Monday, November 14, 2016


By Dr. Lino Garcia
Professor Emeritus of Spanish Literature at
University of Texas-Pan American (UTRGV)

Long before Europeans arrived, several tribes of native-American Indians roamed the area we now call South Texas. When the Spanish explorers arrived during the 16th and 17th centuries their report alerted Spain of the possibilities for extension of their Empire.

Around 1749 and thereafter this land was studied and prepared for Spanish grantee families to make their homes here via large tracts of land called “porciones.” What started as haciendas handling cattle drives and farming resulted, during the last decades of the 19th century, as business enterprises consisting of large wholesale warehouses (bodegas), in whose places these original settlers also lived, and whose remnants are still a lasting testament to their presence.

One can still see on East Madison, Adams, Jefferson and Monroe streets some buildings that once thrived with business activities such as: Fernández e Hijos; La Madrileña, founded by the Ortiz family; Samano; Pacheco; Cueto; Celaya; Champion; de la Garza; Longoria and others that are a testament to the early Spanish commercial presence.

It is believed that in some cases, many of their family members still residing in Spain were sustained economically by profits these early families earned and sent to them across the Atlantic Ocean. These early pioneering families, some enjoying Sephardic (Jewish) heritage, set the tone of character, the human environment, love of family, loyalty, frugality, work ethic, strong civic duties and a friendliness that Brownsville has always enjoyed.

At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, individuals from the north arrived in search of fortune and opportunity, merging immediately with the local population. These enterprising individuals brought in a new vision, an innovative approach that blended with the cultures already set in old Brownsville. Out of this fusion certain business endeavors became fixed establishments at the beginning of the 20th century.

The early and pioneering bankers were Don Francisco Yturria, founder of Banco Yturria; the Merchants National Bank, known as the old reliable: Jno. Gress, president, and Miguel Fernández, vice-president; First National Bank: R.B. Creager, president; Texas Bank and Trust: Milton H. West, president and John Champion, vice-president; StateNational Bank: John G. Fernández, president; Río Grande Valley Trust Co.: Gordon P. Stress, president and Thomas C.H. and investment banker- J.W. Crotty, manager.

The Brownsville Transportation Co., founded by Mr. Joe Colunga Sr. with his four sons, Joe, Emilio, Luis and Frank, gave Brownsville its first bus lines; later on the Victoria Transportation Co. made its appearance.
Some of the hotels in town were the Travelers Hotel; Miller; Cameron; El Jardín;
Riverside Hotel (where México meets Uncle Sam), with 65 modern rooms, baths and phones; Dell-Walt Apartments; Gay Apartments and Nel-Roy Apartments.

Some of the car dealers of that time were Jesse Dennett Inc. Dodge and Plymouth; Knapp Motor Co. and Tipton Ford Co. Other business enterprises were: M. García-Gómez and Charles Champion Wholesale, Delta Shoe and Hat Store, the Fashion Perl Brothers Store and International Iron Works.

In addition, old Brownsville had the following businesses: Hausman Hardware; Batsell-Wells Sporting Goods; United Cigar Store; Borderland Hardware and Furniture; Sommers Furniture; Harry’s Cigar Store; Dorfman Jewelry; Rutledge Jewelry; Tourist Auto Supply: James W. Pace, manager; Frontier Lumber Co.; Garza Hardware: Ignacio Garza, president; Hicks Rubber Co.: J.T. Pipkin, president; Frank López Auto Finance Co.; Valley Clay Products; Yturria Town and Development Co. and Yturria Land and Livestock Co.: Daniel Yturria, president; Todd and Underwood Insurance-Real Estate; Wood and Dodd Insurance and the Union Central Insurance Co.: W.B.Clint, agent.

Some of the bakeries were La Perla, La Poblanita, Treviño’s Bakery and Vannie Tilden. Some of the cleaning establishments were Brownsville Cleaners, Sáenz Cleaners, Guzmán Cleaners, Quality Cleaners, Eureka Cleaners and Model Laundry.

