If you ask an El Pasoan about downtown’s San Jacinto (it’s pronounced Ha-cin-to) Plaza, you’d probably hear responses like: “There used to be real alligators there” and/or “They took forever to finish remodeling it!” Think of San Jacinto Plaza as a mini 2-acre version of New York City’s Central Park. San Jacinto Plaza is the location where El Paso’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony takes place. It’s also known as La Plaza de los Lagartos or Alligator Plaza. Starting April 16, people will finally get to relax there again. A grand opening celebration will be held next Saturday at 9:30 a.m. According to the El Paso Times, the remodeling began in 2013. The project cost about $6 million. Voters approved the monies for the project. San Jacinto Plaza will now include: a splash pad, chess and ping pong tables, huacha courts and a cafe. Huachas (washers) is similar to a game of horseshoes.
I knew there were alligators in a fenced pond there. My grandparents told me about them when I was a little girl. When I was a child, I remember me and my grandma taking the bus downtown many times. We’d stop at San Jacinto Plaza to relax and people watch.I would’ve liked seeing the alligators for myself but they were permanently removed in 1974. The remaining alligators were taken to the El Paso Zoo. A fiberglass alligator sculpture by local artist Luis Jimenez honors the original alligators there. It’s said that at least seven alligators were in the pond at one time. According to Wikipedia, three alligators were brought to the plaza by J. Fisher Satterwaite in 1883. They were by far the most popular attraction at San Jacinto Plaza. The alligators were used for pranks on a few occasions.
Wikipedia also says an alligator named Oscar was placed inside Texas Western College (now known as the University of Texas-El Paso) geology professor, Howard Quinn’s office in 1952. Unfortunately, Oscar was found dead at the bottom of the pond in 1953. He had internal injuries and was thrown back into the pond by vandals. Seven months later, he was replaced by two other alligators named Jack and Jill. The alligators were sometimes placed in the Texas Western College’s swimming pool prior to intramural swim meets. Sally and Minnie were also popular alligators there. Contests were held with Sally. Whoever guessed her weight could win $100 and/or a trip to Mexico. Minnie became fascinating to spectators after she supposedly laid an egg at 54 years old. Even if it sounds like I made this stuff up, I didn’t!