WHEN he was a kid growing up in Antonito, Art Atencio and his buddies would peer through the southside windows of the historic SPMDTU building to see some of the boxing action taking place inside.

Others remember the roller skating and the movie nights inside the large white adobe structure that sits on Highway 285, the main drag as you come through the town.

Those memories flooded back Friday when town residents joined History Colorado and SPMDTU (La Sociedad Proteccion Mutua de Trabajadores Unidos) members for a check presentation ceremony to mark the historic preservation project and the progress being made toward bringing the 1925 building back to life for Antonito to enjoy.

“It’s been a long time coming for this building,” said Joe Torres, whose company, Torres Builders, is carefully bringing the SPMDTU building back to life.

“The town’s very excited,” Torres said. “When I walk through the supermarket everyone knows me and asks how it’s going.”

Dust and building debris from renovations cover the old main hall
two panels: the exterior of the adobe building is painted white with red trim. Second panel is a shot of the upstairs room, which has white walls and a wood floor and windows.

Renovations have begun in the main hall, top.
The upstairs, above, will be converted to caretakers’ quarters.

THE SPMDTU preservation project is the latest investment from History Colorado in its efforts to present the Southern Colorado Borderlands and the San Luis Valley in new light – one that emphasizes the cultural heritage of the early settlers of the Valley, native Hispanos, the indigenous influence, the diverse nature of Colorado’s oldest territories.

The Fort Garland Museum & Cultural Center under the direction of Eric Carpio is the best example of History Colorado’s work in presenting historical cultural stories of the Valley, but it’s not the only one. The Lafayette Head compound in Conejos that is being preserved by Ron Rael, the SPMDTU preservation spearheaded by the grant-writing prowess of Antonio Esquibel are other examples.

“My focus has always been on social and cultural storytelling and the importance that it has in our society,” said Dawn DiPrince, executive director of History Colorado and State Historical Preservation Officer who was at Friday’s ceremony. “All of the work that I’ve done since I’ve been with the organization has been to understand the history from the people who live it, the people whose families sacrificed and have given so much.”

The fact the Valley has the oldest town in Colorado, the oldest Catholic church, the oldest grocery store and on and on is not lost on DiPrince and History Colorado.

“Part of it is we just really know the importance of our state’s history and so much of it is born here in the San Luis Valley, and we want to support it and uncover and share it and be in the community with all this work.”

History Colorado has contributed $250,000 to the project, and another $1 million has come from the Colorado Community Revitalization Fund and $25,000 from the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area.

“Part of it is we just really know the importance of our state’s history and so much of it is born here in the San Luis Valley, and we want to support it and uncover and share it and be in the community with all this work.”

– Dawn DiPrince, History Colorado

Esquibel, who is an SPMDTU member of the Denver concilio and part of the statewide governing board, is already thinking of other grants he can apply for to bring additional money into the renovation because he knows the project will need it. Repairs to the adobe, new windows, a new roof, solar panels, electric car charging stations are all part of the planned upgrades.

Esquibel also hopes the renovations to the Antonito building will spur greater interest among younger people into the SPMDTU. While the Antonito chapter has members, it doesn’t have the minimum of nine members required to hold an official meeting.

In the old days, the 1920s and ’30s and ’40s, it was on the second floor of the SPMDTU building that members would conduct their meetings. They’d knock on the door, show their membership card and then come into the building for member meetings.

Through the renovation, the second floor is being converted into a caretaker’s living quarters so that when the building is ready to host town events again, someone can be hired to live there and take care of the new place and help bring in events.

Aaron Abeyta, an SPMDTU member and former mayor of Antonito, said the renovation speaks to the cultural renaissance happening in the town. Abeyta scored several major infrastructure improvements as mayor, and now with the SPMDTU under reconstruction the town is set to have a new community space – a community center if you will – that can host dances and other celebrations and activities like the ones Art Atencio and his wife, Lorraine, recalled.

“Any activity for kids would be good,” Lorraine Atencio said.

All possible now that the SPMDTU building is on its way back.

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