East Washington, East Elizabeth and East Adams streets were also the hub of commercial activities in Old Brownsville, some located around City Hall: the Texas Café, founded by the Marquez family; Simón Café; the Cisneros Radio Shop; Cisneros Flower Shop; Manitou Department Store, founded by Don Enrique Manitou; Klan Flower Shop; Tony González Pharmacy; Pilot Tavern; Gavito Gourmet Store; Zepeda Hardware Store; Charro Loan Co.; Guadalupana Drug Store; Dittman, later called Grande and Río theaters; México or “ El Tiro “ and Iris “El Iris” theaters, founded by David Young; Jackson Feed Store; Rutledge
Hamburger Stand; Shapiro Shoe Store; McChesney Department Store; Brooks Walgreen Store; the OK Café, founded by the Molina family; the Benavidez Hamburger Stand; Valentín’s Department Store, founded by Don Enrique Valentín; the Central Cash Grocery: Antonio Longoria, president; and some others.

Some old establishments along East Elizabeth were: Azis Brothers Department Store; Hargrove Supply Store; C.R. Anthony Department Store; Queen Theater; Kress and Woolworth Department stores; Fishers Cafe, which later became Higgies; the White Kitchen; the Underwood Restaurant; the Brownsville Café; Texas Drug Store; Bollock Department Store and many others.

(Brownsville native Dr. Lino García, Jr., is professor emeritus of Spanish literature at the University of Texas-Pan American [UTRGV], and can be reached at


KBRO said...

Why doesn't Lino mention the Putegnats and Edelsteins? They were long lasting businesses that employed many people. Don't answer - I really dont give sh*t why he doesn't.

Anonymous said...

Wassup, Blimp! ha ha ha

Anonymous said...

As I remember, Higgies Café and Fisher's Restaurant were both on East Elizabeth on
9th and 10th street, respectably. Both remained for many years and were considered as independent restaurants. Do you agree ?

Anonymous said...

Hey Dickhead, the Champions were not Spanish, they were Italian.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Garcia, you quality of work has no business in this blog with the reputation that it has. Leave this pertinent information for the Herald for those people who value your knowledge and recollection of the times when people respected each other. Your caliber is too high for this blog and I really do need to stay away from it too. It has no objectivity and only publishes what the money backers support. Get all the articles you have written and publish a book with all of them under one cover and it will be a best seller.

Anonymous said...

Hey, fuckup, Lucio's Cafe?

Anonymous said...

what a beautiful trip through the good old days when we all knew each other when the girls strolled back and forth on Elizabeth Street and
the boys held up the Post Office Wall. The thick ice cream sandwich we'd get at Kress, the balcony at the Majestic Theatre and the all Sat. afternoon at the Capitol. What healthy fun we used to have and it only cost us a quarter or less. I now pass down Elizabeth and I am ashamed to see the horrible, rusty, unpainted, nasty looking bars across the windows and doors. An ordinance should make those owners keep their store fronts looking nice and neat. The sidewalks are all full of gum spots and spit. What a shame that we are the most historical town below San Antonio and we do not value that by insisting that our mayor and city commission forget about that building ( Valentins at 11th and Washington) and all the useless bike trails nobody uses. Get all the store fronts painted so that it gives a good impression on whoever dares drive downtown. Thank you, Dr. Garcia for bringing back such wonderful memories cuando eramos pobres pero contentos. 2 years in fixing Valentins and there is still no progress and 11th street continues block!
Que dices, Mr. Blue Jean Martinez?

KBRO said...

Quality of work? It's a shopping-list of businesses taken from old telephone directories and/or Brownsvile Herald archives. I'm an amateur with a B.A. in B.S. and know this.

Anonymous said...

Downtown Brownsville was the throbbing beating heart of the city when I was a kid and a young man. Today it is the dirty rectum of the same city.

I realize we can't turn back the hands of time, but it is a damn shame we cannot. It will forever be the barf bag of Matamoros.