• The Architectural Evolution of Socorro Mission
    A series of line drawings prepared by:

    Architect Jacobo Herdoiza (Quito, Ecuador)
    International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) Intern

    Published through a collaboration between:
    Historic Missions Restoration, Inc.
    Catholic Diocese of El Paso
    Cornerstones Community Partinships
    El Paso Community Foundation

    Matching grant provided:
    The National Trust for Historic Preservation

    Summer 2004

El Paso County Historical Commission
Bernie Sargent, CHC Chairman


El Paso County History

  • Socorro Mission Preservation Project
  • Introduction
  • In 1998, La PurÝsima Restoration Committee asked the Cornerstones Community Partnerships staff to conduct a Conditions Assessment of their beloved Socorro Mission. The results of the assessment were used to estimate the cost of preserving the Mission at just over $2 million. Two years of fundraising ensued, followed by three years of preservation work. Monies raised to date amount to $1.4 million. Funding is currently being sought to complete the building, and initiate an extensive site landscaping plan.
  • Socorro Mission, properly called Nuestra Se˝ora de Limpia Concepciˇn de Los Piros de Socorro del Sur (Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception of the Piros of Socorro of the South), derives its name from the Mission of Socorro, New Mexico, the ancestral home of the Piro Indians who came to the El Paso Valley in the aftermath of the Pueblo Rebellion. Refugees settled in five different areas nestled in the El Paso river valley, including El Paso del Norte, Senec˙ del Sur, Ysleta del Sur, Socorro del Sur and San Lorenzo. Many of the Socorro del Sur parishioners refer to their mission as San Miguel (St. Michael's), in honor of their patron saint, or as La PurÝsima (The Most Pure).
  • As a treasure of U.S., Mexico, and Texas Hispanic history, Socorro Mission is the centerpiece of a region-wide heritage tourism initiative. Admired for its traditional adobe craftsmanship, monumental proportions, unique design details, and for its role in a resonating cultural heritage, the current Socorro Mission (dedicated in 1843) is listed on the National Register of Historic Places with national significance.
  • Moisture entrapment and differential movement caused by the application of cement-based products beginning in the 1920s threatened the historic structure. Undersized window and door lintels, a lack of positive drainage away from the building, the removal of interior structural and architectural braces, deteriorated mortar joints at the bell tower coping, and a lack of routine maintenance also contributed to the building's long-term disrepair.
  • During the course of the preservation process, Cornerstone Community Partnerships has engaged the assistance of many individuals and organizations, including interns associated with the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS). The project coordinators have hosted OCOMOS interns from South Africa, Ghana, Mexico, Australia, and Ecuador. Another program, North American Community Service (NACS), sponsored nine interns from Canada, Mexico, and the United States.
  • Architect Jacobo Herdoiza, ICOMOS intern from Quito, Ecuador prepared the drawings for this publication. Jacobo relied upon the information that the interns compiled, historic photographs, research by Jesuit archivist Ernest J. Burrus, and archaeological investigations conducted by the Sociology Anthropology Department at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) and the El Paso Archaeological Society (EPAS). Jacobo's visual rendition of the evolution of Socorro Mission is notable achievement.
  • Past to Present

  • Socorro Mission: c1940 - 1843
  • Records show that Socorro was officially founded during a Mass delivered by Fray Antonio Guerra on 13 October 1680. The location of this temporary shelter has never been determined. Socorro's first permanent church (located less than a mile south of this Mission) was in use by 1691.
  • Socorro received her official grant one year later.At that time, census records show that Socorro was comprised of 60 Piro families and 15 Spanish families.
  • When the original c1692 structure was destroyed by raging flood waters in 1740, the parishioners replaced it nearby within four years. That second structure was destroyed by flooding in 1829. The main part (nave) of the contemporary Socorro mission was dedicated in 1843 by Fray Andrés de Jesus Camacho.

  • Socorro Mission: 1844 - 1860
  • Historical research records that the statue of San Miguel was placed in the Socorro church on 29 October 1845. Although the details of the design are not known, records indicate that a belfry was added in 1847
  • The 1848 Treaty of Hidalgo transferred this locale from Mexico to the United States.
  • Archaeological work reveals that the original floor was made of hard-packed clay and yeso. The handworked sandstone (cantera) from Mexico echoes this earlier masonry floor, and requires very little maintenance.
  • Evidence suggests that the baptistery was added during this time period.

  • On 31 March 1852, Father Camacho, Superior of the El Paso del Norte Franciscan Monastery, handed over Socorro and the valley missions to Father Ramˇn Ortiz of El Paso del Norte.

  • Socorro Mission: 1861 - 1872
  • Bishop Infazˇn of Durango administered ecclesiastically until 1872. The valley was threatened by another flood in 1872, but Socorro Mission was spared
  • The addition of the mortuary/choir loft vestibule, the choir loft, and the front fašade probably occurred during this time period.
  • Architectural and archaeological research conducted during the course of this project documented a side pulpit feature located in the nave near the nave/right transept corner.Its proximity to the corner suggests it was in use prior to the addition of the transepts.

