McAllen (population 106,414) is a city in Hidalgo County, Texas across the Rio Grande from the city of Reynosa in Mexico. One of the fastest growing cities in the United States, McAllen began as a dusty border town surrounded by mesquite brush and cactus in the wild horse dessert of South Texas. It is part of the area known today as Los Caminos del Rio, a 200 mile international heritage corridor on both sides of the Rio Grande River.
Spanish explorers passed through South Texas since the 1500s, though it wasn't until the 1740s that settlements began to dot the landscape, mostly on the south side of the Rio Grande. In the early 1850s John McAllen arrived in the Rio Grande Valley and, with the arrival of the railroad in 1904, established, with others, a town site. In 1907, rival developers started a town on their own land tract and named it East McAllen. The two groups soon joined forces and by 1910 businesses, churches, residences and a newspaper had been built. McAllen was incorporated in 1911.
McAllen’s population jumped from 150 in 1910 to 5,300 in 1920 and by World War II it had a sizable Mexican population as well. Local products have included cotton, alfalfa, broom corn, citrus, grapes, figs, and cattle. In the 1960s McAllen was the oil capital of the valley, the leading winter resort of Texas, and an important port of entry to Mexico.
The 1947 Cine El Rey served the city's Hispanic community for 40 years and is important in local history as a cultural focal point for entertainment and Hispanic heritage. It is a "Mexican Theatre" built to capitalize on the demand for Spanish-language entertainment created by the influx of nearly 5 million Mexicans brought into the United States by the U.S.-Mexican Bracero program, established at the end of World War II to help with a shortage of agricultural workers in the United States. The rehabilitated theater will once again play a role in the city's history and in the revitalization of the 33-block downtown district, serving as a performing arts center.
The city has made great strides in protecting and promoting its heritage over the past few years, including the establishment of an Historic Preservation Council, the adoption of an Historic Preservation Ordinance, and the designation of the first city landmark. McAllen is also a participant in the Texas Tropical Trails tourism program.
McAllen recently completed a survey and comprehensive inventory of the “Heart of the City” area’s historic resources. The survey revealed 32 buildings that may be eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places and three areas that have potential for designation as historic districts. The survey will serve as a planning tool for the city’s future development and redevelopment efforts and is intended to help promote public awareness of the significance of the city’s historic resources and their economic and social value.
McAllen recently celebrated its Centennial with a festival honoring the city’s history and accomplishments that attracted over 7,000 people. Efforts are underway to build on that momentum with an annual heritage event, and profits have been earmarked for the development of a city Heritage Center. Centennial heritage education videos and magazines have been distributed through the school system and the local media, and each of McAllen’s public school students will, over the next four years, collect an oral history from the oldest member of his or her family, as well as photos and artifacts, for the Heritage Center collection.
Designated a Preserve America Community in June 2005.