Latino civil rights site in Texas named National Treasure

By RUSSELL CONTRERAS, Associated Press
A Texas building connected to the Mexican-American Civil Rights movement has been designated as a National Treasure and will share part of a $450,000 grant in an effort to raise money for restore historic buildings damaged by last year’s hurricanes, the National Trust for Historic Preservation announced Tuesday.
The LULAC Council 60 Clubhouse in Houston, along with an historic doctor’s office in Miami and a nature preserve in Puerto Rico, will share the grant. All of the sites were damaged by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma or Maria.
The clubhouse served as a meeting place beginning in the 1950s for Mexican-American civil rights leaders who plotted out key school desegregation cases and efforts to fight discrimination. Legendary leaders such as attorneys Gus Garcia, John J. Herrera and Tex-Mex restaurateur Felix Tijerina attended meetings at the clubhouse.
The building sits in a revitalized area outside of Houston’s downtown. For years, advocates have been trying to raise money to fix the roof and interior of the building, which was damaged by Harvey and previous storms. LULAC — the acronym for the League of United Latin American Citizens — is the nation’s oldest Hispanic civil rights organization.
“The LULAC Clubhouse is not only an irreplaceable reminder that bold ideas often take shape in modest places, but also, that more needs to be done to learn from our nation’s collective civil rights contributions,” said Stephanie Meeks, the National Trust for Historic Preservation president and CEO.
The clubhouse was the site where activists planned President John F. Kennedy’s visit with LULAC held the night before his assassination. The group also created the “Little School of the 400,” an idea that would later become the federal Head Start program.
LULAC National President Roger Rocha said the designation would increase the group’s access to funds and help create a museum to preserve a part of Latino history.
“There’s a lot of history in that building,” Rocha said. “We can’t lose it.”
Advocates hope to raise at least $500,000 and in addition to a museum, restore it to serve as a meeting site once again, said Ray Valdez, LULAC Council 60 Clubhouse president.
With a National Treasure designation, the LULAC clubhouse joins such sites as the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., the White Grass dude ranch in Wyoming, and Joe Frazier’s Gym in Pennsylvania.
The $450,000 American Express grant for the three sites will help renovate the historic structures and prepare them to attract visitors, said Timothy McClimon, president of the American Express Foundation. In addition to the LULAC clubhouse, the historic Dr. James M. Jackson’s Office and Surgery in Miami, Florida, and various structures and landscapes within Paraíso Las Lunas — a nature preserve in Caguas, Puerto Rico — will receive grant money.
Jackson’s office was built in 1905 by Miami’s first resident physician and the building exemplifies neo-classical architecture in South Florida. It was damaged by Hurricane Irma. The Dade Heritage Trust will also use grant funds for roofing and carpentry repair at the Wagner Homestead, a mid-19th century structure and the oldest known house in Miami-Dade County, Florida.
The eye of Hurricane Maria passed directly over Las Lunas, damaging several buildings and uprooting many of the more than 51,000 trees previously planted there. The 19-acre Paraíso Las Lunas was the home and studio of renowned Mexican ceramic artist Toni Hambleton. The site is renowned for the variety of native Puerto Rican flora and fauna.
Associated Press writer Russell Contreras is a member of the AP’s race and ethnicity team. Follow him on Twitter at