A Visit to the Tip of Texas ~ A Few Days in McAllen
McAllen Texas ~ Amigos Always!
I was invited to take a “Top to Bottom” tour of Texas and during that trip I spent a few days in the McAllen area. I admit I didn’t know what to expect when I set out on a Texas adventure and found myself in McAllen. I was pleasantly and over-whelmingly surprised. The city is at the very southern end of Texas and is right next door to Hidalgo, TX, a Mexican border crossing (into Reynosa, Mexico). This makes the area very influenced by Mexican culture. That Mexican culture brings with it friendly people, colorful surroundings and very, very, good authentic Mexican food!
I stayed at the La Quinta Inn & Suites McAllen Convention Center which is literally a stones throw to the Veteran’s War Memorial of Texas, the McAllen Convention Center and the McAllen Performing Arts Center – all must-see spots if you are visiting the area. This hotel is brand new and beautiful and the perfect location for exploring the area. Free daily breakfast is also a plus!
McAllen Performing Arts Center
This new facility that opened in the Fall of 2016 presents a wide variety of nationally recognized productions of music, dance and theater. Offering 1,800 seats, beautiful surroundings and state of the art acoustics, the performing arts center is quickly becoming a hot spot and must-see location in McAllen, as well as the perfect event venue for many. It is located next to (and is part of) the McAllen Convention Center which also offers some amazing events and exhibits.
International Museum of Art & Science
The International Museum of Art & Science is a Smithsonian Affiliate and fully accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. IMAS is the premier art and science museum of South Texas and contains over 50,000 square feet of exhibit space. The IMAS galleries host a number a revolving art and science exhibits each year. The museum provides a unique opportunity for visitors to participate in hands-on science exhibits and to learn original works of art while encouraging creativity and innovation. IMAS’ Permanent Collection includes Folk Art, Fine Art, Decorative Art and a modest Geological Collection.
McAllen Public Library
O.K. – who goes on vacation to go to a library? Well, anyone visiting McAllen should! The McAllen Public Library is the largest single story library in the country. 123,000 SF of state of the art, incredible facility offering a cafe, a computer lab with over 100 computers for residents to use, children’s areas, quiet study rooms, genealogy areas and more. Why so big – because the building was originally a Walmart! You can easily spend several hours here.
On my first evening in McAllen we dined at Zucca83. I don’t think I have ever had a more delicious meal. Simple decor offering both indoor and outdoor patio seating with live music, as well as bar area seating. Everything is made from scratch and I admit I came away not sure I would be able to eat again for days! Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I will leave you with these words – if you visit McAllen DO NOT miss Zucca83!
McAllen Creative Incubator
The McAllen Creative Incubator is a venue that offers low cost studios for start-up artists. The Incubator is meant to foster the creativity of the tenants and provide emerging artists and organizations with managerial, legal, and technical support. The goal of the McAllen Creative Incubator is to support the continued professional growth of artists in order to enhance the cultural and economic vitality of the artists in the local community.
This was definitely the highlight of my visit to McAllen. For much of its existence since construction in 1935, the Spanish Revival Style mansion was a private and rather luxurious residence, complete with a Roman tub. It possessed the distinction then and now of being one of, if not, the largest adobe structures in Texas (10,000 sq. feet). It’s amazing. It’s beautiful. It’s breathtaking.
After a period of over 60 years and two different owners, the house was put up for sale at an auction. Despite Quinta Mazatlan’s appeal, developers with eyes on other projects wanted to demolish the adobe home. Thanks to the citizens, the City of McAllen bought the property in 1998, Quinta Mazatlan avoided the bulldozer and assumed a much wider responsibility in the community. In 2006 Quinta Mazatlan opened as a “mansion with a mission.” The property is also now a large bird, wildlife and butterfly sanctuary and is widely visited by many bird watching communities.
The Story – The Legend of Quinta Mazaltan
The legend of Quinta Mazatlan begins with an understanding of the name. The word “Quinta” in Spanish translates to a country house, villa or estate. When the owners began building the home in the 1930s, the area was surrounded by grapefruit orchards. The word “Mazatlan” has an ancient Indian translation in Mexico meaning “Land of the Deer”. The owners, Jason & Marcia Matthews, frequented the city of Mazatlan in Mexico and were clearly inspired by the Spanish architecture of the area.
Composer, writer, and adventurer, Jason Chilton Matthews (1887-1964) traveled the globe collecting artifacts and stories while serving in 11 countries during World War I and even fought alongside Lawrence of Arabia. When he finally settled in 1935 with his affluent Pennsylvania wife, Marcia Jamieson (1891-1963), they built Quinta Mazatlan at what Matthews called the “Crossroads of the Western Hemisphere.” The construction of the home began in 1935 by Jason Matthews and his wife Marcia when the purchased 5 acres for $2,400.
Matthews personally built much of Quinta Mazatlan on the highest knoll in McAllen. He first experimented with adobe by building an adobe block bathing pool. When it was first built in the 1930s, the entire depth of the pool was 12 feet. It had no filtration system and was known as a draw and fill pool because it was drained and refilled whenever the water became dirty. It was filled from a freshwater well located at the backside of the cottage. Mr. Matthews would attach a six inch pipe to an airplane engine and jet water fifteen feet through the air, into the swimming pool, filling it in less than thirty minutes.
The Matthews were an eccentric couple who headquartered many of their favorite organizations from the home. Marcia was President and Jason Secretary-Treasurer of the Legion for the Survival of Freedom, a non-profit dedicated to the dignity of man and the preservation of freedom opposing communism. They ran a weekly radio show and were publisher and editor of a magazine featuring articles by some of the mot important writers in the United States.
Marcia died in 1963 in the home and Jason died a year later in 1964. Thought of as wealthy McAllen citizens, they had around $14 dollars in the bank at the time of their deaths.
From 1964 to 1967 Quinta Mazaltan sat unoccupied by any family. It was used for short times by a church or a coffee house. In 1967 Hurricane Beulah destroyed much of the roof and left the home in shambles. In 1968 Frank and Marilyn Schultz purchased the estate and began and almost endless restoration. For 30 years Quinta Mazaltan became a showplace where the Schultz family raised their children. In 1991 Mrs. Schultz died and shortly thereafter Mr. Schultz put the property up for public auction. In the spring of 1998 the City of McAllen purchased the historic estate. The estate now offers nature trails, a children’s Discovery Center and a beautiful rental facility for meetings, conferences and weddings.
The property is beautiful and full of authentic artifacts and you can easily spend a full day exploring it all.
McAllen, although a relatively unknown spot when it comes to vacation travel, is definitely worth the visit. There are many interesting spots to visit, great food and friendly people!
Disclosure: I was provided with accommodations, meals and other compensation for the purposes of this review by the McAllen Convention & Visitor Bureau. All opinions are my own and my review has not been influenced in any way.
You can read more about my visit to Texas here: Amarillo Texas Offers Something for Everyone