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How to Save Duranguito — You Can’t, So Stop Wasting Your Energy in the Wrong Directions

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So, back in my hometown, there was this great, old Art Deco building called The Heywood Building. It was built at the start of the 1900s when oil was first discovered, and it was basically the heart of my hometown.

Which means I watched it fall apart for my entire life. The building was never in less-than-derelict condition, and about 10 years ago, the top floor of the Heywood Building collapsed into the bottom floor, internally. That’s because for the previous who-knows-how-many years, water had been leaking into the building, rotting it away.

About two years ago, a few people in my community tried to band together to “save the Heywood.” It was just about the dumbest thing I’d ever seen – not because I didn’t want to see the building saved, but because it’s typically too late to save a building when it’s on the verge of collapsing.

And yet, for all their righteousness, where was everyone 10 years ago when the top story collapsed? Where were they earlier than that? I’m 37 as of the time of this writing. I had never seen the building occupied in my lifetime. But only in the 11th hour – damn, not even in the 11th hour, it was more like the 14th hour – did they stand up and raise hell.

"First off, we need to call the owners of the buildings in Duranguito what they really are: slumlords. Slumlords are not motivated by civic pride.That should be obvious by their nickname."By the way, honest to God, the Heywood Building literally blew over in a storm last year. It just fell into the street. One hundred years of history fell over like a Jenga set.

I’ve now lived in El Paso for two years, and for that entire amount of time, I’ve heard people trying to “save Duranguito.” This week, things took a turn for the absolutely absurd. I mean, seriously, people – y’all are going crazy over this, and not in a healthy, productive way.

So, having shared my experience, I’m going to make a few predictions. Tell me what you think:

  • Those buildings are still going to come down.
  • The protesters who are trying to keep the buildings up will vanish as soon as the buildings are down.
  • Everyone who still stands to make money from this WILL make money from this.
  • El Paso will go through all of this again (and again and again) until it can really do what needs to be done.

First off, we need to call the owners of the buildings in Duranguito what they really are: slumlords. Slumlords are not motivated by civic pride. That should be obvious by their nickname. Protesting in the face of slumlords isn’t going to accomplish anything. Slumlords are driven by money – greed, if you will. I’d be willing to bet they bought the buildings on the cheap BECAUSE someone would one day tear them down and create a big bonanza for them. Hey, who doesn’t love a good deal?

However, people motivated by greed couldn’t possibly care less about your silly protests. They want to get paid. (And sometimes, getting paid means blowing a hole in the side of your own building. Who’d have thought that would ever make sense?) So, if you want their buildings to continue to stand, you’re going to have to shoot money at them. Every now and again, someone bows to civic pressure (as I’ve been told happened in the case of the Plaza Theater), but they’re not the rule – they’re the exception. Plan A is “find a way to pay the dude so we can get him out of the way.” Plan B is “protest.”

In El Paso, just as it happened in my hometown, everyone went straight to Plan B because who wants to pay slumlords?

How’s that working out for you, by the way?

Second off, let’s talk about “protesters.” Man, it’s fun to protest. It feels good to fight against The Man and see if you can accomplish something. But ultimately, protest is a hollow gesture. Protest never wins the day. Behind the scenes compromises win the day. Protests are just how you get news cameras to come and say hello and pay attention to the behind the scenes compromises. You can see how this works, because once “the cause” has failed, those protesters always vanish like a fart in the wind. Their energy to save things evaporates quickly.

So, now that we’ve established that money talks and protesters … disappear, I guess … let’s talk about what you can really do to save Duranguito.

" It’s not fair — not by a long shot — but people who wait for things to be fair usually have to watch their favorite buildings get knocked down."Nothing. Big stupid nothing. I’m sorry, guys. It’s way too late for that. It was too late for that when the judges got involved. This issue will bobble around in the courts like a soap bubble for a while until someone pops it. And then all that will have been accomplished is more anger between different parts of the same community. The rich and powerful will get what they want. A few protesters will try to run for office off this sad episode (and maybe some will win). Life, though, will go on, and it will happen in, around, and on top of the rubble of Duranguito. And it sucks.

It really sucks.

However, If you really want to save El Paso’s history – if you really care, and you’re not just bored on a Tuesday afternoon and looking to go stir it up with the cops downtown – here’s where you start: legislation.

It’s time for El Paso to identify its historical areas and landmarks and find a way to protect them by providing incentives to those who own them, up to and including buyouts. Waiting until someone blows a hole in the side of the building (by the way, what a bunch of a***oles those guys are, right?) is too late to fight. If you want to fight The Man, you have start before the buildings are dying. You have to start while people are using the buildings in a productive manner, while they’re still salvageable. You have to get them protected status, and you have to do so in a way that benefits the greed-monkeys that own them and are just letting them deteriorate. It’s not fair — not by a long shot — but people who wait for things to be fair usually have to watch their favorite buildings get knocked down.

If you’re SERIOUS about saving your city’s history – and you should be – you have to create a watchdog system that works at it every day, and that finds a way to connect what both sides want with what both sides need. That sounds terribly hard, and it is. Ridiculously hard. Of course it is. That’s why protesters disappear. It’s fun to do for a day. It’s hard to fight for a way of life.

People who buy up cheap buildings don’t do it because they’re nice people who want the best for their city. So stop treating them like they’re people who value reason and community. Treat them like what they are – callow opportunists and crooked City Council members – and make them go away by working to create a foundation for the past.

You know, for the future. Or what’s left of it, anyway.

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