El Paso

William D. Abraham explains 'Chinese Laundry' decision; supports arena location

Chinese Laundry Building no longer a...

EL PASO, Texas - A long-standing building in Downtown El Paso is no longer in the running to be considered a historical landmark.

The building is where the former "Chinese Laundry" once stood. It's formerly a bar, it's located on the 200 block of West Overland in the Duranguito neighborhood.
Emails obtained by ABC-7 show the building's owner chose to withdraw the application sent to the state's historical commission.

The application has faced several speed bumps, when the process stalled in January. Those who worked on the application said they anticipated it would be approved in April.
UTEP Professor Dr. Yolanda Leyva says the application was an opportunity to preserve Chinese-American history that is so important to El Paso's history.

"They Chinese were brought into the United States to work on the railroads. When they got to El Paso and the railroad finished, this was the end of the line for that particular railroad and so they were here. The men wondering what can we do for a living? So you find in places like El Paso that are at the end of the line, Chinese laundries, Chinese restaurants," Dr. Leyva said.

The UTEP professor told ABC-7 that back in the 1880s, Chinese men would send their laundry to places like Hawaii, to be done and it would take four months to get their laundry back.

"Laundry was considered a women's job. But because they needed to find ways to make a livelihood, they began to open Chinese laundries. So the Chinese laundry is very significant in terms of representing the early Chinese community here in El Paso," Leyva said, "And where it's located on South Oregon, we can consider it maybe the edge of the Chinese community. The Chinese community was in parts of downtown, it was in parts of El Segundo and right there were Duranguito is as well. And it's the last standing Chinese laundry that we're aware of, so when everything's been demolished, and we just have one more representative, then it becomes more important to save that building."

The building where "Chinese laundry" once stood is now vacant, and the hope it would be recorded as a Texas Historical Landmark is gone.

"I was very confident that it would receive that marker," Dr. Leyva said.

Dr. Leyva and several others worked for weeks researching historical data for the application, which was sent to the Texas Historical Commission, but the building's owner, Billy Abraham, withdrew his consent for the application.

"This absolutely fits in with Billy Abraham and the way he takes care of his buildings and his concern for history or anything else," Joe Nebhan, the chair for the El Paso County Historical Commission.

Nebhan told ABC-7 he's speaking for himself, not on behalf of the commission. He says he's disappointed in Abraham.

The Texas Historical Commission says a historical marker doesn't necessarily add protection to the building. The commission can't save it from being demolished or from a private developer changing the landscape. What the commission does is review projects before they begin, which would essentially give advocates time to potentially save a building. The designation also creates public knowledge of resources and buildings that are important parts of Texas history.

"The Chinese virtually built this city. What an insult to them. They're the ones that brought the trains into El Paso and created this metropolis we now call El Paso," Nebhan said.

The Texas Historical Commission tells ABC-7 in order for the application to move forward, the commission needs to owner's consent.

William D. Abraham, the owner of the property, emailed ABC-7 the following statement:

"The decision to withdraw the application sent to the state's historical commission was not an easy decision, nor did I take it lightly.  As I have since learned after making the application, there are a myriad of complex issues surrounding the arena.

After careful review of all the salient data germane to the arena project - this data consists of various reports and opinions by experts in engineering, law, history, and economic development - I came to realize how much bigger the consideration was than the limited data on which I made my initial decision.

Having the benefit of analyzing the fruits of these labors, I am in agreement and stand shoulder to shoulder with our civic leaders so that the City of El Paso can have an arena that all citizens enjoy -- the site bounded by West San Antonio, Santa Fe and Paisano is, in my opinion, the best site.  Our City has expended millions of dollars to reach this conclusion as well.

Let there be no mistake that the importance of our Chinese heritage has not been lost in the wake of my decision. I will make every effort here forward to ensure that their invaluable contribution to our region will be acknowledged.

I became committed to this project when I was assured by City officials that eminent domain would not be used to force property owners from the area; and that the residents displaced would be rescued by the safety net of relocation costs and assistance.

After balancing the competing interests and a cost-benefit analysis with respect to the arena, I came to only one conclusion, the construction of the arena at the proposed site is for the greater good of the City of El Paso and its citizens."

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