Group launches drive to revive Robertson Street

Event planned to raise money

SAN BENITO — Once known as “Skid Row,” Robertson Street still holds some of the city’s most beloved landmarks.

At the corner of Sam Houston Boulevard, the San Benito Bank and Trust building dates back to the city’s heyday as the commercial hub of northern Cameron County.

Down the street, La Villita recalls an era when the dance hall drew many of the pioneers of conjunto whose music led fans from across the region to its sprawling dance floor.

Along the banks of the resaca, the iconic Aztec Building featured open-air dances on its famed roof-top.

Down the street, La Especial remains one of the area’s most popular bakeries.

“It’s a diamond in the rough,” Iris Garcia, a Robertson Street shop owner, said yesterday. “It’s a hidden treasure.”

Now, a group of residents has formed the Historic Downtown Robertson Street Association to raise money to help revitalize the five-block area.

On Oct. 20, the group will hold Vintique Village, where vendors will sell hand-made crafts to raise money for the project.

“Our goal is to reinvest and have a one-on-one relationship with the business owners,” Angela Rodriguez, wife of former City Commissioner Esteban Rodriguez, said yesterday.

In the mid 20th Century, Robertson’s five-block stretch was one of the Rio Grande Valley’s most popular night stops.

“That whole area of Robertson Street was an entertainment zone,” Daniel Cortez, a board member, said. “People would come from all over the Valley for that.”

Cortez said it is now up to local business owners to revitalize the area.

“If the city can’t do it because it’s got other priorities right now, we feel it’s the communities’ responsibility to do it,” Cortez said.

How it started

In July, Garcia helped launch the program.

“The torch was passed on to me to take care of these buildings,” said Garcia, owner of The Shop, a thrift store near the corner of Robertson and Travis Street. “There’s a lot of history in San Benito and the association doesn’t want it to die.”

For decades, her father-in-law Emilio Garcia owned a cluster of businesses there, including a thriving family-owned grocery store.

“It’s in the family,” she said of the buildings that once housed her family’s businesses.

A busy street

In the 1970s, her shop was a popular pool hall.

“It didn’t have a name,” she said of the pool hall. “It didn’t need a name.”

“It was a busy street,” she said. “The doors would be open. It was flowing with business. The shops would be open till 9 o clock at night.”

Years later, she said, the area’s booming bar district helped brand Robertson Street as “Skid Row.”

End of the road

Then in 2003, city inspections cracked down on code violations before the city commissioners approved an ordinance barring taverns from opening.

Two years ago, the city launched a downtown revitalization program that includes the Robertson Street area.

To help out area businesses there, the city is offering to help spruce up their storefronts, Planning Director Bernard Rodriguez said.

The city is offering grants of up to $10,000 to property owners who use the money to spruce up their shop’s facades.

Under the program, the city requires property owners to match the grants.

“The city is committed to assist and work with the association,” Bernard Rodriguez, whose parents Joe and Cruz Rodriguez met on La Villita’s dance floor 65 years ago.

“Robertson Street is unique and relevant to the history of the city of San Benito,” he said. “It brings back to life our history. Now it reflects the business community’s commitment to San Benito.”

What's on Robertson Street?

San Benito Bank and Trust building

Aztec Building

La Villita Dance Hall

La Especial bakery