  • Socorro Mission: 1873 - 1915
  • Under Bishop Salpointe of Tucson French priest Father Bourgade completed the cruciform plan by adding the left and right transepts in 1873.
  • The right sacristy was added by 1888. Between 1894 and 1915 another ecclesiastical shift placed Neapolitan Jesuits from Italy in charge of the Socorro Mission. The Mission soon boasted large European-style arched doors and windows in each transept. Jesuit Alessandro Leone constructed the cemetery Portales (wood stations) in 1894.
  • New bells for the Mission were inaugurated on 6 June 1896. Father Juan Cˇrdova's tenure between 1896 and 1915 oversaw the interior and exterior lime plastering of the mission as well as the construction of a new alter and confessional.

  • Socorro Mission: 1916 - 1955
  • Between 1915 and 1979, Socorro was administered by Mexican Jesuits, many of whom were fleeing the Mexican Revolution during the early days of the war.Drawings prepared by a Historic American Buildings Survey team record that the walls were plastered with adobe mud and "whitewashed" with lime as late as 1936.
  • During the early 1940s, the French Father Gerard Decorme had the Lourdes Grotto constructed, the doors and windows raised, the concrete collar installed around the exterior perimeter foundation, and a new wood floor installed.
  • Between 1946 and 1955, the interior and exterior of the church were replastered and gas heating installed during Father Abdˇn Z˙˝iga's tenure.

  • Socorro Mission: Present Day
  • In 1979 the mission church again changed hands ecclesiastically from the Jesuits to the Diocese of El Paso.
  • Several renovations were initiated in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, including the removal of the original dirt roof, the construction of a new built-up roof, the installation of new vigas and corbels at the alter,
  • the installation of a French drain, and repairs using adobe stabilized mud plaster at the west wall.

  • The Socorro Mission Preservation Project
  • Soon after they were applied, the concrete at the base of the walls and the interior and exterior cement stuccoes adversely impacted the adobe walls.
    Over time, moisture entrapment threatened several areas of the Mission with imminent collapse.
  • During the course of this project, the entire concrete collar and the concrete transept door and window surrounds have been replaced using adobe. Nearly all of the cement stucco has been replaced using permeable mud yeso (gypsum) and lime plasters.
  • Although the repairs are hidden with the walls, new timbers have been spliced onto existing vigas and corbels as necessary using fiberglass dowels and a 2-part epoxy.

  • Socorro Mission: Pre-1843(?)
  • Archaeological excavations conducted at various locations, including the baptistery, indicated that temporary jacal (sticks and mud) structures may have provided shelter prior to the construction of the baptistery and right sacristy.

    The remains of at least one timber support post were found during the baptistery excavation. The presence of a side pulpit feature suggests that a similar jacal or adobe room could have sheltered an exterior passageway.
  • Special thanks to the students and archaeologists with the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) and to the grant writers and foundations who funded them, for all the dedicated work and research.

  • Floor Plan and Side Pulpit Feature Side Pulpit (1861? - 1871?)
  • During the summer of 2003, Architect Jacobo Herdoiza pieced together the available information to prepare these unprecedented drawings.

    They represent the best information available to date regarding the architectural evolution of Socorro Mission.
  • Special thanks to Harry W. "Skip" Clark (El Paso, TX) for volunteering his time and expertise to document the side pulpit feature, and for his archaeological assistance throughout the project.

  • Conclusion
  • Jacobo Herdoiza, Architect (Quito, Ecuador) has compiled an astonishing amount of historical, archaeological, and architectural research in his deceptively simple depictions of Socorro Mission.
  • The Preservation Project coordinators, working with La PurÝsima Restoration Committee, strive to embrace each of these changes, retaining as much original materials and workmanship as possible, while returning the building back to structural soundness. All work compiles with the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation and Preservation.
  • Once the Mission is conserved, La PurÝsima Restoration Committee members will be presented with a Long-Term Maintenance Plan. This detailed plan will describe the schedule, materials, and techniques required to properly maintain the building. The Maintenance Plan will primarily address routines for keeping the canales (gutters) clear, promoting positive drainage away from the building, performing periodic lime plasters and washes, and other necessary tasks.
  • Following this plan will allow the parishioners to eliminate potential threats to the structure. With proper maintenance, this building can and will last hundreds of years.
  • Once the necessary funding is received, the community will begin implementing an ambitious Socorro Mission Complex Landscaping Plan.
  • A 1992 preliminary design sponsored by the El Paso Mission Trail Association was prepared by the Texas Tech Architecture Department.
  • Planners envision the preservation of the 1843 rectory; the construction of a new Visitor's Center and interpretive displays; enhanced lighting and parking facilities; additional architectural features including seating, walkways, and walls; improvements to the historic cemetery, and extensive shrub and tree plantings.
  • These features an facilities will contribute to the region's budding heritage tourism industry, and will attract increased revenues for local businesses. Once completed, Socorro Mission will truly be the centerpiece of a vibrant economic development initiative benefiting an historically underserved locale.

