Monday, January 30, 2012

History of Newman Park

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History of Newman Park 
By Cindy Milazzo

This is a short history of the developers of the Highland Park subdivision, Newman Park, and when the houses in the immediate area of the park were built.

The Highland Park subdivision was built by one of El Paso’s pioneers, Ezekiel “Zeke” S. Newman who brought his family to El Paso around 1882. He founded Newman Investment, a real estate company that later included his son, Charles M. Newman, and son-in-law, C. J. Mapel. Around 1900, Newman Investment began to develop the Highland Park area, which included around 140 blocks.

An early map of Highland Park shows the city limits at Savannah and Louisiana and a streetcar line the follows roughly the same route as the Highland Park bus today.

In 1907, Zeke Newman built a house as a wedding present for his daughter and son-in-law, Myra and C. J. Mapel, at 2631 New Orleans (Today this is the house at the NW corner of Altura and Louisiana. New Orleans Street was renamed Altura around 1920).  Zeke Newman lived there with the Mapels until his death in 1913.

In 1908 Newman Investment donated the 1.5 acres that became Newman Park. It was one of the largest gifts given to the city at the time and included a stipulation that all property owners around the park invest a minimum of $3000 in their houses.

Around 1910, Zeke’s son, Charles M., built a mission-style home at 2601 New Orleans (today the NE corner of Altura and Alabama).  Charles and his family lived in the house until his death in the early 1940s. Barbara Leigh Rees, who grew up in the same block as the Newman house and lives there today, remembers Charles Newman telling stories of lights on the mountain from what he said were Indian campfires.

It would be 10 years before the next house was built across from the park. In 1920 Robert E. McKee, the world-renowned contractor, built his two-story Federal-style house at 2630 Richmond. Six more houses went up in the 20s and 30s, five in the 40s and 50s, and two more in the 80s and 90s.

An early map of Highland Park indicates the name was called Newman Park. Many articles in the El Paso newspapers refer to the park as Newman and local residents knew it by that name until the early 1960s when the city put up a “Highland Park” sign.  In 1967, City Council officially changed the name from Highland to Newman to honor the original donor family.

Park Tidbits

Some of the many events held in Newman Park include church and club picnics, dance concerts, plays, quilting club parties, Easter egg hunts, ice cream socials, and watermelon feasts. 

Concerts were also popular. In June 1937, 300 people attended a concert in Newman Park, the first of a series of Federal Music Project concerts. [More information on the Federal Music Project.]  The WPA concerts were held throughout that summer, in Newman Park on Monday nights and in Kern Place Park on Thursday nights. There was a WPA mariachi orchestra as well as a concert orchestra.

In the summer of 1947, 150 Cub Scouts pitched tents in the park for a
three-day camp out.  After metal-working, paper maché activities, and song sessions, they closed off Alabama near the park for a soap box derby.

Another street, Richmond, was closed next to the park in May 1931 for the El Paso Garden Club’s flower festival.

Around the same time, neighborhood residents complained about tourists camping in cars around the park and on vacant property near the park. Maybe because of this, the park commissioner sent a watchman who unfortunately began chasing neighborhood kids out of the park. Dr. B.U.L. Conner, who wrote a humor/commentary column for the Herald Post, complained that “this was a blow to the Conner and other kids of Highland Park as they had been playing hide and seek in the park for a long time. It appears that the park is being kept sacred for the benefit of those who have nice homes on the avenue. Who pays for the upkeep of the park, and why can’t children of the taxpayers play in it? If Hugo Meyer (park commissioner) thinks he’s going to force the Conner kids to hang around the Conner home, instead of getting rid of their pent up energy in the park, he’ll find out the Mrs. Conner is pretty expert at mind changing."

(Sources El Paso Herald Post 1908 – 1967)

1 comment:

Bobby said...

Good stuff, Cindy. I enjoyed the history lesson entirely. And you too, Jim Tolbert, for the newsletters and the blog.