Asarco to give land for state park Smelter had plans for mountain tramway

By Sito Negro – El Paso Inc.

A deal is in the works to give about 46 acres on top of Crazy Cat Mountain – land once owned by Asarco – to the state for expansion of Franklin Mountain State Park.

The transfer was confirmed last week by the trustee in charge of Asarco property in El Paso.

“The only thing we’re waiting for is a survey,” said Roberto Puga, a principal with Project Navigator, the company picked by the state to oversee the cleanup and sale of Asarco land and property. “Then our attorney will talk to their attorney to transfer the property over for a nominal sum, like a dollar.”

The land atop Crazy Cat Mountain overlooks Kern Place and Mission.

In a 1930 letter from Asarco management, the land is referred to as the “lime rock property.” Limestone is an essential part of the smelting process.

Asarco managers planned to build a tramway from the top of Crazy Cat to transport the stone to the smelter site.

Old drawings show that the tramway’s path would have crossed what is now Mesa Street near Executive Center.

“They did some assay studies and the Crazy Cat limestone was the proper mix,” said former Asarco engineer Ed Santiesteban.

“I have no idea of what it would have cost, but it would have been expensive. They needed power to the top of Crazy Cat, cables, etc,” he said.

So the tramway was never built, and Santiesteban said Asarco ended up getting limestone from the nearby Courchesne Quarry, now the Toro Quarry, which still produces rock for Cemex, the international conglomerate.

Donating land
While most of the attention on Asarco has gone to the main smelter property – 130-odd acres with the smokestack you pass on the freeway – the company owned more than 240 acres adjacent the University of Texas at El Paso and other smaller plots in the area.

The land on Crazy Cat Mountain has an interesting history. It was purchased by Asarco from Major Burges. He and his brother William were prominent figures in El Paso during the early 1900s. The Northeast El Paso library branch is named for Major, whose given name was Richard. Burges High School is named for his brother William.

As the Asarco site is dismantled and its properties disposed of, more forgotten pieces of its long history in El Paso are being unearthed.

In addition to the environmental issues that are at the fore – the unsettled question of what needs to be cleaned up and whether the current plans and funding are enough – the history includes land grants that cleared the way for Paisano, Mesa, and Executive roads, said Walter Boyle, a former worker. Asarco also gave land for schools – including a few rugged acres never used by the Texas College of Mines – and to the Catholic Diocese, as well as rights of way for the electric and gas companies.

Santiesteban said the smelter’s need for oil to burn in its furnaces led to the first interstate oil pipeline, a 16-inch line that still abuts the western boundary of Interstate10.

The history also includes bitter union battles, with strikes in 1907 and 1977. And it includes some lesser known plans, such as the tram from Crazy Cat.

Meanwhile, the Franklin Mountain State Park, the largest park within a city limits in the United States at 24,000 acres, is about to add another 46 acres.