Arts & Culture in Laredo
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Arts & Culture

Our Historic Streets and Districts

You may recognize the famous phrase “the streets of Laredo.” Walked by pioneers, independent spirits, politicians, Indians, conquistadors, modern day nomads, and country-men with sworn allegiance to seven different countries over the last 261 years; these streets are imbued with a storied past heading into a fascinating future. This mix with the present is evident to the many visitors today as they walk the various streets and historic districts of this community on the edge of the country.

Old Mercado

During the 1880s, the city of Laredo began to expand northward from San Agustin Plaza. The building of a new City Hall in 1883-1884 caused businesses, hotels, and restaurants to locate north of the San Agustin Plaza. The City Hall area was known as El Mercado as its rear portion housed stalls for vendors. The feature structure of this district houses the Laredo Center for the Arts and the Webb County Heritage Foundation today.

Fort McIntosh Historic District

Fort McIntosh was designated a National Historic District in 1975, and is a State Archaeological Landmark. Currently serving as the home campus of Laredo Community College, the fort was established as Camp Crawford in March 1849 near the point of an old Spanish and Indian river crossing, known as Paso del Indio . By 1850, the fort was renamed in honor of Lieutenant Colonel James Simmons McIntosh, a hero who lost his life after the Battle of Molino del Rey.

Arts & Culture

Galleries and museums run the gamut from historical structures to newly built modern galleries, each dedicated to its own vision. While visiting Laredo, spend an afternoon enjoying an exhibit or two. Visit these websites for hours of operation:

Border Heritage Museum
810 Zaragoza Street – 956.727.0977 – Border Heritage Museum

Casa Ortiz
915 Zaragoza Street – 956.326.3200 – Casa Ortiz

Helen Richter Watson Art Gallery
5201 University Blvd. (1st floor Sue and Radcliffe Killam Library) – 956.326.4483 – Helen Richter Watson Art Gallery

Laredo Center for the Arts
500 San Agustin Avenue – 956.725.1715 – Center for the Arts

Laredo Little Theatre
4802 Thomas Avenue – Laredo Little Theatre

Laredo Theater Guild International

Laredo Theater Guild International

Laredo Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorale
956.326.3039 – Laredo Philharmonic Orchestra

Republic of the Rio Grande Museum
1005 Zaragoza Street – 956.727.0977 – Republic of the Rio Grande Museum

Texas A&M International University Art Gallery
5201 University Blvd. (CFPA 217B) – 956.326.2654 –
Texas A&M International University Art Gallery

Washington’s Birthday Celebration (WBCA Laredo) Museum
1000 Zaragoza

Washington’s Birthday Celebration Association (WBCA Laredo)

San Agustin Historic District

Receiving national designation in 1973, San Agustin Historic District is the oldest section of Laredo, founded by Tomas Sanchez in 1755. New Spain officially designated the settlement as a villa and christened it San Agustin de Laredo, after a town in Santander, Spain. A plaza mayor or central plaza was laid out, and porciones or Spanish land grants were issued to heads of households. The anchor icon of the district today is the towering spire of San Agustin Cathedral overlooking the plaza of the same name, San Agustin Plaza.

St. Peter’s Historic District

Bounded by Santa Maria Ave., the Texas-Mexican tracks, the Missouri Pacific tracks and Hidalgo Street on the south, the St. Peter’s neighborhood was developed between 1881 and World War 1. The neighborhood was named for St. Peter’s Church, on 1500 Matamoros, which was constructed in 1896-1897. It was Laredo’s second Catholic Church and the first for English speakers. Many of the homes and the Church structure remain in working condition today.

El Azteca Local Historic District

This predominantly residential neighborhood was established from 1870-1940; of note are the frequency of Mexican vernacular architectural style homes and structures. Interrupted by progress, a major disruption to the area came about with the development of Interstate Highway 35 in the 1960’s and the neighborhood was bisected to install roadway infrastructure. It remains a low to moderate income residential area today.

(These are only some of the historic districts in Laredo, because of space limitations in this publication, we could not list all of them.)

Points of Interest

In 1746, the King of Spain directed Don Jose Escandon to explore and settle the area between Tampico, Mexico, and the San Antonio River in Texas. Escandon granted Don Tomas Sanchez permission to settle on the north bank of the Rio Grande River. On May 15, 1755, Tomas Sanchez began settlement and chose this area because of an Indian ford on the river, Paso de lndio.

1) San Agustin Cathedral, 201 San Agustin, 1872 – This church began as a hut on the corner of Zaragoza and San Agustin in the days of Laredo’s founding in 1755; its 2nd construction in 1789 was a small stone church (see the brick outline in front of the church); the 3rd is present structure. The clock was struck by lightning twice in its history.

