It’s a story we’re all too familiar with. Fire breaks out, and less than an hour later the building is devoured in smoke and flames. This happened several years ago at the Pioneer building, one of Harlingen’s oldest and most historically significant structures. It happened again shortly thereafter at the Sun Valley Motor Hotel, an architecturally significant building built at the height of the Modernist era. Not long afterward, another historic building—The Harlingen Cold Storage Plant—went up in flames. And a few weeks ago, Brownsville’s Hotel Economico fell victim to an arsonist’s Molotov Cocktail.
But unlike Brownsville, Harlingen has very few pre-World War II structures. And this week, while the Valley was bracing for Hurricane Alex, we lost another of these gems in the heart of the city, near the La Placita District.
At around 1:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, fire broke out at the Flores Cleaners building, located at the corner of Harrison and C streets. Initially, the fire was thought to have sparked from a car parked under the building’s carport on C Street, but officials are still unsure of how it began. They have not ruled out arson.
Citing information from Harlingen’s Downtown office, the Valley Morning Star stated that the building was originally a grocery store and dry cleaner with a rooming house upstairs. It was designed and built in 1928 for Tomasa Villarreal Garza by her son-in-law, a Mexican Army officer in exile.
In the past, I have been a vocal advocate for the preservation of historic structures, especially the few we have left in Harlingen. However, this particular story hits very close to home. This building is owned by my padrinos Ruben and Mary Agado. My aunt Mary’s business Agado Bail Bonds was completely destroyed in the fire. This comes only months after their home south of Harlingen was ransacked and burglarized.
My uncle Ruben has been planning a complete renovation of the building’s interior since he purchased it in 2007. Now, the building will either be rebuilt or completely demolished. We all hope that the building can be salvaged. In fact, there is minimal damage to the façade, but the city has suggested that the entire building be razed for public safety reasons. The loss of yet another historic building, and one my family worked so hard to obtain and restore, just sends me reeling. I have no words for how sad it makes me.
That is why I am asking for your help.
These days, money is scarce and so are volunteers. But I am appealing to your good nature and spirit of goodwill. This historic building needs another chance, and I am confident that with a little help, we can help to realize its full potential. If you would like to donate anything towards this goal… building materials, structural analysis, even time and effort towards cleanup, please contact me. My family, the people of Harlingen and those who rally for historical preservation would greatly appreciate it.
We all hope for a new Harlingen, a city with character and heart. We must never forget what made this city great—its rich, cultural diversity and strong, hardworking people. We should all take pride in the history of our city and do what we can to help our neighbors in a time of crisis.
Source: Valley Morning Star