Via a news release on Wednesday, preservationists announced that 11 properties owned by the City of El Paso and one property owned by a private party in Duranguito are being nominated to the Texas Historical Commission (THC).
Should the properties be approved as State Antiquities Landmarks, the archaeological remains below ground receive legal protection under the Antiquities Code of Texas.
The nominators are Dr. Max Grossman, Dr. David Carmichael, Mr. Harry W. “Skip” Clark, and Ms. Elia Perez .
Dr. Grossman shares, “This is an important step in the process of preserving archaeological sites in Duranguito for all El Pasoans…we are confident that the THC will approve the nominations in the near future.”
The structures in the area – as well as the archaeological sites buried just below the foundations of the buildings – are within the footprint of the proposed downtown arena, which is currently in legal limbo.
Preservationists cite several surveys and original plats from the mid- to late-19th century, that indicate the locations of historic remnants – including Juan Maria Ponce de Leon’s original ranch and the two acequias (irrigation ditches) that were used for irrigating the fields that existed long before the towering skyscrapers of Downtown El Paso.
According to the preservationists, a 1998 archaeological survey conducted by the City of El Paso identifies the probable remains of Ponce’s 1st ranch, just below the surface.
They add, “The same survey included a ground-penetrating radar study conducted by archaeologist Mark Willis. That study identified probable structural remains (architecture) in the area of Chihuahua Street and [also] West Overland Avenue.”
In addition to the studies, actual excavation in the area revealed more of the city’s long-buried history.
In the release announcing the nominations, Dr. Grossman shares:
“Archaeological excavations in 1970 and 1984 immediately to the north and east of the Arena Footprint identified the physical remains of the “Acequia Madre,” which is a second acequia that traversed Duranguito further to the north, where the Convention Center is now located. The Convention Center excavation confirmed that the 1827 stratum lies very deep below ground.”
The group goes on to explain that the nomination process is quite different from a historical designation.
“The Texas Antiquities Code and Texas Natural Resources Code are complex and require much attention to understand…archaeological sites are not the same thing as structures above ground. The law provides that nominating a structure as a State Antiquities Landmark (SAL) requires registration on the National Register of Historic Places…this is NOT required for archaeological nominations.”
Any citizen can nominate a public property or a private property (with the owner’s consent) as an archaeological SAL provided the criteria are met.