TEXAS TROPICAL TRAIL REGION HERITAGE TOURISM PROGRAM
February 21, 2012 – Partner Event and Business Meeting – Mercedes, Texas
You are cordially invited to attend Number Seventy-eight (78) in a series of monthly Partner Events, including Tours and Educational Presentations, celebrating the heritage of South Texas. This informative gathering of the Texas Tropical Trail Region Heritage Tourism Program will be held in Mercedes, Hidalgo County, Texas on Tuesday, February 21, 2012. Please let me know if you will be joining us for lunch and your meal choice (see below).
Our visit to Mercedes will allow us to explore the historic downtown area as well as the Jewish heritage of the Rio Grande Valley. We will begin our day at the old First National Bank of Mercedes building (currently undergoing rehabilitation for adaptive reuse as a ballroom and event venue incorporating the adjacent former Empire Theater).
From there, we’ll drive to the former Temple Beth Israel (present site of Christian Science Society Building). Temple Beth Israel, the first synagogue in the Rio Grande Valley, was founded in Mercedes in the 1910s. While there, we will hear from a board member of the Texas Jewish Historical Society, Rosalie Weisfeld, and also from a member of a Rio Grande Valley pioneer Jewish family, Stuart Klein, who will share memories of his Bar-Mitzvah held at Temple Beth Israel during the 1940s.
Our final stop of the day will be Al’s Diner in Mercedes where we will enjoy lunch and three educational programs. First we will hear from Raul Montemayor of Monterrey, Mexico as he tells us about “The Conversos in South Texas and Northern Mexico during Spanish Colonization”. (Conversos were those who were formerly Jewish and converted to Catholicism.)
Next we will hear from Norman Rozeff, local historian, author and member of the Cameron County Historical Commission, as he tells us about Eastern European Jewish immigration to the Rio Grande Valley.
Our final program will be presented by Cynthia Martin, Executive Director of the Texas Tropical Trail Region. Her program will be “The Who, What and Why of the Texas Tropical Trail Region”.
First National Ballroom
The day will begin in historic downtown Mercedes at 10:00 am at the very elegant First National Ballroom, formerly the First National Bank of Mercedes, located at 334 South Texas Avenue in Mercedes. From the outside, it looks like the stately bank of yesteryear, but step inside to enjoy the ambiance of intimate ballrooms, one with a 7 ft Swarovski crystal chandelier hanging in the center, plus an open patio.
The First National Bank of Mercedes was founded in 1920 and this building was erected in 1923. A state historical marker, submitted by the Hidalgo County Historical Commission, is currently pending. The conversion from bank to ballroom, including the adjacent former Empire Theater, has incorporated some of the original architectural details including original doors flanked by columns, wooden windows and barrel vault. Lobbies of the bank and ballroom have been converted into the ballrooms. Mexican film star Cantinflas filmed a movie there, and you’ll want to be on the lookout for the mural in the former Empire Theater that features Rhett Butler.
Calixto (Cal) Gomez, building manager, will be our tour guide at the First National Ballroom.
Temple Beth Israel
The first Jewish congregation in the Rio Grande Valley was a joint Brownsville-Matamoros community. In 1876, according to a letter by Mayor Benjamin Kowalski of Brownsville, a Hebrew Benevolent Association was formed and “feast and fast days” were celebrated in Matamoros.
In the early 20th century, most Jews in the upper Valley lived in Mercedes and Pharr, the two largest cities. They rented a building in Mercedes for services until 1935 when the first synagogue in the Rio Grande Valley, Temple Beth Israel, was built in Mercedes. By the 1940s, growth of neighboring cities reduced the congregation, and they voted to dissolve with members joining congregations in Harlingen and McAllen. In 1948, the property was purchased by the First Church of Christ Scientist and is now owned by the Christian Science Society of Mercedes.
On hand to greet us at this site will be Rosalie Weisfeld, a board member of the Texas Jewish Historical Society and a member of the RGV Jewish community. Her family members were pioneers in the produce industry. She will tell us about the impact of the Jewish community in the retail businesses and professional fields as well as the citrus and other agricultural producers in the Valley.
Stuart Klein (Rosalie Weisfeld’s uncle) will also join us to share memories of his Bar-Mitzvah at Temple Beth Israel during World War II. Mr. Klein is the owner of S. Klein Galleries in McAllen and a member of a pioneer Jewish family in the area.
