Aside from a state historical marker out front, the League of United Latin American Citizens Council 60 clubhouse looks like any other vacant building in Houston – it’s decades old and has severe water damage.
Council 60 bought the building in the 50s as a meeting place and inside the council came up with ideas that influenced state and federal programs, including Head Start. Members of Council 60 also brought a landmark Mexican-American civil rights case before the Supreme Court. Hernandez vs. Texas protested the fact that a Mexican-American had never been called to serve jury duty in the state. But over time, this building that had been a hotbed of activity was abandoned. It was old and leaks in the ceiling caused damage and disrepair.
“There’s mold that’s showing up behind some of the sheetrock in here so that’s all going to have to be pulled down,” says Roy Valdez, president of LULAC Council 60.
In 2013, Council 60 moved to a newer, larger space, and that could have been the end for the clubhouse, but members of LULAC convinced Council 60 not to sell the building. They wanted to hold on to it as a piece of history and to restore it to its former glory. Valdez says in its heyday the clubhouse wasn’t just a place for policy discussion and serious meetings. It was also place to gather for parties and dances.
“Some of our hope is to be able to restore some of that festivity to this, to give the Latino community a place to congregate and come together and celebrate and to see some of their history,” Valdez said. “I mean there’s a lot of accomplishment in this building.”
That accomplishment caught the attention of Sehila Mota-Casper at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, who lobbied for the clubhouse restoration.
When the restoration was approved, she said, “I was, just, I was absolutely elated. I have been looking for a LULAC site for about five years now.”
Mota-Casper feels there aren’t enough historic sites that commemorate Latino history. On the National Register of Historic Places only a small percentage of entries recognize ethnic history, and many potential sites are now just gone.
“Had LULAC decided to have sold this house, which that was on the table at one point in time, we know what that would look like,” Mota-Casper says. “It would have been demolished and probably a parking lot would be made there or maybe some high end condominiums that assist in gentrifying a neighborhood or pushing out folks that have historically been there that can no longer afford to be there.”
Mota-Casper says that’s been the fate of many historic places. The building where LULAC was founded in Corpus Christi is now a parking lot with a historical marker in front of it.
“History that is not documented, you know, can at times be overlooked. So as a child I never knew about this history. I never knew about my own history,” Mota-Casper says. “So it’s very personal to me but it’s also a part of our broader history.”
That broader history, she says, and the Council 60 clubhouse’s role in it, is what she’s working to keep intact.
They’ll have to do quite a bit of repair work before the clubhouse can open again with offices and a community space, but for now, at least, the building’s continued existence is secure.