The past month of March we had the opportunity to participate in the ribbon-cutting of Brownsville’s Jackson Street newly restored cottages from the 1930s to 1960s. It is one of those projects that delights the mind and the heart for it improves the quality of life of low-income families. One of the greatest satisfactions of serving on the board of directors of CDCB is witnessing the incredible strides the organization makes to improve the lives of these families.
There is much talk and excitement about the new master community project named Madeira developing north of Brownsville. Still, projects like the Jackson St. Cottages are what building communities is all about. One more time historic preservation delivers a huge impact on the well-being and quality of life of Brownsville. The CDCB (Come Dream, Come Build,) the City of Brownsville, and BC Workshop joined forces to make this happen. We were so impressed that we interviewed Luis M. Murillo Assoc. AIA of BC Workshop about this project. Here is what he had to say.
RGV MOD: Through many TV shows and building practices we learn that demolition is the best option when houses and buildings seem beyond repair. Preservation costs money but why was preserving the Jackson street cottages -which were in danger of being demolished – well worth the effort?
Luis M. Murillo: The Jackson street cottages were in danger of being demolished due to commercial interests related to the properties, but the structures themselves were still at a point to be preserved and
rehabilitated. Preserving, remodeling, and rehabilitating sure might get expensive, but working on these residential units would be of great interest to the neighborhood and community as a whole. Vacant or poorly maintained houses are usually a contagious disease in a neighborhood and are prone to suffer from vandalism, criminal activity, and accidental fires.
Preserving these residential homes will definitely be worth the effort as we feel this is an initial step towards revitalizing decaying neighborhoods and leading them towards a healthy and stronger community.
RGV MOD: Why is the cultural and historical significance of these cottages?
Luis M. Murillo: These cottages date back from the 1930s to-1960s and they are a great example of the traditional Mexican-American shared open-yard living of the time. This example of higher-density living could be a catalyst for exploring more affordable housing options for today’s higher costs of living.
RGV MOD: What was the biggest challenge in this project?
Luis M. Murillo: The biggest challenge with all types of remodeling projects always has to be with all the unknowns and unforeseen elements that the design and construction team start facing once
the construction phase advances. High communication between us the designers and the builders helped to make the best-informed decisions when unforeseen elements appeared while on site.
RGV MOD: How many preservation and or restoration projects does your organization manage per year? Please share some examples.
Luis M. Murillo: Our organization bcWORKSHOP has partnered up with CDCB to take at least 2 preservation/restoration projects per year. We’ve worked on the restoration of a beautiful Tudor-style brick house located at 1206 W. Levee st, the 100-year-old single-family residence at 1254 E. Monroe st., and the triplex at 325 W. Levee, st. Our most recent and most challenging project at the moment will be the preservation and restoration of the Samano Building located at 1158 E. Elizabeth street. In this project, we worked with the advice of the Texas Historical Commission with the main goal of restoring and preserving the building and its beautiful architectural elements from its original design. When complete this building will provide 39 permanent supportive housing studios, case management offices, and a grocery store for the downtown community.
RGV MOD: What would you recommend for people to do if they own or they buy an old house/building in need of some TLC?
Luis M. Murillo: I would recommend they reach out to their local historic preservation officer to explain their needs and explore their options before buying or doing any type of remodeling. It’s
crucial to be well-informed before making an investment or commencing any work as the most common problem we encounter is from people damaging historically significant structures because of being misinformed.
NOTE: Those wanting to restore a mid-20th-century building can also contact us RGV MOD via this website.
RGV MOD: Your organization partnered with CDCB and the City of Brownsville to make this project possible. Can you please elaborate on these entities’ contributions?
Luis M. Murillo: The Jackson street cottages restoration project was made possible because of the shared efforts between CDCB, BC Workshop, and the City of Brownsville. CDCB aside from being the owner of these properties took on the responsibility of being the general contractor for the project to make sure they could keep closer attention to details and a quicker and more accurate response to any recommendations from the city’s Preservation officers.
The Jackson Street Cottages are located at the intersection of E. Jackson and 16th Street in Brownsville, Texas, and are within walking distance from UTRGV and the downtown district.
NOTE: BC Workshops stands for Building Communities Workshops. They have offices in Dallas, Houston, and the Rio Grande Valley.
From their website: “We are a design firm that believes in the intrinsic value of people and place. We cannot work in, and care about Black communities and be silent when they are being murdered in the street by police. We know that the violence against and oppression of Black people, as well as Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, and all people of color in this country, that sparked the uprising of the last few weeks is not new. Our organization exists because of the tangible effects of slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, racial covenants, and anti-blackness. While [bc] has operated under the ethos of “design justice through community engagement”, we have not done everything we can to dismantle this systemic racism. Many community-based practices, ours included, have failed to shift the responsibility of addressing gentrification, displacement, police brutality, and mass incarceration outside of communities of color. These are the tangible and long-lasting effects of institutional racism and are everyone’s responsibility, especially those who have benefited from colonization, white privilege, and the oppression of others.”
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Senior Design Manager
Luis Murillo is a Senior Design Manager at buildingcommunityWORKSHOP. He works on MiCASiTA and low-impact development projects in the Rio Grande Valley. As a Brownsville native, Luis has personally experienced the multifaceted issues that the community faces. Through the implementation of new ideas and thoughtful design, he works to solve environmental and social issues in the community. He aspires to make an impact and create positive change in the RGV. Luis began his architectural studies at the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture from Texas Tech University College of Architecture and gained experience in building code analysis through interning for the City of Lubbock Building Inspections Department.