San Elizario recognized as cultural district by Texas Commission on the Arts

By Aileen B. Flores

 San Elizario is a place where history and art are one.

The small town, commonly known for its history dating back 400 years, is now recognized by the Texas Commission on the Arts as a cultural district. The district includes Los Portales Museum, the Memorial Placita, the Presidio Chapel, the Old County Jail and the Horseshoe Theatre.

A formal designation ceremony is set for Oct. 27 at Los Portales Museum, also known as Casa Garcia.

The designation allows the community of about 13,000 people to apply for funding and other resources that will help it with economic development and community revitalization projects.

"It allows the communities to have an opportunity to promote themselves, and usually, art is the motivating factor to bring tourists or visitors to the community," Deputy Director of the Texas Commission on the Arts Jim Bob McMillan said.


A panel of experts this year designated four cultural districts in the state, including San Elizario. There were eight applicants, McMillan said. There are now 24 cultural districts in the state, including Downtown El Paso, which received the designation two years ago.

The panel considered, and recommended, San Elizario because it has great potential and can promote its history and arts, McMillan said.

"The things that the panel of experts liked about San Elizario were that they do have a number of artists living and working in the community, and that there are regular events happening. There is a very rich heritage and history," McMillan said. "San Elizario has potential to make people aware of that history with some of the things that they do."

The designation is a big accomplishment for the historic community, whose cultural potential has remained dormant for years.

Artist Al Borrego, president of the San Elizario Genealogy and Historical Society, worked with State Rep. Mary Gonzalez's office to obtain the designation. The Genealogy and Historical Society is the manager of the designation.

"That designation tells me that what we are doing is working. It gives us another partner to let everybody know what's going on in San Elizario," he said.

Borrego was a visionary in the creation of the recognized cultural district. He first exhibited his own work and the work of other artists in San Elizario in 2009. Since then, he has undertaken many projects and activities to promote the community.

Currently, there are more than 35 artist studios and the work of more than 100 artists is on display in San Elizario, which hosts nearly 90 cultural events a year.

One of them is the popular walking tour, which features close to 20 historic structures or places. Borrego has replaced the walking tour brochure for a unique system that works with the Quick Response Code Reader phone application.

McMillan said the designation can lead to the development of more businesses, as well as hotels, motels or bed-and-breakfasts that don't currently exist in the town.

Some new developments are already being planned in the town.

Although he did not provide details, Borrego said somebody from Las Cruces with roots in San Elizario is looking to open a 50-room Best Western brand hotel.

And Harvey Johnson, owner of El Bandido Restaurant and Cantina in San Elizario, is expected to open a fine dining restaurant called Mestizo Southwestern Grill in the town this December.

"With new businesses coming into town and more people coming into to town, it would enhance the tax base by raising property values and providing more taxes that can be spent in the community," McMillan said.

In addition, the cultural district designation also allows San Elizario to recruit artists to live or open businesses in the community, McMillan added.

The town is seeking to incorporate as an official municipality, in part to prevent from being annexed into the neighboring city of Socorro. The November election will allow voters to decide whether San Elizario should become a Type A general-law municipality encompassing 7.88 square miles, including the historic district.

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