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Walking tours tell history of downtown

November 9, 2016 GMT

HARLINGEN — The rows of historic buildings tell much of the story of Harlingen’s past.

Historic Jackson Street seems to hide Harlingen’s legacy as a railroad stop known as Six-Shooter Junction and the city’s emergence as an agricultural center.

Soon, those stories will be told again.

On Saturday, Harlingen’s Downtown office will resume its annual walking tours of the Jackson Street district to help tourists and residents learn more about the city.

“It was created to showcase downtown — its history and what it has to offer,” Edward Meza, the city’s downtown manager, said. “It’s very educational and interesting, all at the same time.”

The free 90-minute tours will take visitors up and down Jackson Avenue and the downtown area to learn about the murals that help tell the city’s story.

“There’s a lot of history in the buildings,” said Cheryl LaBerge, the city’s former downtown manager who serves as a tour guide. “A lot of it is learning how to look at the buildings. You can see that in the built environment. People build when times are good — in prosperity. It’s had its periods of boom and bust.”

Learn the story behind Harlingen’s historic buildings.

Today, The Reese stands as a centerpiece of the downtown area’s dynamic revitalization.

In 1927, the five-story building opened as the Reese-Wil-Mond Hotel during one of the area’s construction booms.

Billed as the “Traveling Man’s and Convention Headquarters of the Valley,” for generations the hotel stood as a business and social hub.

After it closed in the mid-1960s, the Harlingen Housing Authority opened the building as Heritage Manor, a senior citizens’ home, in 1970.

In 2008, the Wagner and Aune families renovated the building, restoring much of its charm as the home of Colletti’s, a popular Italian restaurant, and an events center while leasing office space.

At 209 E. Jackson, pop artist Tony Schaub runs his studio and gallery out of a building that used to house Harlingen’s first funeral home and mortuary.

Recently, the renovation of a building at 201 E. Jackson unveiled the original tile façade of the building that used to house Harlingen’s Piggly Wiggly grocery store before it became the city’s first H-E-B store.

At 123 E. Jackson, the building that’s home to the Antique Emporium used to house Days, the drug store that was the heart of the downtown area more than 50 years ago.

In 1991, the Antique Emporium opened as the downtown area’s first antique shop after the city launched the area’s revitalization.

Today, the downtown area’s antiques shops lure shoppers from across the region.

Tours also take visitors to Centennial Park, where 905 handcrafted ceramic tiles make up Raul Esparza Sanchez’s mural depicting the history of Mexico.

The masterpiece was created for the exterior of California Museum of Science and Industry in Los Angeles in recognition of the long-standing friendship between Mexico and the United States.