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Marker dedication honoring 'El Barrio del Alacran' set for Saturday

Posted on March 19, 2014 | By J.R. Gonzales (Houston Chronicle article)

El Barrio del Alacran in Houston, TX

Monica Villarreal, with Kirk Farris on the right, does a blessing of a Texas Historical Commission Marker honoring El Barrio del Alacran in the 1800 block of Runnels Saturday, March 22, 2014, in Houston. During the early 20th Century, the area attracted a large number of Mexican immigrants to the Second Ward that offered inexpensive Housing for industrial workers. During the 1930s, the Spanish-speaking residents gave the area a new name - El Alacran, The Scorpion. Once a notoriously impoverished neighborhood, El Alacran gave many residents a working start toward full integration into American society. Due to urban renewal and highway construction during the 1950s, the neighborhood was demolished. Photo: Brett Coomer, Houston Chronicle

El Barrio del Alacran, once a small patchwork of unpaved streets and ramshackle houses just northeast of downtown, is the latest spot in Harris County to receive a state historical marker.

Don't go looking for the largely Hispanic neighborhood, though. It disappeared in the early 1950s when Clayton Homes was built on its site. What wasn't torn down then was further erased when the Eastex Freeway went up in the area.

A marker dedication ceremony is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, March 22, off Runnels, between McKee and Chartres in James Bute Park.

Here's how organizers describe the site, also known as Schrimpf Alley:

In the 1930s, the community formerly known as the old Frost Town and Schrimpf's Field neighborhood was given the name El Alacrán, by Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans. Urban renewal and highway construction in the 1950s demolished the community which offered practical housing, social and educational services to its residents.

Historian and author Louis Aulbach said the community came about through Houston's economic growth and upheaval in Mexico.

Prior to 1900, there were very few Mexican immigrants or Mexican-Texans living in Houston," said Aulbach, who conducted the research for the marker. "The economic growth of Houston (ship channel industries, oil and gas, etc.) beginning in the late 19th century and early twentieth century, along with the political turmoil in Mexico during the Pancho Villa revolutions, brought many Mexicans to Houston. They came for both economic reasons and political reasons. These new Houstonians had to find a place to live in order to gain a foothold in their adopted home, and being generally of modest wealth, many settled in areas of low income housing such as the area that became known to them as El Barrio del Alacran.

"The story of the Alacran is the story of these immigrants and newcomers to Houston. It is the story of the struggles they had for jobs, education and a place in Houston's social and political landscape."

Aulbach continued:

"In general, the people who lived in the Alacran were hard working people who sought prosperity and a good place to live. The Alacran was a stepping stone to a better life for the next generation. Today, those whom I have talked to recall their days growing up in the Alacran with bittersweet memories. Their family ties were very strong during those impoverished times, and they succeeded in the long run."

So just where did the community's name come from? According to Art & Environmental Architecture Inc., the sponsor for the marker, it's said the neighborhood of the "scorpion" received that name because the scorpions were out of control in the outhouses.

Art & Environmental Architecture Inc., led by Kirk Faris, has spearheaded a number of improvement projects in the area and efforts to highlight its history.

Anyone familiar with the old neighborhood is invited to come out to the ceremony. See you Saturday.

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