Wednesday, October 6, 2021

1980s to Present- Murals - or Large Scale Paintings in Brownsville (part 2)

This is a continuation of the "1950s Era Murals - or Large Scale Paintings in Brownsville (part 1)" piece we did recently.  The main focus is the downtown historic district with a cursory view of locations "discovered" while driving around.  If you are a muralist with work in Brownsville please leave a comment to let us know you would like your work added to this blog post.

Let's take another look at some of Brownsville's earliest to recent mural work beginning with La Esperanza Home for Boys - Southwest Key program founded by Brownsville native Dr. Juan Sanchez in the 1980s to house undocumented and unaccompanied children entering into the United States across our border.  It is a large mural that wraps around the building's corner on E Washington and 5th St.  When I first noticed it was being repainted in 2016 once side (facing E Washington St) had already been complete and the side facing 5th St was in progress.  The next three photos are a better view of the completed restoration work 
Portraits of the original founders.

Vietnam soldiers in war, migrant workers and what may be civil rights activism, musicianship and educational advancement and the family unit.
The side facing 5th St was almost completely faded beyond recognition.  As we'll see, the artist's restoring the work might have taken the liberty of improvising which, if they did, did and outstanding job of it.  The original wall was "cleaned and sealed with white Latex paint mixed with matte medium."  
As we can see, with part of the right side of the mural missing from this view, the artist's had their work cut-out for them spread out on the 10' x 100' wall space.
This section shows concert goers facing the stage with musicians playing music.  Perhaps this side had to endure more exposure to the late afternoon sunlight which caused it to fade so much.  Also, the original artist probably used techniques which have since improved the life expectancy of murals.  Ten basic acrylic colors were originally used and mixed for the work and was expected to last ten years or more.
Fidencio Duran Brownsville Herald archive photo by Anthony Padilla 1985 November 24 

Fidencio Duran received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1984 from the University of Austin, Texas.  Today he is known for his narrative mural work throughout the state of Texas with artwork in private and public collections in the United States and abroad.  As an artist in residence from the Texas Commission of the Arts in Austin, he came to Brownsville in 1985 to instruct and supervise the arrangement of thirty-five students' artwork into a mural for the youth center.  Everyone was involved either by "priming, cleaning or painting"  Students were tasked with illustrating their perceptions of the local culture in "politics, economics, love and war" for example.  About six students did most of the painting with Duran who outlined their work, filled in the sky area with an airbrush, outlined large shapes and supervised the students who painted them.

The mural facing 5th St depicts Spring Breakers on vacation at South Padre Island center pieced by the blessing of a young Chican@ couple by the Virgin de Guadalupe as a reflection of the religious and cultural identities of the period.  The student actually got the idea from a t-shirt he saw but it fit-in with the narrative.  There was once a Mexican flag painted over the door which is now absent but the American flag to the right is in place.
Left to right:  Asaac Abally, Erik Aleman and Fidencio Duran are shown touching up the mural in this 1995 December 12 Brownsville Herald archive image by Joe Hermosa.
You can visit Fidencio Duran's webpage HERE!! 

Artist and Southwest Key employee 
The three unnamed artists who restored the mural in 2016.
"Always and Forever"

Homage to the great Esteban Jordan of Elsa, Texas who may not have been part of the original mural but deserves to be immortalized in the Rio Grande Valley
Jordan had a cameo in Born in East L.A." (1987)

Mural of 1910s Brownsville collaged from Robert Runyon photos on the side of the 1934 Nolan Block building on E Elizabeth and 8th (now Palm Lounge). It was done by Brownsville Art Muralists (BAM); a group of La Esperanza students and other BISD students supervised by Luis "Wicho" Guevara with city money and donations gathered with help of the downtown heritage director at the time, Peter Goodman. I once had a digital photo of it before it was removed but hope this 1999 photo by Joe Hermosa of the Brownsville Herald will suffice.

