History behind Union Plaza neighborhood slated for demolition

La Nortena was a Mexican Restaurant located at Union Plaza 

By now, you have probably heard about the fight to save the historic Union Plaza neighborhood. But what makes it so historic? We met with one of the main historians who has been fighting to save the area.

Historian Bernie Sargent said tearing it down will mean every piece of history that has happened there since 1829 will be wiped out with a bulldozer.

"We've learned that this is the actual first location of the first ranch north of the river. That was in 1827," Sargent said.

Sargent said Union Plaza is the oldest residential neighborhood in El Paso.

"In El Paso proper. Obviously we had Ysleta, we had San Elizario and Socorro, which had neighborhoods," Sargent explained.

Sargent said a lot of people who lived in the neighborhood in the early 1900s were railroad workers. He thinks the history of the people who lived in that neighborhood is phenomenal.

"The monies that was being laundered by Pancho Villa; he had a stash house there; reportedly had buried some of his money there. His wife lived in that neighborhood," Sargent explained.

A lot of Chinese history and culture is wrapped up in this neighborhood, too.

"The Chinese laundry that became the restaurant that is now slated to be torn down is the last vestige of the Chinese community," Sargent said.

Then there is the Mansion House. Sargent said it was originally a boarding house.

"So there was police there. There were people who worked for the railroad there. We had a lot of Chinese living in that neighborhood," Sargent said.

You may know it now as an old brothel.

"Some of the leadership of El Paso spent time there," Sargent said. "The business was a little bit less than preferable. But the monies that were received by the city actually put in streetlights, put in sidewalks, built a lot of the city with the taxes that the ladies had to pay."

Sargent said his vision instead of an arena is to re-create the neighborhood as the birthplace of El Paso. He said we could utilize some of the buildings that are down there that the city has already purchased. He said it could be the culture center hub for Mexican-Americans, Native Americans, African-Americans, Chinese-Americans and Middle Eastern culture centers.

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