Residents leave to save history, old buildings from the ‘golden era’ of Juarez

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – A century of history hangs in the balance as private citizens and government officials in Juarez attempt to clean up their downtown area and save iconic buildings.

The city of Juarez recently created the Historic City Center Rescue Commission and tasked its members with developing a plan to make the area more attractive to visitors and locals.

“We will start with the basics such as street cleanliness, night lighting, public safety,” said councilor Joob Quintin, a member of the committee. “Such things are so basic and necessary and yet we don’t have them. “

He said the commission would recruit traders along the tourist stripes near the border and those in the market district around the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe to keep the premises and sidewalks clean. The effort will include residential neighborhoods west of the city center, which are in need of street repairs, lighting and more policing.

The members of the new Rescue Commission of the historic city center of Juarez hold their first meeting. (Courtesy of the city of Juarez)

“We will be in contact with small businesses and neighbors because it goes beyond simple tourism; we are trying to save the city center and the neighborhoods, the economy (of the city) itself, ”said Quintin. The city is currently renovating a pedestrian street next to the main square Plaza de Armas and the cathedral.

Separately, a private group continues to push the business community to save several downtown buildings from destruction and disrepair that made Juarez an international tourist destination more than 70 years ago.

“We have a web page and a private Facebook group to tell people about our history so that those who come after us can preserve it,” said Jose Luis Hernandez, coordinator of Juarez de Ayer (yesterday’s Juarez), a club history buffs.

A few years ago, the group rescued a nondescript furniture store along Calle Mariscal from demolition, where the city razed entire blocks of old residential and commercial structures in the mid-2010s.

The building was once called Salon La Fiesta, and patrons paid $ 100 blanket to watch Latin America’s top artists perform there in the 1940s and 1950s.

“We had to set up a table on the sidewalk and collect signatures so they didn’t destroy it,” Hernandez said. “We didn’t want him to suffer from the faith of the old downtown army barracks, or the old Plaza Theater and Victoria. Two retail stores now occupy the Plaza and they are making holes in the walls to run electrical cables and destroying the statues (bas-reliefs). The Victoria is abandoned and collapses.

Hernandez said concerned citizens persuaded a businessman – one of the owners of La Nueva Central cafe – to buy La Fiesta and restore its impressive interior.

He said Juarez was once an international tourist destination thanks to its border location and various turning points in US history.

Prohibition brought hundreds of thousands of Americans to Juarez, and all of that income enabled local traders to turn humble bars into opulent nightclubs. This was in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Then Americans discovered Mexico’s liberal divorce laws and kept coming after Prohibition was repealed. The party performed in the 1940s and early 1950s as soldiers coming to Fort Bliss, Texas often crossed the border before being deployed to theaters of war in Europe, the Pacific and then Korea, Hernandez said.

“We had many iconic clubs such as the Follies, Molino Rojo, Crystal Palace, La Cucaracha, Café Rio Grande and Chinese Palace. They tried to put on the best shows and attracted wealthy people from Europe, Mexico City and the United States, including Hollywood stars, ”he said.

Hernandez said Juarez had become so successful that waiters and housekeepers often only took tips in dollar bills and up, leaving coins on tables or sweeping them on the sidewalk.

But as the wars ended and the glamor faded, these iconic buildings were doomed to fail. Some became nightclubs in the 1970s; others closed the upper floors and became pharmacies, shoe stores and curiosity stores.

Some buildings closed completely during the COVID-19 pandemic and only some 5,000 old photographs remain of their history that Juarez de Ayer scanned on his platforms.

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