Brownsville local artist Gabriel Mendoza mural 2018 and 2021
Full sized view of mural at 901 E Levee St Community Development Corporation of Brownsville
Disney caricatures on E Adams and 9th St corner 
Before and after look of artwork on E Adams and 9th St corner with graffiti vandalism blurred.  A few years ago a group of artists gathered to paint individual art pieces on the sides of the Capitol Theater building .  Shortly after they were defaced and although the artists returned to repair the damage their art was again ruined.  It may be that Brownsville has too many hateful people within it that, as the colloquial saying goes, "we can't have nice things."  Other cities in the Rio Grande Valley have beautiful murals on a scale far exceeding what we have seen so far.  We have to prove ourselves as a city by rising above the ratchetness that works all day and night to bring us down.
Wall art on side of building on E 13th near E Elizabeth St
Good Neighbor Settlement House 1254 E Tyler  St

Parks and Recreation Department building on E Tyler St (wall facing E 7th St) and additional inserts of children's recreational area behind it
Wall art inside Fernandez Complex building next to Market Square 
390 ft wall for Rio Grande Valley Texas legends wall at Broken Sprocket by Alejandro Gonzalez a.k.a.  @popc_ulture  There are more artists doing outstanding work in the RGV -- far too many to mention here.  Harlingen even printed tour map for all their murals.

Photo by Mario Stanley Morales who has a webpage HERE

Mario Stanley Morales painted the "Give me some space" mural at the Brownsville Convention and Visitor's Bureau. He is one of the most established muralists in the Rio Grande Valley and has demonstrated a varied degree of skillful talent in the interpretation of his clienteles' vision for their homes and businesses.  Click on link above to see a wide range of his work represented on his webpage.

Teddy Kelley photo by Javier R. Garcia
The Teddy Kelley "BTX" mural on Capitol Theater on E Levee and 11th St was the source of discord for many.  I hope that future mural projects go to the best and most experienced artists the Rio Grande Valley and Matamoros have to offer.  If it expresses the local culture great - but as long as it appeals to the many rather than the few who expressed dissatisfaction with the content, style or colors used and the commissioning of this project.  Whether you like it or not, let's look  forward to the future and hope the best is yet to come.

The next artist chosen to do a mural is Mexican artist Sophia Castellanos.  I hope she is regarded with  respect and maybe one day our murals wont have to be ten feet above the street to deter the vandalists who like to deface our art.  Unfortunately, Ms Castellanos is familiar with that type of urban fringe as the sample below indicates.

Sofia Castellanos mural on wall of Warehouse 30 in Charoenkrung soi 32.Bangkok, Thailand

Sunday, October 3, 2021

1919-1953 Coca-Cola Connection

A Pictorial History compiled by Javier Garcia 

Recent news coming from local bloggers is that there seems to be some improprieties in regards to the actions of our mayor and a city official (who recently resigned) in relation to the acquisition of property downtown.  We’ll leave that for them to unravel and will focus on the fun aspect of the story – the history that is!

1912 Peerless Bottling Works photo by Robert Runyon

Since 1886 Coca-Cola had been the fountain drink of choice and its popularity spread all over the United States of America.  Our story begins in late 1912 when Robert Runyon took a photo of the Peerless Bottling Works building; “manufacturers of carbonated beverages of quality – bottling Coca-Cola and Jersey Crème” which was at 809 E St Charles St in Brownsville, Texas.  George V Ducker was the proprietor of that business. 

1919 was the year that Thomas H Sweeney Sr. began his dive into the bottling business but it gets a bit murky here.  The following image scrapped from the Brownsville Herald digitized archives shows a seemingly different building than the previous one but the Sanborn maps show a Coca-Cola building at the 809 St Charles address.  Brownsville Herald ads include “makers of the best sodas and confections.” 

Microfilm image and Sanborn map copy of 1919 Sweeney’s Coca-Cola building.  Sweeney started out with four trucks and a team of mules as his “distribution fleet.”

1919 Thomas H Sweeney Coca Cola building. One of the men is probably Thomas Sweeny Sr with Thomas Jr and Peyton F Sweeney.  The two boys would be educated in Lexington, Virginia at the Virginia Military Institute there and later the University at Austin to return later to the company.

