SAN ANGELO, TX — Irving Street in San Angelo starts in the barrio at Avenue U on the south side of the city and runs north, terminating at City Hall. Some say the 2.1 miles of asphalt should be renamed to honor San Angelo’s Hispanic heritage. In light of this, there is a movement afoot to rename Irving to Cesar Chavez Street.
“Irving Street was selected because it begins in the heart of the barrio and ends at the steps of City Hall,” states an announcement for a community meeting on the subject leaked to San Angelo LIVE! from an email sent out to members of the San Angelo Hispanic Heritage Museum organizing committee.
According to “Historic Resources Survey of Downtown San Angelo,” a City of San Angelo-commissioned study of the area in August 2021, Irving bisects a major part of the city’s historical Mexican-American neighborhood. The study notes that Mexican-American families moved south of the river, to lots around and south of the Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railway tracks near the turn of the last century.
“By the 1910 census, Mexican Americans comprised 7 percent of San Angelo’s population; of this community, 45 percent lived in the Miles Additions, while another 33 percent lived south of the river,” the study states.
The Miles Additions were near the Santa Fe Depot that today is the transportation center. That building located where the Santa Fe Depot was is today designed as a replica of the original depot. There were two railroad depots in San Angelo in 1910: The Santa Fe Depot (not extant but replicated) and the Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railway Depot at 703 S. Chadbourne St. that today houses the San Angelo Railway Museum.
The origins of Irving Street’s name trace back to the founding of the city of San Angelo by land developer and speculator Bart DeWitt. After the flood of 1869 wiped out his saloon and general store near the stagecoach stop at Ben Ficklin, widower DeWitt was able to purchase 320 acres north and across the Concho River from Fort Chadbourne for $1 an acre from Granville Sherwood.
With dreams of building a new city, DeWitt laid out the plat in 1870 of what is today downtown San Angelo. The naming convention of many of the streets followed the sentiments at the time. Tom Green County was part of the post-Civil War Reconstruction South and revering Confederate Civil War heroes was common back then. San Angelo historian Gus Clemens, in his 1985 book The Concho Country, recounts how DeWitt named the following San Angelo streets :
- Chadbourne Street was named after the fort north of present-day Bronte where the road led.
- Oakes Street was named for a Union Colonel James Oakes who had once fought an Indian battle on the western edge of the Concho country.
- Twohig Street was named after John Twohig, a notable banker of the day in San Antonio who was also a friend of DeWitt’s in-laws.
- Beauregard Avenue was named after Confederate General PGT Beauregard who led the assault on Fort Sumter, the first battle of the Civil War. Beauregard later was defeated and retreated from Corinth following the bloody showdown with Union General U.S. Grant’s forces at Fort Shiloh just north of there and across the Mississippi-Tennessee state line.
- Randolph Street’s origins aren’t confirmed, but Clemens wrote that it may have been named after John Randolph who was a Virginian and defender of state’s rights.
- Irving Street’s namesake is not confirmed either. Clemens wrote that the street may have been named after Washington Irving, an American short story writer who is famous for writing the tales of Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Irving lived much of his life in Europe but when he was back in the States, he lived at his estate he called Sunnyside in Tarrytown, New York.
The name “Irving” does not have historic ties to San Angelo other than it was named by DeWitt, the founding father of the city.
Cesar Chavez has no history with San Angelo, either. Chavez was a community organizer in California most of his life. Chavez founded the National Farm Workers Association in the San Joaquin Valley. He organized primarily Mexican-American farm workers to obtain better pay for their arduous manual labor at the central California farms. He was an organizer of the Delano Grape Strike from 1965 until 1966. Chavez is also described as a far left activist in history.
Controversy followed Chavez. In 1967, he was accused of purging his union to remove those disloyal to him. Chavez was also a vocal opponent of illegal immigration from Mexico. He believed illegal migrants were driving down the wages of workers in his union. He was criticized for calling them “illegals.”
In Chavez’s defense, the San Angelo Hispanic Heritage Museum committee argued that:
- He accomplished much toward making life better for Hispanics His devotion brought hope to Latinos throughout the nation.
- He gave everyone a voice
- Dedicated his life’s work to improve working and living conditions for farm workers in the United States
- Awarded a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award by President Barrack Obama
The Hispanic Heritage Museum group also noted that, “We would like to pay tribute and see a representation to the Hispanic Community. Cesar Chavez is recognized nationally for his leadership.”
The entire Irving Street runs through San Angelo City Councilman Harry Thomas’ Single Member District 2. He said he will attend the meeting to get feedback on the proposed name change. He said he is not openly committed as he believes there may be backlash from residents and businesses who do not desire an address change. But, he noted that Irving bisects a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood and he was not opposed to renaming the street, either. Thomas also wondered aloud if there were Mexican-American San Angelo citizens, past or present, whose name would be a better choice for the renamed Irving Street.
“Although I understand that the committee is looking at renaming some cross streets (to Irving) or new streets after local Hispanic heroes,” Thomas said.
A public meeting about the renaming of Irving Street to Cesar Chavez Street will be held at the San Angelo Railway Museum (the former Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railway Depot) at 703. S. Chadbourne St. at 6 p.m. on July 12.