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Thirteen years after taking over the office of the fledgling Cotulla Main Street Program with a view to helping revitalize the city’s downtown historic district, Patsy Leigh has announced her retirement and will leave the position this week.
Leigh has been responsible for a variety of tasks as the program manager, including oversight of advisory and sub-committees whose input and planning have helped bring new public awareness of the city’s historic value; planning and hosting festivals from the annual July 4 celebration to a Halloween event for children and the traditional Christmas parade and lighting ceremony at Veterans Park downtown; and promoting the historic preservation and revitalization of the city’s oldest downtown buildings.
Cotulla earned its designation from the Texas Historical Commission as a Main Street City in 2006 and kicked off the program in 2007 with a visit by Texas First Lady Anita Perry, wife of then-Governor Rick Perry, an event that placed the historic Gallman Building in the spotlight as a candidate for preservation, restoration and repurposing to boost tourism and the local economy.
Positioned at the intersection of Front and Center streets in the heart of the newly designated historic district, the Gallman Building was once home to the Cotulla State Bank before serving as a boarding house and a car parts store. One of the last few surviving structures made of locally baked Cotulla brick, the building was extensively remodeled with its original architectural features restored, and reopened as the Locked & Loaded Saloon. It has since changed management and is now known as Cattlemen’s of Cotulla Restaurant, although it is presently closed.
The Gallman Building restoration became the spark that helped Cotulla bring new attention to its downtown area, and a municipal project to beautify the whole district followed with new sidewalks, access steps, landscaping and vintage gas lanterns on Front Street.
“I think what really stands out for Cotulla, with regard to the historic district, is that people now have a better appreciation of the city’s history and take pride in their downtown area again,” Leigh said this week. “I learned a lot in this office, and I believe the program as a whole has really brought back the shine to Cotulla’s fascinating history. We have a colorful history in this community, and the program helped remind people of that.
“Meanwhile, we have continued to encourage downtown tourism, pedestrian traffic, and the development of businesses that make use of these beautiful buildings and bring them back to life,” the Main Street Program manager said. “We have promoted a city grant to help businesses in the district with paint and signage, and we have been given access to resources for architectural design and rendering from the Texas Historical Commission, so that building owners can see how their structures can be restored with a view to highlighting their historic features.”
The Cotulla Main Street Program does not have grant funding or distribute grants and loans. Funding for special projects is set aside by the city government, and other projects have included grant applications to state agencies.
Among the most recent improvement projects has been the complete gutting of a onetime garage and restoration of its stucco facade, behind which the new City Hall has been built. The structure on the corner of Main and Carrizo streets had stood empty for decades and was bought by the city in an effort to prevent its demolition.
“The new City Hall was an entirely municipal project, but it helps draw attention to the historic district, which greatly benefits this program,” Leigh said. “People have come to understand that these buildings have a lot of life left in them and that they can be appreciated by a new generation.”
Other buildings to be restored and repurposed have included the onetime Bill’s Dollar Store at the corner of Center and Main, which opened briefly as Chuck’s Bar & Dance Hall before changing hands and being converted into the NAPA Auto Parts store. Its northwestern sidewall faces Veterans Park and was adorned with a colorful hand-painted mural depicting the history of Cotulla in images ranging from founder Joseph Cotulla, the artesian wells that helped irrigate agricultural development, the discovery of oil in South Texas, the railroad line, cattle ranching, and future US President Lyndon Johnson, who taught at the Welhausen School in the 1920s. In the heart of the city and directly in front of the historic La Salle County Courthouse, Veterans Park has also been revitalized with landscaping and improved walkways to restore it to its original appearance of the mid-1930s.
“Our community’s young people will grow up having a sense of belonging, attaching these buildings and the events that take place here to the story of their lives, from daily business to festivals,” Leigh said. “The process is gradual, and economic revitalization and tourism will come, but the groundwork is laid for Cotulla to take pride in its history and to treasure what has been preserved.
“Overall, I believe we have accomplished what we set out to do,” Leigh says of her time in the office and the committee members’ hours in planning events and promoting the historic district. “There is a lot more to do, and history keeps going on, new businesses will come, and new generations will appreciate these buildings and enjoy the events that are held here.”