Edinburg to celebrate new community center with a storied history

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Edinburg city leaders are preparing to usher in the next evolution in the life of a storied community center that sits right in the heart of one of the oldest parts of town.

Officials will gather for a ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday morning at the new Jose Nieto and Consuelo Alfaro Robledo Center, 700 S. Veterans Blvd., formerly known as El Tule Recreation Center.

The ribbon cutting ceremony is slated to begin at 10 a.m. on Friday, and the public is invited to attend, according to a news release from the city.

“This marks another milestone in the city’s ongoing effort to provide state-of-the-art facilities, fostering a healthier and more active city for all,” the news release states.

The $5.3 million facility is four years in the making and features a 27,000-square-foot building with three basketball courts, as well as a 2,000-foot walking trail along the building’s perimeter.

It will provide Edinburg youth a safe place for recreation, but will also offer services aimed at seniors and other members of the community, as well, according to Edinburg Library Director Letty Leija.

Leija spoke of the many “lives” that El Tule has had in Edinburg’s history, beginning during the city’s infancy.

Before there was ever a public facility located there in east Edinburg, there was the El Tule community, which was named after the grassy reeds that grow in riparian habitats along creeks and canals.

“They used to use those reeds, and they would dry them and mix them with mud” to use as a sturdy building material for homes, Leija said.

El Tule Jose Nieto and Consuelo Alfaro Robledo Center on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

That history was uncovered in the 1980s by a man named Jaime Cantu, who was then a Mexican-American studies student at the University of Texas–Pan American.

During the Rio Grande Valley’s pioneer days, one family came to settle in the area where El Tule was eventually built. Soon, others followed.

“By 1914, El Tule community was established, and then, by 1920, there was at least 10 families living there with about, approximately, a population of about a hundred people,” Leija said.

The El Tule community began to set down roots just a few years after Edinburg’s 1908 founding, when it was then known as “Chapin.”

It was renamed “Edinburg” in 1911, after its previous namesake, Dennis Chapin, found himself on trial for the shooting death of Oscar J. Rountree in a San Antonio saloon, Leija said.

Chapin was later acquitted, but by then, the Chapin townsfolk had soured on the idea of his name for their city, choosing instead to rename it after the birthplace of another founding father, John Young.

Some decades later, much of the city — and indeed, much of the Valley — was devastated by Hurricane Beulah.

El Tule Jose Nieto and Consuelo Alfaro Robledo Center on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

In the wake of the deadly storm, the city received federal monies, which allowed it to build the El Tule Recreation Center in the early 1970s.

That building stood until about 2018. And during its four decades of life, it saw use as a health clinic where children received immunizations or dental care, a daycare, a rec center and more.

Now, the site is being given new life again. And again, the facility has deep connections to Edinburg’s history.

Its name, Jose Nieto and Consuelo Alfaro Robledo Center, comes from an Edinburg couple who were instrumental in helping Latino residents here advocate for themselves.

“That was the east side of Edinburg. The infrastructure wasn’t there, and the streets, I think some of them weren’t even paved … and, of course, it always flooded,” Leija said.

“(The Robledos) wanted to make sure that their community was taken care of and they knew that to be able to do that was really having a voice. Having a voice in government, having a voice in voting,” she added.

They did so by speaking to the congregants at local churches, urging residents to register to vote, to become involved in the civic process.

As a child, Leija witnessed their community advocacy firsthand while sitting in a church pew with her parents.

“That’s what they did, they basically got the Hispanic community to unite and work together for a better community,” she said.

El Tule Jose Nieto and Consuelo Alfaro Robledo Center on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

Now, the city is looking toward El Tule’s future, starting with the first event scheduled to be held at the new facility.

“We’re having 54 elementary volleyball teams that are scheduled to be competing there starting Sept. 25,” Edinburg Parks and Recreation Director Javier Garza said.

Along with the youth sports leagues, the center will host low-impact exercise and activities for seniors every day from 8 a.m. until noon. Seniors who participate will also be provided with a free lunch.

And all residents will be able to enjoy a game of pickleball, along with basketball or volleyball, Garza said.

Parks and Rec staff will be available from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m. most days, though youth sports tournaments are expected to run as late as 10:30 p.m., Garza said.

For more information on the new El Tule, residents can call (956) 381-5631, or look for the “Parks and Recreation” tab on the city’s website at CityOfEdinburg.com.