Founded by a Catholic population, tradition required that the deceased be buried on holy ground, that which we are walking on. Many bodies of Laredo’s earliest settlers remain buried where we stand today. Amongst the dead, Laredo’s very own founder, Tomas Sanchez, is believed to be buried beneath the San Agustin Parochial School. A 1998 archaeological dig crew found the remains of a 6 ft. tall man in an underground sandstone crypt near the corner of Grant and San Agustin.

2) Casa Ortiz, 916 Zaragoza - The rear portion of the structure dates back to the late 1700s, but the front was constructed 1829-30. The dining room holds the only original piece (a built in closet with mirrors). This home is rumored to have underground tunnels and gold buried in the property.

3) Republic of the Rio Grande Museum, 1005 Zaragoza, 1830 - This was home to Bartolomé Garcia, great grandson of Laredo’s founder (Thomas Sanchez) and 3 time Mayor of Laredo. The structure served as the capitol of The Republic of the Rio Grande.

4) La Posada Hotel, 1000 Zaragoza, Late 1800s-1917 - This was the site of the town hall, which also housed a jail; it was converted to Laredo High School in 1886. It was torn down in 1916 and new construction was erected for Laredo High School, it later served as an elementary school and was rehabilitated as a hotel in 1961.The ballrooms once served as a 19th –century convent as well.

5) The Tack Room (Bruni-Cantu Building), 1101 Zaragoza, 1883-84 - Originally built as a residence, in 1889 it housed the Telephone Exchange which was equipped to provide telephone service to more than 2,000 customers in both Laredo and Nuevo Laredo. It later returned to a use as a residence.

6) Benavides Vidaurri House, 202 Flores, 1874 - This home was built for Col. Santos Benavides and used as a U.S. Customs house. Benavides was the highest ranking Hispanic officer in the Confederate Army, a Laredo mayor, and also a Texas legislature 1879-1884. After remodeling in 1907, it became residence to Tomasa Benavides Vidaurri.

7) Leyendecker House, 204 Flores, 1870 - This was built for Laredo’s first postmaster, John Z. Leyendecker – a German immigrant. He married Santos Benavides’s sister, Maria; after her death, he married another Benavides Sister (Juliana) and had 10 children. The house remained in the family until 1995.

8) Mullally House, 1016 Grant, 1901 - This house was constructed of local brick for Judge. J.F. Mullally, Federal District Judge from 1905-1938.The Judge’s wife, Pauline, was John and Juliana Leyendecker’s daughter.

9) Judge Jose Maria Rodriguez House, 1012 Grant, 1880 - This home served as residence of J.M. Rodriguez, Webb County Judge from 1878-1913. The Judge was born in San Antonio and as a child, witnessed the storming of the Alamo. He moved to Laredo in 1861 and later served as county clerk for 35 years. During his term in office, he would be witness to the 1886 election riot between the Botas & Guaraches. The judge married Feliz Benavides, Santos Benavides’s cousin.

Annual elections for city officials would take place at San Agustin Plaza. In 1886, Citizens were divided among 2 rival parties; the Guaraches (sandals) and Botas (boots). The Botas swept all but 2 positions on April 6, after a Bota city councilman had been killed. The Botas planned a mock funeral for the defeated Guaraches and held it on April 7. The Guaraches fired their ceremonial cannon in to the Bota parade which led to a battle. Casualties were estimated higher that the 11 known dead.

10) Former Laredo National Bank, 419 Flores, 1915-16 - This building served as the Laredo National Bank through 1957.

11) El Mercado (formerly City Hall), 500 Flores, 1883-84 - The structure served 3 purposes: City Hall, a Performing Arts Theatre, and Market Hall. The building was once decorated with a tall belfry that was destroyed by a tornado spawned from a hurricane in 1905. The current City Hall was built in 1990.

12) Plaza Theater, 1018 Hidalgo, 1947 – This 1,586-seat structure was the most luxurious theater in town during its inauguration. The interior featured a balcony with a beautiful canvas mural hand painted by a Laredo artist.

13) Gonzalez Trevino Grocery Store, 517-519 San Agustin, 1875-1880 – A commercial building erected at the turn-of-the-century, it mostly served as a grocery store, except for a short time when it housed a saloon and gambling house.

14) BBVA Compass Bank (formerly Laredo Robert E. Lee Hotel), 600 San Bernardo, 1926 – This was one of Laredo’s first skyscrapers and had a roof garden. It started as the Robert E. Lee Hotel, it later served as the Plaza Hotel from 1940-1979. The hotel became the headquarters for all social and civic activities.

15) Bruni-Vergara House, 815 Hidalgo, circa 1875 – This was built as a residence and is one of the oldest buildings in this section of downtown.

As you walk the Streets of Laredo, take note of the street names. Those running east to west are named after American and Mexican generals, alternating a turn each… Zaragoza (M), Grant (A), Iturbide (M), Lincoln (A), etc.

Those running north to south are named after Catholic saints; Santa Ursula, San Agustin, Santa Maria, etc…

For more information on historic downtown and surrounding neighborhoods visit: Laredo Main Street
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