Devitalizing Downtown

San Antonio Street demolition candidates
The condemned buildings. The Caples Building in the background belongs to El Paso preservation hero Billy Abraham

Remember when Billy Abraham was the bad guy? He didn’t maintain all his downtown properties. “Demolition by neglect,” the pundits on City Council called it.

Well, Billy looks like a saint now. At least he’s not tearing down his buildings, leaving downtown El Paso with vague plans and empty lots, like River Oaks and the Borderplex Community Trust, some of the former champions of downtown development, are doing now.

a bldg slated for destruction
This is the facade of one of the buildings that River Oaks is demolishing. They don’t make them like that anymore.
Where’s the moral outrage and righteous indignation now? Do El Pasoans prefer the quick and painless death of downtown to a slow, lingering malaise? Creeping decrepitude is certainly sexier than vacant lots. At least a crumbling building evokes nostalgia. A vacant lot means game over.

River Oaks vacant lot
Another River Oaks downtown revitalization project. Remember the neat old bank building that used to be there?
If you want to get technical, River Oaks is just restoring downtown El Paso to what it might have looked like before there were buildings there. Sure, the preservationists want to hang on to the past, but the real estate speculators are ready to go back to before our relatively modern development. Let’s kick it back to the eighteenth century. The early twentieth century is so passé.

I’m guessing the developers wanted to get permits for the demolition before Joyce Wilson leaves office, and they have to train a new puppet.


    1. Really?

      I’d like to see some of these developers take the plunge with their own money. I’d be more convinced of the sincerity of their beliefs.

      There are some that do it. Lane Gaddy’s group doesn’t mind buying buildings, but so far they haven’t really done anything with them.

      But at least they haven’t torn them down.

    2. Like the one that replaced Hotel Dieu hospital. Lots of possibility, nothing concrete.

  1. Very well stated! River Oaks Properties has done immense damage to our architectural patrimony downtown. They have demolished eight buildings that were erected between 1885 and 1914 along the scenic, two-block stretch between the El Camino Hotel and the Richard Caples Building. All we have to show for the demolitions are immense empty lots. Any chance we had of developing a heritage economy in dowtown El Paso is being ruined. Soon we will be like Las Cruces, which razed its entire downtown and along with it its history and culture. City Council is squarely at fault for failing to do a thing about it, particularly District 8.

  2. It’s astonishing to me that this debate is taking place in El Paso in the 21st century. Cities all over the US, and all over the world, have already learned how to retain the historic fabric of their centers – while of course adding brilliant new architecture (think Calatrava..) where it fits – and they find the benefits to residents and tourists alike are more than worth the effort. For one small nearby example, head east in Texas to San Antonio and see what can be done (true, they have water in their river, but SA is way more than the Riverwalk). Just tearing down buildings with no purpose – except perhaps to get positioned for the new arena or cultural center? – appears to be the epitome of folly. Of course, a vacant lot incurs less property tax. . .

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