This past Tuesday, April 29th Mayor Oscar Leeser and the El Paso City Council reaffirmed their commitment to reopening Lincoln Center if the building can be obtained from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). TxDOT owns the building that is under threat of demolition, but so are the first murals painted at Lincoln Park.
At the City Council meeting members of the LPCC and Senecu presented a detailed business plan for the reopening the center. They hope to speak about that plan at the MPO meeting and address members on the importance of saving the historic structure and Lincoln Park's first murals.
TxDOT Chair Ted Houghton Jr., as well as Bob Bielek, TxDOT District Engineer have has never presented fully detailed plans to the community, to the City of El Paso or to the MPO.
Background on our Effort to Save and Reopen Lincoln Center
Why is Lincoln Center important?
Lincoln School (Lincoln Center) and the Lincoln Park community in El Paso, Texas is a place that has tremendous historical significance. The Lincoln Park Subdivision was registered with the El Paso City Clerk’s office in 1909. Among the many students who attended Lincoln School, was the late State Representative Mauro Rosas. Rosas was the first Latino State Representative from El Paso, Texas to serve in Austin during the Twentieth century in 1959 during the Fifty-Sixth and Fifty-Seven Sessions (1959-1963). Since 2006, the Lincoln Park Conservation Committee (LPCC) has held the annual Lincoln Park Day at Lincoln Park.
Lincoln Center’s historic value is that the school is also the last standing public building of the Concordia School District. The Concordia School District was originally part of the Ascarate Land Grant.
Present day Lincoln Park represents El Corazón de El Paso (the Heart of El Paso). Since 1981, artists have painted murals on the highway pillars like the murals at Chicano Park in San Diego. There are also several important murals painted inside Lincoln Center by Carlos E. Florés, who studied under Maestro Luis Nishisawa at the Academia de San Carlos in Mexico City at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico, where many Mexico’s famed muralists studied.
Who owns the building and who wants to be reopened?
The old Lincoln School was a Mexican school in segregated El Paso. In 1970, the City of El Paso sold the building to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), to be used as an office during the creation of Interstate 10. Later, TxDOT leased the building to the City of El Paso to be used for a “community purpose” and the Lincoln Cultural Arts Center was created, consisting of a recreational center, offices and a gallery. Rosa Guerrero founded her folklorico dance company there. The late Lucy Acosta (Project Bravo) had an office there. The Juntos Art Association had its 1985 Invitational Art and 1986 Latino Photography exhibits there.
During the 2006 El Paso floods, Lincoln Center was closed by the City citing water and mold damage and stated it intended to reopen it at a later date—they never did. In 2011, the city moved to demolish the building but the LPCC opposed its demolition and advocated for a stay until a plan could be put in place to reopen the building. On May 22, 2012, the City who had been leasing the building from TxDOT, returned it to them and again recommended that the building be demolished. Again, LPCC asked for an extension on the demolition until they could come up with a plan to save it. Most recently, LPCC has teamed up with the Senecu Fine Arts Society, (Senecu) Inc., and with a governmental entity we have identified, and we are working with TxDOT to acquire the building and amphitheater. TxDOT is willing to give us the building, but not the land. If the building is acquired, the land will be leased on a long-term basis.
What requirements does TxDOT have for the reopening of Lincoln Center?
TxDOT has cited safety as their concern in the reopening of Lincoln Center. Unfortunately, they are using a 2006 study conducted by the city intended to have the building demolished. Several independent walk throughs with our engineers have revealed no mold damage and no major safety issues—the building itself is in pristine condition. The governmental entity we have identified, El Paso Community College, also did a walk through and found no major safety issues but they estimate it will take $2.5 million to reopen the building. TxDOT has added the requirement that if the building is not kept to code, we will have to pay to have it demolished.
Who supports the reopening of Lincoln Center?
We have received letters of support from: Congressman Beto O’Rourke (16th District), Texas State Representative Mary González, District 75; Texas State Representative Naomi González, District 76; Texas State Representative Marisa Marquez,District 77; Texas State Representative Joe Moody, District 78; and Texas State Representative Joe Pickett, District 79. Texas Senator José Rodríguez’s (District 29) office has been taking the lead of working with us on this project with support from Texas State Representative Joe Pickett’s (District 79) office. The reopening of Lincoln Center is also supported by an array of El Paso artists, organizations and community leaders, as well as by hundreds of people who want to see it reopened.
Who is Blocking the Reopening of Lincoln Center?
El Pasoan Ted Houghton, Chair of the Texas Transportation Commission wants it torn down. He says there is no use for it. Also, a proposed ramp from Interstate 10 to the Border Highway may demolish the building altough there are other plans to choose from.
Mr. Houghton can easily request that demolition of Lincoln Center be stopped, but he sees no value in keeping the building standing. He cites safety concerns that were not important when the City of El Paso was leasing the building from them. Please help us convince Mr. Houghton that Lincoln Center is important to our community and that it deserves to be saved and reopened by signing our petition on change.org:
Please stop the demolition and sign the petition to save Lincoln Center: https://www.change.org/petitions/save-lincoln-center