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Creole Influence Along the Border Craftsmen from New Orleans left their mark in Brownsville and Matamoros

courtesy Wayne Bell, FAIA

through the patio and zaguán (what The Lower Río Grande Valley in New Orleans would be called a chapter of the A merican Instiporte-cochère) of the Casa García tute of Architects kicked off its Schreck, an 1860s-era house that fifteenth annual conference on has been handsomely restored. Sept. 27 with a day-long tour of In Brownsville, the group had nineteenth-century architecture the opportunity to visit Galería in the border cities of Brownsville 409, a pair of narrow, brick comand Matamoros, Tamaulipas. Called mercial buildings constructed “A Tale of Two Cities,” the tour was about 1853 and restored in 2006 by led by Gregory Free, principal of Betty and Mark Clark, transplants an Austin design firm specializfrom the Smithsonian Institution ing in historical restoration. Free in Washington, D.C. Free also led received a 2005 James Marston the group through the Stillman Fitch Foundation Mid-Career Grant House Museum, a center-passage, to study the architecture of the Gulf side-gabled brick house built in of Mexico coast (an investigation he 1851 in what is now downtown has extended to include the islands Brownsville. Free is presently of the Caribbean). The twin cities consulting with the museum’s of Matamoros and Brownsville are owner, the Brownsville Historical a focus of his research because, Association, on the reinterpretafrom the 1820s through the 1860s, tion of the house’s interior to better building professionals were drawn reflect its history. Free described to Matamoros (and to Brownsville the house as a cultural composite. after its founding in 1848) from It has the galerie-and-cabinet plan New Orleans. Casa García Schreck, its patio shown here, in Matamoros was built in the 1860s. of a Creole house combined with an Free led participants on a walkAnglo-American center hall and a ing tour of the zona centro of Matafull-length front veranda. Its brick construction details are redolent of moros, assisted by Adrián Garza Dragustinovis, a local volunteer at the contemporary Matamoros houses. city’s Casamata Historical Museum. Standing in front of the Cathedral of Free’s lively tour put the nineteenth-century architecture of the twin Nuestra Señora del Refugio, Free explained how it had originally been built cities in a regional cultural context that is neither exclusively Mexican between 1814 and 1833 under the direction of Mateo Passement, a brick nor American but a mixture that also includes French and African commason from New Orleans. After suffering severe damage in the hurricane ponents. Free expounded on this broader context at one of the sessions of 1844, the church was reconstructed in the 1850s by Bártolo Passement, of the chapter’s “Innovation Through Inspiration” conference. Other who immigrated to Matamoros from New Orleans in 1832. Free’s research presentations included: Port Isabel architect Manuel Hinojosa, AIA, on has shown that Bártolo, a free man of color, was the nephew of Mateo. the architecture of south Texas and northeastern Mexico in a Mexican Bártolo Passement’s father was French, from Haïti; his mother, who was historical context; San Antonio architect Steven Land Tillotson, AIA, on of African descent, was from Cuba. Bártolo Passement was part of the mapping cultural landscapes; and Eric Ellman on the revival of the bidiaspora of Creole artisans who left New Orleans in the 1830s and 1840s national Los Caminos del Río heritage corridor initiative. as the Louisiana legislature increasingly restricted the freedoms of people Throughout the three-day conference, AIA LRGV Executive Director of color. These immigrants were welcomed in Matamoros, Tampico, and Carmen Pérez García and Rolando L. García, AIA, the chapter’s conference other Mexican port cities where they encountered none of the prejudice and committee chair, integrated concepts of local architectural culture into indignities to which they were subject in the United States. (One of Bártolo its various events. Their successful interweaving of the conference theme Passement’s grandsons became mayor of Matamoros in the 1890s.) gave design professionals, both those from the Lower Río Grande Valley The tour group had the opportunity to visit one of a pair of houses and those from other parts of the state, opportunities to better understand built in the 1830s that preserve their simple, graceful wrought iron how architecture in their hometowns can encapsulate the wider world. balconies and their expansive rear patios. Free pointed out a house, now badly effaced, and held up drawings he has prepared to show how it could be restored to its original neoclassical condition. Participants walked A TA contributing editor, Stephen Fox is a Fellow of the Anchorage Foundation of Texas.

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By Stephen Fox


Texas Architect Jan/Feb 2008: Design for Education  

Texas Architect is the official publication of the Texas Society of Architects, each edition features recently completed projects and other...

Texas Architect Jan/Feb 2008: Design for Education  

Texas Architect is the official publication of the Texas Society of Architects, each edition features recently completed projects and other...