The Chamizal Treaty was signed August 31, 1964. The treaty granted Mexico 630 acres of what was South El Paso. September 25, 1964, Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Adolfo Lopez Mateos met on the El Paso border to formally exchange the territory. The Chamizal National Memorial, marking the settlement of the U.S.-Mexico border dispute, was dedicated November 17, 1973.
September 25, 1964
Chamizal Settlement, Freeway Bring Gigantic EP Facelifting
Settlement of the Chamizal dispute, and construction of the freeway through the heart of the city, will give El Paso its greatest face-lifting operation in history.
Most of the buildings in the path of the freeway already have been razed, the rubble piles waiting for the power shovels to begin digging a freeway trench in the next few years. The construction has meant major dislocations, of businesses as well as residences, sending hundreds of El Pasoans into new homes.
The disruption caused through carrying out the terms of the Chamizal treaty will be equally great. In each case there were valuable properties sacrificed, but a greater proportion of the improvements were old, often eyesores, and their loss will be El Paso’s gain.
Never before, nor in the future, will El Paso be in a position to dress-up its front yard as when the new river location is completed, by 1968 under present plans. By then, some $44 million in outside funds will have poured into El Paso in wages, property payments, for materials and construction.
The relocated Rio Grande will be concrete-lined for 4.3 miles from its take-off point southeast of the water treatment plant below Santa Fe Street. It will be 120 feet wide, with sloping sides and a 12-foot depth at the center. The concrete construction will allow dredging away all debris during periods when the river runs dry.
Tentative plans call for highway construction on levees following the river on both sides, as El Paso and Juarez work ever closer together on the theme of an international city.
What will El Paso lose and gain physically in the land swap?
The state Department has never allowed any government construction in the Chamizal. For that reason the present Santa Fe bridge inspection facility was built by the J.E. Morgan family and leased for use of the inspecting agencies. It will go to Mexico and very likely become Mexico’s port of entry headquarters. A long block to the north, the U.S. will build its own structure, to cost at least $2.5 million and replace the lost facility.
It is expected that all soil excavated for the new river channel will be dumped in the old river bed and that Juarez will have a park and beautification program carried out in the area. New bridges, their cost to be shared by both countries, will be constructed north of present locations across the new channel. The agreement with Mexico provided that the present owners of the downtown bridges, El Paso City Lines, will continue to operate the new toll bridges. At Cordova Island it is specified that the bridge will remain toll-free, unless otherwise agreed by both governments.
When the breezes are wrong, Downtown and outlying El Paso areas have been subjected frequently to annoying odors from the Peyton Packing Co, feed lots. Recently this problem has been brought under control, but it will be eliminated completely when property-buying in the Chamizal is completed. There will be no more meat-packing there, as John Morrell Co., now owners of the Peyton plant, are preparing to move to a new location not yet announced and Mexico has given its assurance that the stockyards will disappear.
GO TO MEXICO
Also going to Mexico are the Ziegler stockyards, a molasses plant, warehouses, the Mine & Smelter Supply building that will be headquarters for the Chamizal project until the final land exchange takes place. A total of 32 buildings that will pass to Mexico, not counting those to be torn down along the right-of-way of the river channel.
All property is privately owned except for the Ramon Navarro School, comparatively new, on Hammett Street, border Patrol headquarters and a detention station, in the same area. The patrol and detention operations will be moved to a site near International Airport.
There were 3,750 residents living in the zone at the time a head count was taken in preparation for the exchange. Their citizenship will not be affected, but all must be move out before the property is transferred. Mexico has told its citizens that it is paying nothing for the return of the Chamizal. Nothing will be paid for the land and private banking interest in Mexico are paying for the improvements that will go to Mexico. They will be repaid as new buyers are found for the buildings, Mexicans under the legal requirement barring foreign owners within a fixed distance of the border.
Mexico will net 437 acres in the settlement, including 71 acres to the east of Cordova Island which, like the island itself, has never been in controversy. The U.S. will gain the top half of anvil-shaped Cordova Island, land that has remained Mexican by treaty ever since the meandering Rio Grande was straightened out to cross the narrow neck of Cordova instead of following its former course around the island.
The new river bed will run very slightly northeast, roughly along the 10th avenue to a point near Cotton Avenue where it will swing sharply northeast to cut across Cordova. At Hammet, approximately where traffic now moves toward the inspection stations, the river will swing gradually southeast toward the river, cutting though the present sludge beds of El Paso’s sewage disposal pant.
What will be done about providing water, sewage disposal, and utilities to the area being turned over to Mexico? That will be a problem for Juarez as services will be cut off entirely when the settlement is complete. All lines and mains will remain in place, but servicing them will no longer be the responsibility of local utilities – nor their source of income.
El Paso’s utilities will lose very substantial revenues from the Chamizal, as well as from properties taken from the freeway and the loss of taxes will be a jolting blow. It is as partial compensation for this loss that the City has asked special consideration in building a riverfront highway, covering Franklin Canal through the city, and converting the top part of Cordova into a national monument.
The Chamizal settlement is a tremendous challenge to El Paso. Many slum dwellings will be removed, along with other sub-marginal structures. The City can have a beautiful front yard, or a rubbish heap. All indications point to “Go,” and exciting years ahead.
Chamizal Photo gallery.