Our after-lunch educational programs will be:
- “The Conversos in South Texas and Northern Mexico during Spanish Colonization” – Raul Montemayor – Monterrey businessman and member of Temple Emanuel in McAllen
- “Jewish Immigration to the Rio Grande Valley” – Norman Rozeff – author, historian and member of the Cameron County Historical Commission
- “The Who, What & Why of the Texas Tropical Trail Region” – Cynthia Martin – Executive Director of the Texas Tropical Trail Region
Our sponsors and hosts for this day will be the Weslaco Museum and Guild, First National Ballroom, Hidalgo County Historical Commission and Al’s Diner.
Texas Tropical Trail Region Heritage Tourism Program
The Texas Tropical Trail Region (TTTR) heritage tourism program is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit corporation developed in conjunction with the Texas Historical Commission and organized in February 2005 with an eleven-member volunteer Board of Directors, a salaried Executive Director and over 700 partners in tourism throughout the 20 county South Texas area known as the Texas Tropical Trail Region. The first public “partner” meeting was held in March 2005 at the La Posada Hotel in Laredo, Texas.
This Region covers over 23,000 square miles and is home to over 1.7 million people. Four sub-regions or Byways (the Gulf Coast Byway, the Rio Grande Byway, the Wild Horse Desert Byway and the Brush Country Byway) are located within the Region.
Kingsville is the home of the Texas Tropical Trail Regional office located in the Kingsville Chamber of Commerce office building at 635 E. King Avenue, Suite 102.
It is the intent of the Texas Tropical Trail Region Board of Directors to showcase the heritage, natural beauty and diverse culture of South Texas for the benefit and enjoyment of Texans and travelers. To achieve this goal, the Board must first join hands with our tourism partners, community leaders, and state and local entities to identify, preserve and interpret our natural, historical and cultural resources.
These monthly meetings/educational presentations are the workshops to help make this goal a reality. These meetings are open to the public, and you are urged to encourage folks in your city and county to join us.
Schedule of Events.
10:00 – 10:15 am – Welcome & Refreshments – First National Ballroom – 334 South Texas Avenue (please park in lot across the street)
10:15 – 10:45 am – Guided Tour – First National Ballroom – Calixto (Cal) Gomez, Manager
10:45 – 11:00 am – Drive to the Historical Landmark of Temple Beth Israel, now the Christian Science Society Building – 402 West 10th Street (corner of South Texas Avenue and 10th Street)
11: 00 – 11:45 am– Tour and Presentations by Rosalie Weisfeld and Stuart Klein – Christian Science Society Building (formerly Temple Beth Israel)
11:45 – 12 noon – Drive to Al’s Diner – 735 West 2nd Street/ Business 83 (West Business 83 and Washington Street)
12 noon – 1:00 pm – Lunch – Private Dining Room – Al’s Diner
Grilled boneless chicken breast served with French fries, salad and hot roll
Mexican Deluxe Plate – 2 enchiladas, 1 beef taco, 1 chalupa, 1 chicken envueltos served with rice, refried beans & corn or flour tortillas
Both plates also include small soup, drink and dessert.
Cost per person will be $13.50 (including tax and gratuity)
Introductions and Community Updates – 12:45 pm
1:00– 1:15 pm – Educational Program – “The Conversos in South Texas and Northern Mexico during Spanish Colonization” – Raul Montemayor – Monterrey businessman and member of Temple Emanuel in McAllen – Al’s Diner
1:15 – 2:00 pm – Educational Program – “Jewish Immigration to the Rio Grande Valley” – Norman Rozeff – author, historian and member of the Cameron County Historical Commission – Al’s Diner
2:00 – 2:15 pm – Educational Program –“ The Who, What & Why of the Texas Tropical Trail Region” – Cynthia Martin – Executive Director of the Texas Tropical Trail Region – Al’s Diner
2:15 – 3:45 pm –Business Meeting – Private Dining Room at Al’s Diner (the public is welcome to attend)
An RSVP is necessary so that we can be adequately prepared with seating arrangements and lunch.
Please respond to Nancy Deviney at firstname.lastname@example.org as soon as possible but no later than Friday, February 17, 2012.
Directions are available to the various sites.
We hope you will join us for this educational and informative day. No fees or membership are required. There will be a $13.50 charge, per person, (including tax and gratuity) for lunch.
Please feel free to share this invitation with your friends and colleagues but remind them that an RSVP is necessary.
361 547-8033 – home
361 701-0555 – cell
361 394-5672 – fax