By 1921 the Sweeney’s were at this location, the same building where “Peerless” was and they a fleet of six delivery vehicles

The building known as "Hanshaw's" on the corner of E Washington and 11th near Market Square is known today as Las Ramblas downtown watering hole and was built by J.G. Fernandez in 1911.  (Thanks to our anonymous reader ID'ing it!)

By 1931 the business moved into the Tom Stevenson building on E Adams and 10th

Tom Sweeney and a machine operator in E Adams location.

1939 Brownsville Herald ad shows the E Adams address

By 1931 Thomas Sweeney & Company moved into the building on the corner of 953 E Adams and 10th which we have come to know as the old Tom W “Stevenson Motor Co., Inc.” Chevrolet building because of the Chevy logo frieze that remains visible to this day.  Tom Stevenson had been in the business for some time and probably switched over to appliances during the 1930s Depression which sustained him and his family for years to come.  He opened up a store on the corner of the Nolan Block building on E Elizabeth and 8th St.  This “new” location on E Adams allowed Sweeney to expand with new equipment and space to speed up production and delivery of Coca-Cola beverages.  This would be their base of operation for a decade but before we talk about the next location, we have to backtrack a few years to 1927 and the McDavitt brothers.

We’re all familiar with a small stretch of road begins from the Expressway 77/83 near the Buena Vida Cemetery to the point where Port Isabel Road begins and ends when it intersects with Boca Chica Blvd.  That road is named after William E. McDavitt who was the pioneer of fruit and vegetable distribution in Brownsville, Texas and came to Brownsville on the second train to arrive here in 1904, the year railroads marked the beginning of a new wave of commerce that attracted people from other states.  McDavitt came from Auburn, Kentucky and is credited with shipping the very first carload of vegetables from the Rio Grande Valley.  By 1927, he and his brother Karl had partnered with Larry Lightner (another familiar name in Brownsville) to become very successful in the seed and shipping business and wanted a downtown building for offices and rental space.  Stanley Bliss of Harlingen (renowned Texas architect) and contractor W.A. Velton built the McDavitt building on E Washington and 10th St where the original Episcopal Church was.  The new building would also office Donald Maginnis and Company with the majority of space for Borderland Hardware (Furniture) which had been on E Elizabeth St prior to then.  Maginnis & Company were dealers in “cotton futures, stocks, grain and provisions” with offices in New Orleans, Chicago and New York.  There is much more to the McDavitt story but if anyone is interested, leave a comment and maybe can read a brief history on them later but at least now you know how McDavitt St got its name and the so-called CocaCola building is really the McDavitt building.  It should also be noted that 1927 was a year that many homes and buildings were erected in Brownsville and many were in the Spanish revival style which was popular at the time

1927 full-page ad in Brownsville Herald with clippings from 1920s Borderland ads.  Borderland relocated from E Elizabeth St and there were six locations in the Rio Grande Valley at the time

By 1941 the McDavitt brothers had, for whatever reason, approached their years of retirement and the building was sold to Thomas W Sweeney whose Coca-Cola business was not affected by the Depression years or poor crop season and needed more room to operate. 

1941 0129 Coca Cola clipping announcing open house event

Merging of newspaper archival record from microfilm and colorized photograph of 1941 opening of new plant showing a fleet seven vehicles; some new and some slightly vintage for the time period.  Three of the men wearing suits are undoubtedly Thomas H. Sweeney Sr, Thomas Jr and brother Peyton F. Sweeney.  The staff personal working at that building were A.M. Krebs, Arnold Bassett, Edward A, Covo, Vincent Evans, Federico Gutierrez, Guadalupe Garcia, Antonio Morales, Rosalie Garcia, William Roy Pennington, Jack Moser, William Reed, Hubert Rich, Jack Todd, George Garcia, Pedro Mendez, Filiberto Olivarez, Robert Ford, Mainer Lawson and William S. Jacques. 

In 1941 Brownsville Coca-Cola Bottling Company held an open house from January 30th to February 2nd from 9 am to 4 pm. 