  • Excerpted from Harry W. "Skip" Clark's "Studies, Construction, Restoration and Archaeological Investigations at the Socorro Mission Complex, Socorro, El Paso County, Texas." Published by the author. 18 July 1994.
  • 1.The Socorro Rectory (c1840)
  • Architecturally, the building reflects Spanish-influenced design. Locally, this architectural adaptation has been called Mexican-American Rural Vernacular (Morrow, 1985). The building appears to be built primarily of adobe and is plastered in textured cement stucco. It is built in a square, one room deep, around an interior patio. Based on what can be seen today, the building has undergone several additions and modifications over the years. According to Morrow, the building was originally an "L" shape, the northwest and southwest wings being the oldest parts of the building. During the excavations done by Schuetz, concrete footers were found in some locations while no footers were found in others. From this observation it can be concluded that the building, as it exists now, evolve over many, many years. The building is covered in Portland cement stucco. Vigas are found in several of the rooms.
  • 2. The Socorro Cemeteries and the Portales
  • There are two cemeteries identified with this location. The 'old' cemetery opened in 1846 (Burrus, n.d., Burrus, 1984) and the 'new' cemetery opened in 1891 (Burrus, n.d.). The cemetery that is located on the corner of Moon Road and Socorro Road is the 'new' cemetery. For many years it was thought that the 'old' cemetery was located on the site of the parish hall. Graves can also be found in and adjacent to a fence located behind the rectory on Nevaraz Road and on the east side of the rectory at the intersection of the irrigation ditch and Marquez Road. The four buildings located at the corners of the cemetery are known as Portales, Descansos, or Capilla Poza. They are intended to serve as rest areas during ceremonies. They have been dated to 1894 (Burrus, n.d.).
  • 3. The Lourdes Grotto
  • Located behind the church, the Lourdes Grotto was built sometime between 1925 and 1946 by Father Gerald Decorme (Burrus, 1984; Morrow, 1985). The shrine appears to be constructed of rocks and is covered in a Portland cement stucco.
  • 4. The Parish Hall
  • This building was built in 1984. It is a metal frame structure, slab on grade, with an exterior stucco finish. The roof is pitched. The front fašade of the hall mimics the fašade of the Mission. The building contains the hall, a kitchen, a classroom, and restroom facilities. Mass is said in the hall regularly.

  • Burrus, Ernest J., S. J.
  • 1984
  • An Historical Outline of the Socorro Mission. Password, Volume XXIX, No. 3, Fall, 1984.
    El Paso County
    Historical Society
    El Paso Texas
  • Morrow, Herbert C.
  • 1981     The Mission Trail: History, Architecture, Cultural Heritage and Historic Preservation in the Lower Valley of El Paso, Texas. West Texas Council of Governments.
  • Schuetz, Mardith K.
  • 1980    The Archeology of Mission Socorro. Unpublished archaeological report compiled by Skip Clark.

  • Donations may be sent to:
    The Socorro Mission Preservation Project
    328 S. Neverez Road
    El Paso, TX 79927
  • For further information:
    Phone: 915.858.4655
  • Pat Taylor, Project Coordinator
  • Jean Fulton, Assistant Coordinator
  • Visit Cornerstone Community Partnerships on the Web at: http://www.cstones.org

  • Acknowledgments
  • Partners in the active collaboration to conserve the historic Socorro Mission include:
  • Catholic Diocese of El Paso
    Cornerstones Community Partnerships (Santa Fe, NM)
    Historic Missions Restoration, Inc. (El Paso, TX)
    Tigua Native Community Service (NACS)
    International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS)
    Engineering Technology Department at New Mexico State University
    the Parish of La PurÝsima
    San Raphael Parish; the City of Socorro
    the Socorro Independent School District
    El Paso Community Foundation
    The University of Texas at El Paso
    El Paso Mission Trail Association, Inc.
    Mission Valley Chamber of Commerce
    Office of Texas State Senator Eliot Shapleigh
    La PurÝsima Restoration Committee
    Judge Ruben Lujan (Clint, TX)
    West Texas District Felony Court System
    Texas Youth Commission's Schaeffer Halfway House
    Texas Historical Commission
    United Native American Nations
  • Active support during our Volunteer Days has been provided by a wide variety of individuals and organizations, particularly Socorro High School, and other area students.

    This project is rooted in community, ensuring its long-term effectiveness. Benefits to the public include:
  • Conserving this region's rich architectural and cultural heritage
  • Emphasizing social alternatives for at-risk youths and adults
  • Reviving the use of traditional techniques as the proper way to conserve earthen architecture
  • Providing hands-on training in marketable skills
  • Promoting economic development through heritage tourism
  • Fostering local, national, and international volunteerism, and Educating the public in the philosophy and practice of historic preservation