Faces of the RGV: “On the border by the sea”

Local News

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (ValleyCentral) — This week ValleyCentral takes you to the home of the Porter Cowboys, Golden Eagles, Vikings, Chargers and Raiders. The largest city in the RGV with a population size of 183,667, Brownsville is also the seat of Cameron County. Founded in 1848, the city was fully incorporated in 1853 making the city one of the oldest in the RGV. Brownsville has seen many conflicts in its long history, starting with the Texas Revolution, then followed by the Mexican-American war and lastly the American Civil War. Brownsville played an important role in the Civil War, and was nicknamed the “back door to the Confederacy,” since materials like cotton were shipped through Mexico, avoiding the Union blockade. The city sees many travelers come from Mexico to enjoy all the activities Brownsville has to offer, as its closeness to the border makes it an important trading destination. Located at the tip of Texas, Brownsville earned the name “On the Border by the Sea.” The city is still growing, and further expanding because Space X has provided the city with a lot of attention.

Brownsville

Being located at the tip of Texas and sharing its borders with Mexico and the Gulf has made Brownsville a popular destination for travelers. The first place to look at is the historic downtown area where everything is just within walking distance. Due to its closeness to the Gateway International Bridge, many travelers are able to walk to and from the downtown area. Honoring and preserving the Mexican culture, many of the vendors and the area itself continue to respect its legacy, while also trying to restore the area to its former days. Those looking not to shop will surely enjoy one of Brownsville’s biggest attractions; the Gladys Potter Zoo. The zoo is now going on its 50th year of operation. Guests are given a chance to see some special animals up close they typically would not see. The zoo also offers classes and special events throughout the year to teach the new generation about the importance of protecting wildlife. The zoo, which has been supporting conservation efforts, is a place one must visit when in Brownsville. Another attraction essential to the city is the Brownsville Museum of Fine Arts. The museum was first created in the 1930s, under the name Brownsville Art League. In 2002, it was renamed to its current name. Located in the downtown area right across from the Gladys Porter Zoo, the 17,000-foot square building houses some creative images that are meant to inspire the next generation of artists. The museum features all kinds of exhibits and events for the community to participate in. For those wanting to enjoy the outdoors, they will surely enjoy the many resacas the city has to offer. These unique channels are mostly seen in Cameron County, with a majority in Brownsville. From trails to parks, the city has built around these channels, allowing people to enjoy their beauty.

20 years of visionSpankys Burgers

Hitting its 20th anniversary, Spanky’s Burgers has been operating on the historic street of Palm Blvd since 2001. What started as a dream and vision by owners Sandra and Roland Saenz, the restaurant has grown to become one of the more interesting places to visit in Brownsville. According to Saenz, their only experience came from her husband working at Dairy Queen when he was younger. After expanding over the years, the location has added many renovations to become the building it is today. One of the most important additions was a drive-thru that allowed the restaurant to continue operation during the COVID pandemic. According to Saenz, this addition helped save the restaurant during these difficult times. The walls and ceiling of the restaurant has been filled with posters and other designs that were collected by Saenz or donated by their many customers. As the city was tearing down the old railroad tracks, Saenz says she was able to get one of the old lights that currently hangs in the restaurant. Spanky’s Burgers provide customers with the best quality of taste, serving food made only with fresh ingredients. A popular item on the menu is a burger called “The Works,” which is a homemade patty and covered in all the available ingredients, like avocados, onions, bacon and much more. Combined with a toasted bun and fries, everything works together to add a sensational taste. The Saenz’ are very appreciative and excited to have the backing of the Brownsville community. The restaurant has been serving teachers, first responders, police officers and students. Keeping the business running has been about passion, according to Saenz. “You have to love it. You have to love it. The restaurant business is an animal, the whole industry itself is, and you’re faced with new challenges,” said Saenz.

Historic pattiesRutledge Burgers

Rutledge Burgers has been serving downtown Brownsville for 99 years and will turn 100-years-old on Jan. 14, 2022. The restaurant first opened its doors in 1922 under John and Hilda Rutledge. The establishment was sold by their Martin to its current owner Gloria Perez in 1995. Perez has worked at the restaurant since the 1980s, keeping the tradition of old-fashioned burgers alive. According to Perez, she stumbled upon the job by accident thanks to the owner Hilda, who at the time was looking for an employee to help out. Perez came in the next day. Taking the offer, she worked at every position in the restaurant over the course of a few years, before buying the establishment. Nothing has changed in the 40 years Perez has owned the place, as she tries to keep the Rutledge’s memory and legacy alive. The burgers are cooked with the same recipe and are also made on a stove that is as old as the restaurant itself. The only thing that has changed is the gas valves. The restaurant is located on E. Washington in downtown Brownsville, the same area it opened many years ago. Unlike most businesses, the dining area is a long narrow stretch with nothing blocking the kitchen. Their burgers, which are under $5, have been nicknamed “hamburgercitas” due to their smaller size. While small, the hamburgercitas are known for their taste, which according to Perez has people ordering more than three. Rutledge is well-known among the community, and older generations have returned with their own kids and grandkids as a place to bring back memories. Now helped by daughter Sandy Perez, who was first introduced to the restaurant at 11-years-old, she now serves as a manager and cook for the business. With the 100th birthday of the restaurant soon approaching, Perez is already taking ideas on what to do, and how it should be done. She’s hoping to close down part of the block, play music, have a piñanta, and most importantly give out free hamburgers. To own a restaurant and have it operate for 100 years is something to celebrate, and according to Perez, it’s rare. “I’m inviting the whole world, and I’m going to figure out how to give them the best attention to show how grateful I am for the customers because, through my clients, that’s how I survive,” said Perez.

Remembering the old Rio GrandeSabal Palm Sanctuary

Located in Southmost Brownsville, the Sabal Palms sanctuary is preserving and remembering an ecosystem of the Rio Grande that once surrounded the area. The area was reopened to the public by the Gorgas Science Foundation (GSF) in 2010 through an agreement with the National Audubon Society. The sanctuary is overseen by CEO and President of GSF Larry Lof, who has helped spread the word on the importance of protecting this part of RGV history. The area was once composed of nearly 60,000 acres and has now been reduced to only 30 acres. Home to the last palm forest in North America, visitors are able to experience a part of the RGV not often talked about or heard about. The area is also home to the Rabb plantation, a two-story mansion in the center of the sanctuary. The 19th-century building now serves as the visitor center for those that come to the area. According to Lof, the area that includes downtown Brownsville is heavily influenced by New Orleans, a result of the close proximity the Rio Grande had with the city. Steamboats use to take the original homeowners to and from towns while also bringing materials. Today, visitors are able to experience that forest by walking the trail on the sanctuary. The area is also a major destination for bird watchers. Taking the sights, visitors are able to experience wildlife upfront and in their natural habitat undisturbed. The sanctuary is open to the public 6 days a week from 7 a.m. – 5 p.m. “This gives you a snapshot of something that has changed so dramatically that we don’t even recognize in our own history,” said Lof.

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