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P r e s e r v a t i o n

LRGV Showcases Heritage Conference tour highlights recent efforts to save previously neglected sites by Stephen Fox

In conjunction with its annual Building Communities Conference held in September, the Lower Río Grande Valley chapter of the AIA sponsored a daylong tour that highlighted preservation projects in and around Brownsville. Drizzle and unseasonably cool temperatures did not dampen the spirits of architectural sightseers as they examined a range of nineteenth- and twentieth-century sites. Because rain rendered as impassable the unpaved road to one planned destination, chapter executive director Carmen Pérez García prevailed on Brownsville architect Calvin Walker, AIA, to escort tour participants through the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in downtown Brownsville. Walker’s firm, Walker & Pérez, collaborated with Austin architects Volz & Associates and Sparks Engineering on an assessment of the cathedral in 2005. Immaculate Conception, built between 1856 and 1859, was designed by the Rev. Pierre-Yves Kéralum, a French-born architect who came to Texas in 1852 as a missionary priest with members of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Walker pointed out – with added commentary by Brownsville architect Roberto Ruiz, AIA, and Port Isabel architect Manuel Hinojosa, AIA – the conservation problems that Immaculate Conception shares with other nineteenth-

century border buildings constructed of soft, locally made brick. Moisture migration from roof leaks, infiltration of the walls, and rising damp are chronic problems. Ensuring that roofs are securely anchored to timber roof structures is another concern. Yet the cathedral – repainted externally for the celebration of its 150th anniversary in 2009 – was impressive. From Immaculate Conception, tour participants walked a block to the historic City Market House in Market Square to visit the office of Peter L. Goodman, manager of Brownsville’s

‘Lost’ in the Borderlands Austin architect W. Eugene George’s classic work, Lost Architecture of the Río Grande Borderlands, has returned to print in a handsome new edition. In this update of the 1975 original edition, George amplifies

downtown development district, and José A. Gavito, Jr., the city’s heritage officer. They discussed the changing nature of preservation in Brownsville and current efforts to expand preservation awareness from the original townsite to the city’s twentieth-century neighborhoods. Despite steady rain, the group set off for Santa María, 30 miles upriver from Brownsville. In the early 1880s, the owner of Rancho Santa María conveyed property to the Diocese of Brownsville for construction of a brick church dedicated to Our Lady of Visitation, completed in 1882. According to Oblate historian Father Edward A. Kennedy, Our Lady of Visitation (shown at left) was built from a design for a rural church prepared by Father Kéralum before his death in 1872. Our Lady of Visitation is no longer a functioning parish church. Neglect and vandalism have taken a serious toll on the small building, as do the vibrations of semi-trailer trucks passing just a few yards away on U.S. 281. Architect Roberto Ruiz, AIA, explained the interventions carried out by Brownsville conservation specialist Lawrence V. Lof, who has erected timber shoring inside the church to counteract the decades-long effects of roof leaks, rising damp, crumbling mortar, and lack of maintenance. continued on page 73

of these sites for the 88-page book published by the Texas Historical Commission. George’s precise and sensitive draftsmanship and the haunting profiles of stone ranch houses powerfully conveyed the loss experienced by residents of the area in the early 1950s. To his 1975 account George has added color photographs of Guerrero Viejo in Tamaulipas, the eighteenth-century Mexican town

his history and analysis of ranchsteads that lay near the Río Grande in Zapata County and Starr County with new research. These river ranches were first documented between 1948 and

partially submerged by Falcón Reservoir, and a greatly expanded

1953 by archeologists Alex D. Krieger, Jack T. Hughes, Jack Humphries, Edward B. Jelks, and Joe F. Cason for the National Park Service’s River Basins Survey during the construction of

1961. A new and moving foreward by Ricardo Paz Treviño recounts

International Falcón Dam. The dam impounded the river in a 115,000-acre reservoir that submerged the ranchlands in 1953. In 1975, George used survey field notes and photographs deposited at the

were rendered inaccessible by the man-made deluge.

Texas Archeological Research Laboratory to prepare architectural drawings of many

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account of the architectural-historical context of the Texan-Tamaulipas border drawing on his research in the region, which began in the days before the water inundated the Treviño family’s hometown and the subsequent pilgrimages to honor ancestors whose graves S t e p h e n

F o x

Lost Architecture of the Río Grande Borderlands by W. Eugene George, FAIA, is available from Texas A&M University Press.

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Texas Architect March/April 2010: Performance Spaces  
Texas Architect March/April 2010: Performance Spaces  

This edition highlights architecture deigned for performance throughout Texas, including thoughtful essays about the use of public space and...