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Mansion of Mud, Transformed
by Keith Hackland (alamoinn@aol.com)
published June 2015

Imagine digging clay out of the sticky Valley earth and fashioning it into large bricks, laying these in the sun to dry, and then building your dream home with them. Certainly the cost of materials would be low, but what would it look like, and would it last? Could clay mud like this withstand Valley wind, rain, and drought?

Yes, yes and yes. Not only was clay mud used in making some early lean-to homes, it was used in constructing substantial buildings. Salineno Village in Starr County has examples of such buildings. So does McAllen. The 10,000 square foot mansion at the heart of McAllen's show piece, Quinta Mazatlan birding center, was designed and constructed of local, sun dried, clay bricks in the 1930s under the direction of owners, Jason and Marcia Matthews.

Today this Spanish Revival adobe hacienda is a museum quality show piece, set on a rise in a beautiful tropical park, surrounded by lush native woodland. The venue is so impressive that it rents for thousands of dollars as a venue for elegant weddings and photographic shoots.

The most exciting cultural birding center in Texas, Quinta Mazatlan offers historical and cultural sights, displays artistic endeavors, the beauty of nature, and offers really great birding in a tropical park, set in the heart of the Valley's business center.

Hurricane Beulah, in 1967, tore the roof off the house, but left its mud brick walls largely intact. Frank and Marilyn Schultz purchased the run down site in 1968, reportedly for about $60,000. A businessman from Alamo, Texas, Frank Schultz had the foresight to see what Quinta might become, and he did important work to protect and restore the mansion. When he auctioned it in the 1990s, the City of McAllen was the highest bidder, and bought the house and grounds for $2 million.

Folks thought this purchase loco, a boon doggle, a waste of tax payer money, but McAllen Parks and Recreation Department, under its then director, Larry Pressler, embraced the opportunity, and with personal zeal Pressler launched its revitalization. He personally created a unique pathway through the site's native woodlands for bird viewing. He supervised work, and hired a top manager, Colleen Hook, who has since dedicated her substantial skills to fully restoring the mansion and expanding its impressive surroundings. Great management and dedication transformed the relic into relevance. Today the center offers regular events relating to birds and arts, is a busy McAllen tourism destination, and has really great birds.

Valley specialty birds seen at Quinta are tame, used to people with binoculars and scopes staring at them and digiscoping them. With its many feeders and water points, its great nesting sites, and thick brush, birds thrive here, and visitors are rewarded with excellent, close views. These are sophisticated city birds. I once caught a bird with a smart phone taking selfies, for Quinta Mazatlan birding center on facebook.

In addition to very tall living palms growing on site, dead palms have been added to offer nesting sites for woodpeckers, starlings, owls, parakeets, and parrots. Common Paraque are often seen roosting in leaf litter, Olive Sparrow, Long-billed Thrasher, Curve-billed Thrasher, and even vagrant Brown Thrasher can be seen. Green Jay, Plain Chachalaca, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Altamira Oriole and Green Jay are commonly seen, and Quinta is great for migrant song birds fall and spring, one of its popular visitors being Tropical Parula. Wintering Orange-crowned Warbler, and Blackand-white Warbler frequent its woods.

An introductory video, created for Quinta Mazatlan by famous Valley nature videographer Richard Moore, plays in the visitor center and provides a great introduction to its birds.