blind to the offensive and racist implications that come from not being exposed to people that do not look or talk like us.  A person wearing blackface for a costume contest would command high levels of scrutiny and attention in a city like Austin, Los Angeles, Detroit, or New York City. 

Bravo! to Mr. Guajardo!  His thoughts on the matter are more lucid than those of Sheriff Martin.

On the KGNS morning show recently, I saw Elizabeth Millner speak out against the use of blackface.  She was assertive and direct as the camera stayed on her for the commentary.  I applauded her for lending her voice to this issue, and to KGNS for giving her the air time to do so.  Millner is black.  And she's a transplant.  And her input was vital for a community that is majority Hispanic.

But today's feature by KGNS was less heroic.  And to top it off, it was voiced by Millner herself.  What made the story less savory was the inclusion of Facebook comments by those who don't have a problem with blackface.  It's obvious that KGNS didn't want to take sides in this matter, unfortunately.

I want to think that this is being used as a teaching moment by some of us.  There may be many Marco Guajardos among us that are passing on some sense to our friends and family.  Let's educate ourselves on things that have a bigger impact beyond our borders.

We should decry racist acts.  I hope you're listening, elected officials, the media, and the public at large.