The story behind JFK's visit to El Paso

MGN/JFK Presidential Library
Thursday, June 6, 2013 - 11:20pm

 Fifty years ago, June5- 6th 1963, President John F. Kennedy made a historic visit to El Paso and stayed downtown. While the Cortez hotel is no longer a place where you can stay the night, the building still stands and has been renovated... quite a nod to our history.

Many people are surprised to hear it.

"There's always something cool to find in every town," said out of towner Aaron Baird.

And while now just a building full of offices, the Cortez building stands as it did years ago. It has a brick facade, and ornate balconies. It sits right across the San Jacinto Plaza.

"You feel like you're going back into time," said Historian Fred Morales as he enters the building.

Inside, arched, high ceilings with intricate woodwork and tiled floors give the room a nostalgic feel.

And of course a corner commemorating JFK's visit, where a framed picture hangs in the ballroom where JFK dined while he enjoyed his one night stay in downtown El Paso.

JFK flew from White Sands to El Paso International Airport before he came in a motorcade down Mesa street.

"He crossed the street and shook hands with hundreds of El Pasoans," said Morales.

While JFK's visit was meant to launch his political campaign in Texas at the time, his civil rights beliefs appealed to the borderland.

"They always wanted a president that would champion civil rights and Kennedy was at the forefront," said Morales.

The visit also brought hope for many El Pasoans. At the time, there was a huge disagreement between the U.S. and Mexico over land at the Rio Grande called the Chamizal Dispute.

"Many people felt that they were going to be displaced in south El Paso in relation to the Chamizal Dispute," said Morales.

Kennedy helped solve the disagreement and congress later signed a treaty.

In present day El Paso, people pass by never knowing an important piece of history.

"I think it's awesome that El Paso's got these structures around for people to see and to promote the history," said Picacho Coffee Roaster Owner Chad Morris.

One woman was showing her grandmother around town.

"I'm bringing my grandma to know downtown El Paso. I think that's a good fact that I can explain to her that he came here. It's funny because I was explaining the new renovation and the old," said Karem Garcia from West El Paso.

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