The Monitor from McAllen, Texas on January 28, 2009 · A26
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The Monitor from McAllen, Texas · A26

McAllen, Texas
Issue Date:
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
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B Y M IKE G ONZALEZ M IKEG @ MVTCNEWS . COM atti and Larry Dittburner said the thought of owning a downtown building — especially one with a long and storied history — was crazy. But the couple had a vision when they purchased the then rundown Cortez Hotel in downtown Weslaco, and today, one of the city’s most recognizable buildings stands as a shining reminder of the city’s past and a glimmer of hope for its future. The Dittburners said they purchased the building in 1998 for approximately $300,000. After the purchase, they said they learned that it would cost at least that much to renovate the aging building and bring it up to code. Paying for the renovations out of their own pockets was a risky decision. Larry Dittburner said looking at the decision from a business standpoint, building a new structure would have been far more cost-efficient than renovating an old one. But he said there is more to life than saving money. “We were 10 years younger and a lot more foolish,” he said. “My wife and I, we love old buildings, love the historical part of it, that’s why we did it.” Opened in 1928, the Cortez Hotel was a Weslaco landmark in the 1930s and 1940s. The hotel was located across the street from the railroad depot and had three floors of 25 rooms complete with bathrooms on each floor. A fourth floor has a ballroom. The Dittburners moved from Wisconsin to Weslaco in 1965 when the Cortez Hotel was still open for business. Eventually, the building faded into the city’s past and time took its toll on the structure. “You don’t realize how bad a building gets after sitting empty for 20 years,” Larry Dittburner said. Nevertheless, the Dittburners had their minds set on making their dream for the building a reality — a goal the pair eventually accomplished. “Every time we would drive by, my wife used to say, ‘Oh, I wish we would remodel that building,’” Larry Dittburner said. “Then the timing got right.” Now valued between $4 million and 5 million, the Villa de Cortez includes a Spanish-style ballroom, retail and office space. The first floor includes two restaurants, the Storybook Garden bookstore, a barber shop and fine clothing rental store. The ballroom is located on the second floor and is often a venue for weddings, while the third and fourth floors consist of office space and a conference room on the top floor. The Villa de Cortez even has a basement called the Wild Thing because of its jungle theme. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would become a reality,” Patti Dittburner said. “Because this is the cornerstone and the heart of the town, I felt like it was for Weslaco. I felt like it was something we were supposed to do.” Larry Dittburner said they kept the exterior of the building as close to its original design as possible, but that the inside was completely remodeled. The upgrades included new carpet, walls and new furniture. Patti Dittburner also came up the building’s new moniker, removing “hotel” and adding “ Villa ” (“village” in Spanish). She got the idea from Mexican town culture. “ Villa in Mexico has everything — churches, armories, dancing, eating, there’s where we got it from,” Larry Dittburner said. Although the project was a gamble, the results have made it worthwhile. Since it opened, the Villa de Cortez has hosted hundreds of parties from weddings, dances, proms, birthday parties and reunions each weekend. At times, the Villa de Cortez has hosted as many as five parties in one weekend. “The historical background I think makes it special,” Larry Dittburner said. “It was the center of the town and by being that, it developed a history that followed. People just came here for different reasons. When you say Cortez Hotel, people in the Valley know where it is,” he said. Mike Gonzalez is a reporter for the BETA junior working as Congressional page in D.C. Edson Martinez of Hidalgo, a junior at South Texas Business, Education & Technology Academy (BETA), is one of only 64 students in the nation to currently serve as a congressional page in Washington, D.C. Martinez, who took his post on Aug. 31, finished his term on Jan. 23. Before returning home, this RGV native was one of a handful of Americans to attend the presidential inauguration Jan. 20 and watch history unfold. Martinez, 17, applied for the Congressional Page Program sponsored by U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX15) his sophomore year. To qualify, he needed to have a strong academic transcript, a criminal-free background and a record of community and school involvement. As a congressional page, Martinez delivered votes to the parliamentarian of the United States House of Representatives and opened the door for the speaker of the house before Congress goes into session. He also answers phone calls for the nation’s policymakers, delivers U.S. flags and performs various other tasks. Martinez currently lives in the Congressional Page Residence Hall, and he continues his schoolwork with the other 63 congressional pages in a private classroom at the Library of Congress. Upon graduating in 2010, Martinez plans to attend the University of Texas at Austin and major in marketing. Martinez, the son of Alma and Jose Martinez, plans to become a marketing executive. C OURTESYPHOTO APPLAUSE Aikido classes under way in RGV Aikido is a Japanese martial art that teaches self- defense while harmonizing the mind and body.Practice can improve your flexibility, coordination, mental focus, balance, energy and ability to deal with stress. RGV Valley Aikikai is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the teaching and practice of Aikido in the RGV. For more information regarding class locations and times, call (956) 781-9616 or visit the Web site at Retired auto workers meet monthly The South Texas United Auto Workers Retirees hold meetings at 10:30 a.m. every second Tuesday of the month at Skateland Bingo, 1509 Morgan Blvd. in Harlingen. Meetings cover problems that face all retired workers in the areas of health, aging, nursing home care, Hospice, etc. They are affiliated with the Texas State AFL-CIO and everyone is invited to attend. Volunteers sought for Tax Aide Volunteers are needed to participate in the Harlingen Tax Aide program.Tax Aide is sponsored by the IRS and AARP.The Tax Aide program prepares