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Historical building a hazard, faces demolition

This article originally ran in the April 16, 2021 issue of the Progress Times.

Adela Ortega remembers being in a Thanksgiving program in the historic Roosevelt Auditorium when she was at the then elementary school.

“I was, I think, a pilgrim at one time when I was in second grade or first grade,” the Mission resident said. 

She remembers the community play the Chamber of Commerce once held there, and that the auditorium was decorated beautifully for the occasion. Ortega even has memories of the teachers that once occupied two nearby classrooms — “Dolores de la Garza” and “Mrs. Cantu.” 

“They were right next to each other,” said Ortega, the chairperson of the Hidalgo County Historical Commission. “It’s awesome those classrooms are still standing.” 

Photo courtesy of Waymarking

But the same can barely be said for the auditorium. The building has been in a state of deterioration for at least 15 years, a process that was most likely accelerated by Hurricane Hanna in 2020, according to Mission CISD’s Director of Public Relations Craig Verley. About 30 percent of the roof structure has collapsed and 100 percent of the floor is damaged. Based on MCISD documents, the last time the space was used was in the 2005-2006 school year. 

The Roosevelt Alternative Campus was built around 1929 as an elementary school. In 2002 it was put on the National Register of Historic Places due to its architecture. According to documents from the National Register, the building was constructed with brick known locally as Madero for its origins in the nearby community of the same name located south of Mission. 

With its symmetrical front, round-headed windows and bas-relief style panels (a sculpting technique with design elements protruding from the flat background), the exterior of the Roosevelt Auditorium has characteristics of Renaissance Revival architecture. But the overall appearance is more reminiscent of the Spanish Colonial Revival style, a tradition that was common for institutional architecture in the Lower Rio Grande Valley for the first half of the 20th century. 

The campus has undergone several renovations and additions throughout the years, but the stand-alone auditorium and nearby classrooms retained their architectural integrity. However, due to the current extensive damage, Roosevelt Auditorium has become a hazard. After discussions at the Mission CISD April 7 workshop and the April 14 school board meeting, the board of trustees voted in favor of demolition. It would cost an estimated $1.5 million to revive the structure, while demolition would cost $157,000. 

Superintendent Dr. Carol G. Perez said the district has already looked into grants to help with funding the repair, but a lot of them are very small. However, the district will look into keeping either the façade or some sort of memorial to the auditorium. 

“One of the things is that we don’t even have parking space for our employees. They park on the street,” Perez said. “So what we really need is a parking lot in that area.” 

The auditorium is one of five Mission buildings on the endangered buildings list, according to Ortega. The other structures on the list are the Mission Citrus Growers Union Packing Shed, the pump house on Sixth and Canal, the Rio Theatre and the Mission Historical Museum. 

“I would like to preserve our only historic site within the Mission school district. It’s the only building that’s still standing that’s of historical significance or remaining of our people. Our leaders went to that school,” Ortega said. “We need to save our past for our future, to keep our future going. That building has a lot of stories.”  

Before demolition can begin, MCISD will need to apply to the Texas Historical Commission, where they will have 60 days to approve the request. The commission can still deny the request to demolish the auditorium, but MCISD’s attorney David Hansen said it is unlikely that will happen. 

The Director of the Mission Historical Museum Cindy Stojanovic said the issue with demolishing this historic building is complicated. Historical sites are a reminder and a structural depiction of our culture, she said, and they can be symbolic to the community. Stojanovic also grew up near the auditorium. 

“I think that while many of us would like to see it restored and back to its majestic glory, there’s also the side of us, and this is where it’s very conflicting, that it’s something that’s unsafe. Those issues need to be addressed,” the museum director said. “This is just kind of part of that world of historic preservation of buildings where you have to very carefully balance out how to maintain the integrity of the building while still maintaining its safety. And that can be difficult to do and that can be a difficult decision to make.”

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