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Commissioners talk history

Thursday, July 7, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

Austin’s boards and commissions continue to inspect the details of a plan for a $5.8 million face-lift for downtown’s Republic Square. At the Historic Landmark Commission, that means taking a look at how the area’s history is — and isn’t — being represented.

Chair Mary Jo Galindo pulled the park’s master plan for further scrutiny at the most recent commission meeting. She explained that she wanted more information about plans to address the history of the Mexican-American community in plaques around the park. Specifically, she was concerned about skirting the topic of the city’s 1928 Master Plan, which forced the community to move to the east side.

“I’m just asking for you to consider that you need to make that explicit,” said Galindo. “In the literature that I saw, it was rather glossed over. … I found it really offensive.”

Steve Moore from Design Workshop, the contractor hired by the city to redesign the park, said that his team would “absolutely” make that point explicit and were “not at all trying to whitewash the redlining that happened, and the relocation and dislocation of the people who were there.”

“It is not the opinion of the design team that people happily relocated away from that site,” said Moore.

Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky explained that, in fact, the commission’s grants committee opted not to fund a sign last year due to “insufficient historical interpretive materials” and guessed that a new grant application would be forthcoming.

Moore said that the plan was to include a link to the Mexican-American Cultural History Trail and, though they still intend to do that, the project has not gone forward. In the meantime, he said, the park will include interpretive signs detailing the history of Mexican-Americans “in and around the park.”

Moore further explained that the park would feature a sculpture inspired by traditional Mexican pottery and that busts of José Maria Morelos y Pavon and Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla will remain in the park.

“We’re doing a lot to honor the history of what was there, as much as we can. And we’re open to incorporating more into the park in the future,” said Moore. “We want to tell the story of the park as much as we can.”

Rendering courtesy of the city of Austin.

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