A preservation expert gives his view on Roosevelt Auditorium

MISSION, Texas – Mission community activists such as Irma Flores Lopez and Ester Salinas say they have learned a lot about historical preservation from Gabriel Ozuna.

Ozuna is the Vice Chair of Hidalgo County Historical Commission and chair of its preservation committee. He previously worked for the City of Mission as its Historic Preservation Coordinator.

The Rio Grande Guardian International News Service interviewed Ozuna about the planned demolition of Mission CISD’s Roosevelt School Auditorium. The building was placed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.

Ozuna said he would speak about the situation in the city of Mission, but only from a personal perspective. He said he was not speaking on behalf of the Hidalgo County Historical Commission.

“I first heard that the Roosevelt Auditorium was at risk in the fall of last year, but I didn’t know that the school district had moved forward with its plans to demolish it, or that the city had approved a demolition permit in November,” Ozuna said. “I knew enough that something had to be done, so what I did as a private citizen this spring was to nominate the building to Preservation Texas’s Most Endangered Places list. It made the Top 10 most endangered places in Texas. It was listed at No. 6.”

Ozuna explained how Roosevelt School Auditorium was placed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.

“There’s a lengthy process behind nominating a site or building to the National Register. It took a lot of research and the City of Mission, through its preservation program in the 1990s and 2000s hired a preservation firm, HHM, out of Austin to put the application together. I don’t know what the cost of hiring them was, but they obviously have put money into researching and nominating it and getting it placed on the National Register. 

Ozuna said that getting placed in the National Register of Historic Places is not in itself enough to preserve a building. 

“It’s supposed to be done in conjunction with a city’s historic preservation ordinance. I am not sure what happened between Roosevelt being placed on the National Register and when they started demolishing the building. I was under the assumption that it was protected under the ordinance but I found out recently that there is no documentation that the city ever actually amended its historic overlay zoning to include that site or any other building in Mission that has a National Register status, or is landmarked at the state level,” Ozuna said.

“If the right procedures are followed in the administering of a preservation ordinance, cities have the authority to protect them. In speaking with the (Mission) city attorney, he said that there’s no evidence that those buildings were ever actually protected under the city’s ordinance. It was very frustrating and disappointing to hear, especially since I’ve worked for the city in their preservation office for the past year and was never made aware of these details.”

Asked how many other historic places in Mission are also at risk because the city’s preservation ordinances are not up to scratch, Ozuna said: “I do not know how many buildings are left unprotected because of the ambiguity of the ordinance and the lack of documentation as to what’s actually protected. It’s a shock.”

Ozuna said he does not want to blame one particular entity. 

“I think this was a series of things falling through the cracks. Preservation was not made a priority in Mission. Preserving historic buildings was given lip service but very little was actually done to try to ensure that designated historic resources were actually protected under the ordinance.”

Ozuna was so concerned about inconsistencies and gaps in the current ordinance that he drafted a new preservation ordinance for the City of Mission. 

“It has been in the city attorney’s office for the past six months. I am told the city attorney is doing reviews. But clearly this has not been a priority. I am afraid preservation has not given any sort of attention beyond mere lip service. And that’s very unfortunate.”

Ozuna said Mission’s stance on preserving its history is in sharp contrast to that of Brownsville.

“Brownsville is one of the premier certified local government cities in South Texas. But, I really don’t want to put the blame on our preservation program because I know we were working with limited resources. I had no budget in my office. My boss, the historic preservation officer, who is also the director of the city museum, was given this extra job on top of her regular duties. And she hired me in part to help alleviate some of that. But it was a very low priority for the city.”

Ozuna said that when he checked with the Mission city attorney he was told that there were a lot of holes in the preservation ordinance.

“The city attorney told me that part of the reason why we were unable to do anything legally was because there were discrepancies in the ordinance that were never addressed. It was hastily put together in 2021 and was not proof-read. The ordinance was copied from another city and parts of it were never verified before it was passed. For instance, there’s a part of the ordinance that talks about needing the approval of six city commissioners when it comes to halting demolition. We only have four city commissioners in Mission. Because it was copied from another city, it wasn’t proof-read. It wasn’t checked.”

Ozuna said the City of Mission originally passed a preservation ordinance in 1992. But, he said, this was repealed in 2015. 

“That’s when the Texas Historical Commission took notice and said, well, you’re a certified local government, which means that if you repeal the ordinance we’re going to have to de-certify you. So, the city decided, oh, we need to like, you know, pass something to keep from getting de-certified because that would be an embarrassment for the city. But it was hastily put together. That’s part of the reason why we were working with less than a full deck.”

Asked if the building can still be salvaged, Ozuna said: “I hope so. They’ve already done considerable damage to the front of the building. I don’t know whether the demolition crew is currently still working on it as of today. But my hope is that they will back off and reverse course and the damage that they’ve done can be reversed before it gets to a point where it will be lost altogether. In the preservation world, no building is ever too far gone if there’s a will and commitment to restore it. You’d be amazed to see what’s been done with buildings in far worse shape that the Roosevelt Auditorium.”

Ozuna said he would “like to get to the bottom” of claims from Mission CISD that Roosevelt Auditorium cannot be saved.

“The school district claims that they had an engineering firm do a structural survey. And this engineering firm said it was structurally unsafe. I have a friend who is an architect. He took a look at it from the outside and said the only thing that would make the building structurally unsound would be if the foundation was in bad shape. The foundation looks solid. The walls look solid and if the floors and the walls on the inside are solid, then the only thing wrong with it is the roof,” Ozuna said.

“And that’s on the school district. They are supposed to be doing minimum maintenance standards. That’s part of the ordinance as well. And if they didn’t do that, they could have been cited by the city for demolition by neglect which carries with it a penalty and a fine but none of that was ever pursued by the city. There were many options that the school district could have pursued to stop this building from getting to this point, but they just never acted and because of their negligence, we’re at this point.

“If we can stop the demolition, I am confident that it can be restored. There are tons of grants and funding opportunities out there that haven’t even been pursued. Listing the Auditorium on the MEP list was only supposed to be the beginning, to make it easier to apply for grants from the National Park Service and other nonprofits. The community deserves that much.”

Editor’s Note: The above news story is the second in a three-part series on Roosevelt Auditorium. Click here to read Part One, featuring the analysis of Mission community leader Ester Salinas. Part Three, featuring the analysis of Mission community activist Irma Flores Lopez, will be posted in our next edition.

Quality journalism takes time, effort and…. Money!

Producing quality journalism is not cheap. The coronavirus has resulted in falling revenues across the newsrooms of the United States. However, The Rio Grande Guardian International News Service is committed to producing quality news reporting on the issues that matter to border residents. The support of our members is vital in ensuring our mission gets fulfilled. 

Can we count on your support? If so, click HERE. Thank you!

Keep on top of the big stories affecting the Texas-Mexico border region. Join our mailing list to receive regular email alerts.

We are interested about hearing news in our community! Let us know what's happening!

Get in touch and share a story!


This site uses cookies to provide you with a great user experience. By continuing to use this website, you consent to the use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy.

Scroll to Top