Volunteers paint historic hospital - Valley Morning Star : Local News

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Posted: Saturday, March 24, 2007 12:00 am

HARLINGEN - The city's first hospital got a well-needed makeover on Saturday.

More than 50 volunteers helped paint and clean the hospital located at the Harlingen Arts & Heritage Museum to prepare for its April 3 opening.

The restoration project, hosted by the museum's Rio Grande Valley Museum Association, aimed to not only "spruce up" the hospital built in 1923, but also help bring more residents into the hospital exhibit, said Dr. Sharon Cavazos, the project chairperson.

"We recognize there's a need to get the word out (about the hospital)," Cavazos said.

Beginning at 8:30 a.m., children as young as 5 were assisting in painting, she said. Along with community and museum association members, there were students with Harlingen High School South's Rotary Interact Club, Boy Scout Troop 1889, Pack 24, Cameron-Willacy Medical Alliance and city employees helping, she said.

"They've been coming and going, and we've got most of the bottom half of the hospital painted," she said. "We're taking screens off and cleaning windows to spruce up the hospital."

In addition to a relatively cool morning, Cavazos had classic rock 'n' roll songs blasting from a stereo to keep the momentum alive.

"Everybody's snapping their fingers and moving those brushes," she said. "It's working out better than I expected."

The volunteers who helped, Cavazos said, were eager to do the work well. After Saturday's project, the museum will need skilled craftsmen to work on delicate repairs to help the hospital be around for another 100 years.

The hospital opened on lots east of what is now F Street between Tyler and Harrison avenues in 1923.

Two former army barracks from the Rangerville area were moved to the lots and set apart, parallel to each other. A new structure was built to connect them, forming a U-shaped complex. Finally, a porch was added to tie all the elements together.

After Valley Baptist Hospital came along in 1925 - just a few blocks away on the same street - Harlingen's first hospital soon closed.

The structure served other purposes after that but opened as a museum exhibit in 1981.

On Saturday, helping paint the back of the hospital with Boy Scout Troop 1889 and Pack 24, which collectively brought more than 10 volunteers, Jefferson Elementary School fourth-grader Jared Sheneman said he was glad to be helping restore history.

"I thought I should come and try to help," said Jared, 9, as he painted. "This will make a difference."

Omar Salgado, the sponsor of Harlingen High School South's Rotary Interact Club, said 15 students were lending their skills.

"We try to help out with anything in the city and we thought it would be a great way to learn about history and help beautify the city," Salgado said.

Jenn Martinez, 16, who helped with painting, said she saw a huge difference in the appearance of the hospital from when she first arrived at 9:30 a.m.

"I thought it was exciting because I love the museum and it's fun to give back to the museum," the sophomore said.

As the group worked through the day, Cavazos said she hopes more people will visit the museum.

"We want to enhance the quality of life in Harlingen," she said. "(The museum is) a diamond in the ruff, it's an educational opportunity for our children to learn where we come from."

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