Tradiciones: Raices

El Prado Community Center: a sense of place and history amidst change

By Kathy Cordóva
Posted 10/1/19

In the small, rural community of El Prado during the era of the Great Depression, parents recognized the need for an elementary school. They donated land, building materials, time and labor toward the project.

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Tradiciones: Raices

El Prado Community Center: a sense of place and history amidst change


“I was Snow White in our elementary school play. I wore a beautiful dress my mother made from crepe paper,” said a former El Prado Elementary School student at a recent community event.  The person to whom she was speaking shook her head, puckered her lips and said, “Oh, no you weren’t — I was.”

The two women enlisted the help of a former classmate for verification. He broke the stalemate: “Both of you filled the role, but in different years. Gosh, we had some wonderful plays in El Prado. Even our parents joined our performances as actors and stagehands.”

The school was an important part of students’ lives and talk about those fun days when they meet.

The traditional community of El Prado (“the meadow”) includes landmarks that exhibit the history of its people and a sense of place, including the El Prado Community Center. Located at 1032 Paseo del Pueblo Norte, the building served as the former El Prado Elementary School. Like many buildings of this type, such monuments to the past sometimes change purpose, thus assisting a community’s current needs. 

In the small, rural community of El Prado during the era of the Great Depression, parents recognized the need for an elementary school. They donated land, building materials, time and labor toward the project. The Works Projects Administration supplied the funding for many of the materials, according to the New Mexico Office of Historic Preservation. The WPA was an agency created as a part of The New Deal, and designed to stimulate the economy by creating thousands of jobs and community projects such as public buildings (post offices and armories) bridges, schools and roads from 1933 to 1939. 

Besides performances, the youngsters at El Prado Elementary played basketball under the name the Gophers, participated in spelling bees and enjoyed ice cream socials. An emphasis on academics, nutritious lunches and snacks and an unforgettable trip to Juarez are only a few memories former El Prado Elementary students discuss when they gather for special occasions. Conversations include the names of adults who helped the children along the way: Rafael Trujillo, Adolfo Martinez, J.B. Martinez Jr., Mary Cruz, Anita Chavez; Eloy Fernandez, Rafaelita Cardenas, Mary Kay Blickenderfer, Marcelina Parraz and Josephine Cordova.

A study regarding U.S. Highway 64 through the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division of the Office of Cultural Affairs includes several facts about the school building. The study, by Marron and Associates’ staff member Karen Soto, stated that the 1935 Spanish-Pueblo Revival style structure is constructed of concrete block with a concrete foundation and stucco plaster. Other features include a flat roof and a high parapet.

In 1968, Taos Municipal Schools closed some small rural schools within its jurisdiction, thus requiring busing to the more urban and larger Taos Elementary School. After the El Prado school’s closure, Taos Municipal Schools loaned the building for special use. For several years, the Community Action Program used the premises. The building also housed the Commodities Program, offering nonperishable food for needy recipients.            

From 1995 to 1997, Bruce Armstrong and Gabriel Romero managed a grant program called YouthBuild to help at-risk students complete the high school equivalency program and learn marketable skills for the construction industry. Habitat for Humanity assisted through a partnership, and participants credit Victor Robles for much assistance. 

In the past two decades, Taos County entered into management agreements with rural communities to enable the use of former school buildings as community centers. El Prado received the same opportunity. At a Jan. 12, 2010 community meeting, those in attendance elected a board to oversee operations. The building was in disrepair and residents could not use it until satisfying the building-code standards. According to correspondence from Taos County, many of the code violations existed due to federal handicapped requirements such as a new entrance ramp, windows, doors and the rewiring of the entire building. The board raised money to complete a restroom project and currently works toward financing an estimated price tag of $38,000 for completion of all repairs. In recent years, Taos Municipal Schools turned the building over to Taos County.

The El Prado Community Center Board received nonprofit status and hopes to complete work on the building in order to offer planned classes such as résumé writing, job search, reading and writing activities and keyboard classes. A History Room project will be an opportunity for area participants to share their family stories with others. Plans call for the distribution and completion of photo albums among El Prado residents. The activity will allow residents to tell their stories their way. Organizers plan to house the work in the History Room for sharing at occasional social gatherings. The board visualizes special rentals of sections of the building to help defray expenses. Once completed, the building will host residents of all ages for interactive activities.

“We’re in fundraising mode, applying for grants and seeking donations. We appreciate any help — money materials and manpower — toward receiving a certificate of occupancy,” said co-president and secretary of the board Antonia Cardenas. He stressed that the nonprofit status also provides the donor with a tax exemption. Other board members are as follows: Co-President Kathy Cordova; Vice President Menard Martinez Jr.; Treasurer Raymond Cisneros and members Bernadine de Herrera, Telesfor Gonzales and Marie Martinez de Trujillo.

The current designation (transformation of the former school’s use into a community center) remains in keeping with the school’s original plan to help educate the community. The El Prado Community Center Board hopes that, like the original participants, current residents will repeat history and help prepare the building for common use.

The continued use of the historic building contributes to traditions of raíces, roots of historic significance in traditional El Prado.

Persons wishing to help may contact any board member. For monetary donations, call Raymond Cisneros at (575) 758-1600.


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