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Mission attempts to remedy preservation ordinance issues

In the wake of the demolition of the historic Roosevelt Auditorium, the City of Mission is working to protect its other significant sites before it’s too late. But some community members feel those in charge have already failed the city. 

Earlier this month, Mission CISD demolished the 1929 auditorium that was on the National Register of Historic Places because the district alleged it was too expensive to save after years of deterioration. MCISD leaders also wanted to build a parking lot. 

The Roosevelt building was the last remaining structure of the original Roosevelt School from 1921, which was where the city sent Mexican and Mexican American students to learn during Mission’s segregation era. 

Community members attempted to save the auditorium after preliminary demolition started but could not get an injunction before 8A Builders knocked the building down on June 9. 

Those leading the charge to save Roosevelt Auditorium contacted the City of Mission for help, but there was nothing the city could do. The existing preservation law from June 2021, Ordinance No. 5035, did not include the auditorium on its list of protected structures, and it failed to include other historic sites on the south side of Mission — known as the Mexican side of town before Mission integrated. Local activist and Missionite Ester Salinas said the exclusion felt racially motivated. 

Additionally, the Texas Legislature created Senate Bill 1585 in September 2021, which requires specific parameters for cities designating properties as historic. 

Now, the City of Mission is attempting to remedy the situation by modifying its preservation ordinance to include other structures on the south side, comply with state statutes per SB 1585 and expand the Mission Historical Preservation Commission to include more community members. The commission met June 19, where they unanimously approved the recommendations from City Attorney Victor Flores. 

During the meeting, Flores recommended immediate changes and long-term changes. The most immediate changes include amending the existing ordinance map to include the south side properties such as Rio Theatre, Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, La Lomita Church, the Mission pump house and any other historic sites the commission deems necessary. Mayor Norie Gonzalez Garza said they need to amend the ordinance map as soon as possible to avoid another situation like the Roosevelt Auditorium demolition. 

However, the commission only discussed adding the sites to the ordinance map at the June 19 meeting. To make the additions official, the preservation commission needs to make a recommendation to the Mission Planning & Zoning Commission. Each item needs majority approval from P&Z and then city council. The mayor also said city leaders are working on creating an ordinance that would require a similar process for a demolition permit for a historic structure. 

Long-term changes include creating an entirely new preservation ordinance better suited for Mission and adding members to the commission, thereby making it a subcommittee. The commission plans to develop criteria for individuals that want to join. 

“I just want to make it clear and I want to make it clear to everybody that this historic commission is going to be very active and proactive in getting these ordinances in place,” the mayor said. “We’re not going to allow them to cop out.” 

And while those present expressed appreciation to the commission for taking action to protect Mission’s historic sites, Salinas is still disappointed it happened after it was too late for Roosevelt. 

“They destroyed a national archive because everybody was fumbling around and nobody knew what they were doing,” she said. 

But preservation commission member Hollis Rutledge said there was “nothing [they] can do with spilled milk.” 

“Roosevelt, it’s gone,” he said. “What we can do is pick up the pieces as a community to make sure that we preserve it and we come up with a plan of action in which it won’t happen again.” 

Councilmember Jessica Ortega suggested the city meet with Mission CISD to commemorate the site and “preserve the legacy that was there.” 

“It’s sad that the building has already been demolished,” Ortega said. “But let’s work now on making that piece of legacy be something that we can all be proud of in that area.”

Maria Ruiz contributed to this article.

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