Built around the 1920s, they were at one time seed and feed stores, hardware stores, doctors' offices, pharmacies and banks. In those days you found lunch counters and soda fountains, a hotel and a theater downtown.
Many of those old buildings have been transformed and now include art galleries and a museum, events centers and reception halls, urban lofts and antiques shops.
This month, the city is putting the spotlight on the downtown buildings as it celebrates its heritage.
In observance of National Preservation Month, the city is holding several special events that include a photography exhibit of vintage edifices titled "Downtown Harlingen Back in the Day" at D'Arte Centre, said
A photography contest and an oral history project that aims to record residents' stories and memories of
"The history we have here is very important to maintain, particularly the architectural history," said
The city's downtown was built on land that city founder
In the 1960s, the city's downtown began to change when
Other downtown merchants, DeBrooke said, tried to revamp their old buildings, masking them in metal facades to give them a modern touch aimed at drawing customers.
"In the 1980s,
So in the late 1980s, city leaders launched a project aimed at revitalizing the downtown area, she said.
In 1990, DeBrooke bought his first building at
"It had great potential," DeBrooke said. "It's a cool-looking building -- a nice South Texas-style brick building."
In the 1990s, antique stores helped draw customers to the city's downtown.
She said the building was built in the 1920s as the
Until it closed in the mid 1980s, the drug store remained one of the area's hot spots, LaBerge said.
"It was a real hub for lunch," LaBerge said. "It was a gathering place for teenagers after school for a root beer float."
Today, across the city's downtown, property owners like
"A big part of what we do is try to get people to re-purpose buildings for today's marketplace," LaBerge said. "We try to encourage new businesses to move into vintage buildings and restore them."
DeBrooke calls it one of the best deals in town.
"You're caught in a situation where you basically have to upgrade everything," DeBrooke said. "But it's still cheaper than it is to build a new building and pay the mortgage or rent. Basically, you're taking an old property and giving it a new life."
Schoch transformed an old downtown building that used to house a Dollar General store into a stunning two-story wonderland.
On the second floor, Schoch built a lavish retirement home in the style of a big-city loft across 6,000 square feet.
The four-bedroom, four-bath home features a sprawling living room, children's playroom and sumptuous kitchen.
"I didn't want a swimming pool and a yard to maintain," Schoch, an investor, said.
Schoch's building, built in the late 1920s, is among those featured in the photography exhibit.
So her company, CTO Inc., put down about
In 2011, Wagner opened her version of the Reese, featuring
"There are lots of re-purposed buildings downtown," LaBerge said. "In order to save the old buildings, they have to be economically viable. It's kind of like recycling buildings."
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