 1941 Coca Cola plant interior

The purpose of the new location was designed to expand production three-fold.  There was 100' x 120' work space on the ground floor with a little less on the second.  The machinery was enough to supply Cameron and Willacy counties.  Recyclable bottles were sanitized on one machine before being refilled at the rate of 72 bottles a minute.  Syrup for the bottles came from a 500 gallon tank on the second floor.  The rest of the second floor was for store rooms and advertisement work shops.  Six of the seven trucks were used to deliver throughout the Rio Grande Valley.  The seventh vehicle was used by the advertisement department. 

 Coca Cola bottle frieze on the building 

 1945 salesmen and helpers who deliver the product


 1948 Coca Cola warehouse W Elizabeth before after views

By mid 1948 Mr Sweeney had a new building constructed to warehouse his bottles by fast freight conveniently next to the railroad tracks on the 200 block of West Elizabeth St.  In a few years he would expand once again and give control of the company over to his sons, Peyton and Thomas Jr.

At the start of 1953 it was officially announced that the Coca Cola Bottling Plant had once again expanded its operations and opened a brand new 26,000 square foot facility at the corner of Los Ebanos and Woodruff Ave on a four and a half acre tract of land for future expansion in size for the future.  This new plant could churn out 150 bottles per minute and had fourteen 55 gallon drums of the syrup used to pump the bottles full of the refreshing beverage. The rounded roof was supported by sidewalls with wooden trusses bolted together to support it with posts which had been manufactured in St Louis and assembled at the new site.  The plant also boasted a capacity to produce one million cases a year and would serve Cameron, Willacy and Kenedy counties.

The Sweeney’s once again invited the public to visit the plant for their open house event with the extended invite for schools, church groups, Boy Scout clubs or anyone who wanted to come in and see the operations.  Some people might still recall having visited the plant on E Washington or Los Ebanos on a school trip many years ago.  I’m sure that would have been exciting to watch as a child.  Unfortunately, by the time I saw the inside of that plant it was occupied by a few flea market vendors and one used book seller in the late 1980s.  When the actual Coca-Cola plant closed went beyond my willingness to delve any deeper into the history which was mainly aimed at the 1927 McDavitt building and this article has surpassed my initial intent which was to know more about the Coca Cola McDavitt building on E Washington St.  Who knows, maybe a in a few years someone can use this information to tell its story for it's hundredth birthday.  

Friday, October 1, 2021

Coca-Cola in our Culture

Our next post will be a retrospective look at the McDavitt building which we all know as the Coca Cola building on E Washington and 10th St.  Here are some of the digitized "junk" files that didn't make the cut but have been assembled for you viewing pleasure.  Check back later for the next one which will show you many things you didn't know about the building's history.  

1911 Ad from Brownsville Herald when Peerless Bottling Works distributed Coca Cola locally.
1930's E Elizabeth and 10th corner before old Federal Courthouse / Post Office replaced with 1932 building which is now City Hall
1940s Tamez Candy Shop and Taxi stand on E Elizabeth & 10th St where "Three Sisters" would later be and is now a Plasma center
1950s Charro Days parade with Tehuana dress represented on the Coca Cola Bottling plant parade float.  Photo courtesy of Ricardo Ruenes (with image borrowed from internet to show what parade model was wearing).
1950s Palmetto Brownsville High School ads 

E Elizabeth and Palm Blvd with Manutou home in the background now Sombrero Fest Headquarters
The J. Martinez Drug Store building on E Adams and 11th St once had Coca-Cola "ghost signage" which I enhanced with Photoshop but some cretin later tagged the area and ruined what might have been restored someday.  It has also since been revitalized to house apartments. 

1980s E 11th St and Market Square businesses from City of Brownsville - Planning Dept. collection.

Coca Cola truck parked by the Stillman House on E Washington St
Retrospective look at Bobs/Rafa's Coney Island hot dog stand which is now Space Dog Station hot dog stand on E 14th between E Washington and E Adams.  
Coca Cola delivery truck on 12th St side of Market Square
Santa Claus next to Coca Cola building on 10th St side of building which faces E Washington photo by Gilberto Velasquez