PHARR, Texas (ValleyCentral) – This week ValleyCentral takes you to the home of the Bears, Javelinas, Raiders and Wolverines. The Hidalgo County area holds three cities; Pharr, San Juan and Alamo, that together form PSJA ISD. It is one of the largest districts in the Rio Grande Valley, serving nearly 31,000 students. Each city was fully incorporated in the early 1900’s, with Alamo and San Juan in 1909 and Pharr in 1919. The three cities together have a population reaching nearly 137,000 residents. By taking a look at these cities, travelers and residents will get to experience a part of RGV history.
Pharr-San Juan- Alamo
Each city has its own distinct features and names, making them an essential part of the RGV. Pharr is the largest city both in square feet and population, and has continued growing over the years. The Pharr Aquatic Center, a recent addition to the city, serves as a place to escape the RGV heat and experience some water activities. It’s a home to a water park open during the summer days, and is the perfect place to have fun with friends and family. The Aquatic Center is open year-round, and also has an indoor pool for those wanting to swim laps. Created in partnership with the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, the center is one of the many new places benefitting the public and university. A predominately Hispanic community, the RGV takes great pride in being the home to the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle. A shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary, it has become a major attraction for Catholic’s visiting the RGV. With its origins dating back to 1921, starting as a small wooden church, the shrine was build in 1954 with an exact replica of the statue venerated at San Juan de Los Lagos. In 1970, the shrine was struck by tragedy when a low flying plane crashed into the church and set it on fire. The At the time of the crash, nearly 200 people were at the shrine, and the only fatality was the pilot. Many called the incident a miracle. The basilica was deemed a national shrine in 1998 and a year later earned the distinction of a minor basilica by Pope John Pope II. Those looking to explore the outdoors will surely enjoy the Santa Anna National Wildlife Refuge in Alamo. Located on the outskirts of town and near the Mexican Border, the refuge provides a look at unique species and wildlife seen in the RGV. The area, which was first opened in 1943, covers nearly 3.252 square miles, which is small compared to most refuges in the RGV. It still offers one of the most diverse ecosystems. The refuge sees a lot of travelers through the area, as it’s a popular location for bird watchers or hikers.
In-house creations–Tower Burger Company
Tower Burger Company, located in the heart of Alamo and near the downtown area, has been providing specialty burgers to the RGV for seven years. Started by Valley native Eddie Cuellar in 2014, the restaurant is a product of a dream come true for Cuellar. Born and raised in the RGV, he developed a passion for making food by watching the Food Network at his grandmother’s house. Cuellar attended the Art Institute of Dallas and earned a bachelor’s degree in Culinary Management. According to Cuellar, burgers were a “good gateway into the world,” of restaurant management, because everyone knows and loves burgers. Seeing a lot of love and support from the RGV community has led to a second location being opened in McAllen. Facing trials like the COVID-19 pandemic, the path to success has not been easy, but seeing the community’s reaction has been a driving force for Cuellar. “We’re thriving, we’re doing good, luckily the community has backed us up and its been really nice to kind of see the support from the community in that sense,” said Cuellar. Using nothing but fresh ingredients, Cuellar’s goal is to provide the best quality of food possible to his customers. Everything is made in house, meaning all of the products are made on the spot to give it that fresh taste the restaurant has become known for. The original recipes come from the mind of Cuellar himself, as burgers like the Bleu Buffalo were his own creation. Providing a modern aesthetic and something normally seen in big cities, the dining area is meant to inspire that big city feeling without having to go far. Burger Town Company has led Cuellar to start his second venture, a bakery that he will soon open down the street. “Thank you to our community, the city of Alamo, the city of McAllen, pretty much the whole valley for supporting us for seven years, going on eight years now, and to our staff most importantly because without them, this wouldn’t exist,” said Cuellar.
Family Traditions – Ann’s Restaurant
Ann’s Restaurant has been operating in the city of San Juan since the 1980s. The restaurant, which serves American and Mexican style food, is the product of traditions and love of food passed down generations. Serving food like botanas and lunchas is what made Ann’s Restaurant a popular place for the community. The restaurant was inherited by Nadia Baughman Turner in 2017, as she has been running the business alongside her husband Lucio Turner for four years. Both have different roles in keeping the restaurant going, with Nadia social media and advertising, while Lucio does the cooking. The restaurant has seen members of the community attending since the 1980s and sharing their experiences. “You just see people grow up over the years… We’ve sent off so many kids off to college,” said Turner. The restaurant is located at the spot it has been for over the last four decades, near the downtown area of San Juan. Founded by Ann and Luis Baughman in 1981, Ann’s Restaurant started as a mom-and-pop business before being renovated by the Turner’s in 2019 as a way to bring in new blood and add a more modern feeling. According to Turner, the building was built in 1910 and undergoing renovations took up a large chunk of 2019 to complete. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the Turner’s had to close the restaurant, but that didn’t stop the operations or their urge to help the community. Switching to a catering style of business allowed the Turner’s to keep the restaurant running, but also provided its own challenges. No longer being able to serve food in the dining area was a major blow to the restaurant. Seeing how much the community was hurting during the February freeze, the Turner’s decided to open their doors to the public by serving them a warm beverage and food along with a place to escape the cold. According to Turner, this was a way to give back and help others in need, including retirement homes and local organizations helping child migrants. “You set off to do something because you know we’re lacking water, lacking resources and then it turns into something life changing,” said Turner. Going through the pandemic had the Turner’s create some programs that provided meals to parents and their children who were stuck at home. The Turner’s are proud and excited to have the backing of the community and be part of a legacy that continues to grow. Without saying too much, they have some exciting plans that will soon be revealed. “We believe what we give out always comes back in return, one way or another, why not try to spread a little more positivity,” said Turner.