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…