tax returns for the elderly, disabled and low-income taxpayers in the Harlingen area.All training materials are furnished by the IRS and AARP. 2008 Income Tax Returns will be prepared during February, March and April. All returns will be prepared and sent on computers. Training of volunteers began in early January. If you are interested injoining this volunteer program or require additional information, call (956) 412-8302 or (956) 412-6281. Nonprofit seeks local establishment Interested in serving your community and learning new science and technology? E.A.R.T.H. “Emergency Amateur Response To Help” is a 501©3 nonprofit organization. We are seeking leadership, membership and volunteers. For more information, please send an e-mail to Homework Helpers at library The Donna Public Library employees are very proud to announce that they have two AmeriCorps students working at the library and eager to help students with their homework. Please come in and get acquainted with Jacqueline Muniz and Victor Aguilar, the Homework Helpers. They will be available from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. For more information, call (956) 464-2221. Reading hour at Donna library Would you like to have your child put in a little extra reading time? Come and join us from 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays at the Donna Public Library. There will be someone available to listen to your child read. Children may bring reading material with them or select something from the library’s collection of books. Contact the library at 301 S. Main St. or call (956) 464-2221 for more information. Officials needed for girls’ softball The Texas Association of Sports Officials, RGV Softball Chapter, is seeking anyone 18 and older who might be interested in officiating girls’ high school fast pitch games for the upcoming 2008-09 season. Anyone interested in seeking additional information can contact Tom De Michele at (956) 566-1520 or Jim Gibson at (956) 428-1751. TOPS meets weekly in Donna Trying to lose weight? Do you need some support to help you with your weight-loss goals? Join TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly), a nonprofit weight-loss support group. The group meets Thursdays at the Donna Public Library, 301 S. Main in Donna. Weigh-in starts at 4 p.m. and the meeting starts at 4:30 p.m. For more information call (956) 464-2129 or (956) 968-1037. Head Start enrolling migrant youths The TMC Donna Head Start Center is a nonprofit organization who serves low-income migrant families. They are currently enrolling migrant families who have children between the ages of 2 to 5. For more information, call Irma Ramos, center manager, at (956) 464-7372. Nonprofits seek senior volunteers Volunteers are needed to work one-on-one with children in the local Head Start programs, schools and other nonprofit partners. If you are 60 years and older, enjoy working with children and meet income eligibility requirements, you can receive a tax-free stipend and reimbursement for mileage. For more information, contact Sylvia Yanes at (956) 682-3481 or (800) 365-6131. MID-VALLEY AROUNDTOWN EVENT OF THE WEEK:VOLUNTEERS WITH NONPROFIT AGENCY MUJERES UNIDAS WELCOME IN WESLACO >>> P NEWS TO USE Mujeres Unidas is a nonprofit agency founded in 1978 which has worked to end domestic violence and sexual assault in Hidalgo County through emergency shelter and support services. Today, with the support from our volunteers, we strive to continue with the mission of providing a safe haven so that victims will live without fear of further violence in their homes. Individuals interested in volunteering in the Weslaco office are asked to contact Nelda Hernandez, volunteer coordinator at (956) 630-4878. The Monitor,| WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 28, 2009 4D >>COUPLE TURNS RISK INTO POPULAR LOCATION SUCCESS IN THE VILLA DE CORTEZ LORI DAMIAN School: Weslaco East High School Age: 18 Grade: 12th Parents’ names: Antonio Damian Jr. and Linda Damian What kind of facilities, educational or recreational, does your city need? I would love to see this city with nice places for people to be comfortable. Youths these days need a safe and fun place to stay out of trouble. The movies doesn’t cut it, and so a nice rec. hall for all the teens to chill would be sweet. In 10 years, can you imagine yourself living and working in the Rio Grande Valley? Why or why not? As much as I adore the RGV, I feel my place is in great Austin. Austin is a big city with a very homey feel and it’s where I spent my summers during middle and elementary school. I would say the Valley is a great place for a family. Its quaint and has great opportunity. What pressures do teenagers of today face and how can you overcome them? One of the biggest pressures that’s faced in any time is peer pressure and really trying to find who you are. Not to get all philosophical, but knowing who you really are is hard to do in high school. However, sticking to your morals and being around those who accept you for you is always very pleasing. What have you contributed to your community? What effect has it had? Well, as for volunteer work, I’ve been an avid helper each year in Weslaco’s Relay for Life for both NHS and helping in band. Also, my father is a Weslaco Police Officer and earlier in my years I used to help paint over graffiti. Being in FFA we’ve also adopted a highway, and working on the farm is always teaching the ethic of hard work. STUDENT OF THE WEEK SUBMIT A STORY IDEA >> Do you or a friend have a fascinating story to tell? If so, send your story idea to: Community Page Stories c/o David Gragg The Monitor 1400 E. Nolana Loop McAllen, TX 78504 or by e-mail at dgragg@ Please include enough information where we can contact you or your friend if we choose to tell your story. The ballroom, on the second floor of the Villa de Cortez, left, is a popular venue for gatherings. P HOTOSBY M IKE G ONZALEZ | M ID -V ALLEY T OWN C RIER Patti and Larry Dittburner, above, bought the abandoned Cortez Hotel in 1998 and have turned it into Villa de Cortez, an attractive building that hosts many parties —from weddings and quinceañeras and is home to two restaurants, a barber shop and the Story Garden bookstore. ® CARMIKE20 CANTONEXITOFF281EXPRESSWAY•380-2203 PLEASECALLTHEATREORVISITUS ONLINEFORMOVIESANDSHOWTIMES ALLFEATURESINCLUDE PRE-FEATURECONTENT D D L L P P D D i i g g i i t t a a l l C C i i n n e e m m a a ® i i n n a a l l l l A A u u d d i i t t o o r r i i u u m m s s

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