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Republic Square remembered as Mexican Park

Staff Writer
Austin 360

Sometimes, it's more about the people than the physical places.

That's true about Republic Square, the green spot that faces the new federal courthouse and hosts movies, concerts, a weekend farmers market and yearly Diez y Seis celebrations. One of four urban squares included in Mayor Edwin Waller's 1839 city plan, it echoes with memories of an era when Austin's Hispanic community clustered nearby.

In fact, Republic Square was still listed as Mexican Park in city directories as late as 1937, after Hispanics had headed to neighborhoods to the east and south. One reason for their departure: Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, which once faced the square and anchored the community, moved to East Austin.

From the 1870s through the 1920s, Diez y Seis parties were held in the square, a tradition that was revived in 2002.

Critical to the lives of the 300 or so Hispanics who lived near the square was the Walker Chili Factory.

"It provided a living for many Mexicans and Mexican Americans in the colonia," says Gloria Pennington, Austin Parks and Recreation Department historian. "We made contact with the family of Martin De La Rosa, who shared family stories and two photos of the workers at the Walker Chili Factory, including one in which Martin is front and center."

Workers and their children often played in the park, which was colloquially dubbed Chili Square and Chile Square.

In the early 20th century, the city's leadership decided to clean up Guy Town, the nearby red light district now known as the Warehouse District, and did much to encourage the migration of Hispanics away from the area.

Yet memories of Mexican Park have not completely faded.