Manuel Guerra Store & Residence

The Manuel Guerra Store & Residence is a Texas Historical Landmark located at 701-703 Garcia St., Roma, Texas.

The Manuel Guerra House and Store was constructed between 1878 and 1884. The building has a commercial retail space on the first floor and residential space on the second. A warehouse runs along the back of the building. On the upper level, a cast-iron balcony with repetitive panels of intricate lack-lick filigree surrounding the plaza façade and the Hidalgo Street façade.

Preserving Our Past: People Saving Places 2022

Photograph shows exterior of Manuel Guerra Residence and Store. West side of Main Plaza at Hidalgo Street. Building designed and built in 1884 by Heinrich Portscheller. Source: Guerra Building, Roma, Texas, Photograph. 1950-1959. UTSA Libraries Special Collections. 

The two-story classical brick structure is located on the western edge of the Roma's main plaza. There is a one-story warehouse that encloses a courtyard and outbuildings. The building extends half a block and an iron balcony on the second story. The building was designed and constructed by architect Heinrich Portscheller, whose work inspired others to add decorative balconies to their second story buildings.

The building is both a Texas Historic Landmark (1973) and a National Historic Landmark (1962).

Heinrich Portscheller

Heinrich Portscheller (1840–1915) was a German architect and builder. He moved to Mexico and later Texas between 1865 and 1866 and soon joined the Mexican Army, participating in the battle of Santa Gertrudis on June 15, 1866. Following his military service, Portscheller worked as a brick mason at Fort Ringgold and Starr County and Mier, Mexico.

In 1879, he married Leonarda Campos, and the family lived in Mier before relocating to Roma. There Portscheller established a brickyard to manufacture the unique salmon buff, sand struck, large bricks, which were presed and molded. In addition to the Manuel Guerra residence and store, Portscheller built the Pablo Ramírez house, Antonia Sáenz house and Nestor Sáenz store, and the Silverio de la Peña office and drugstore (Rio Grande City). Portscheller and his craftsmen also constructed many of the tombs and vaults in Roma's cemetery. Some of the masons who worked for Portscheller were Placido Palacios , Ensebio Cabazos, Pancho Lopez, Margarto Garza , Adolfo Hinojosa, and Ponecio Caneles.

In 1894, Portscheller and his family followed the subsequent building boom in Laredo. In Laredo, where he lived and worked until his death.

Preserving Our Past: People Saving Places 2022

Virginia Cox holding her infant daughter Elizabeth Guerra. Photography by Mendez, Jose R. (1886).  UTSA Libraries Special Collections. 

Preserving Our Past: People Saving Places 2022

Invoice from the Schumacher Co., McAllen, Texas. Container:56, Box 9. Manuel Guerra Store, ELIBR-0056. University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Special Collections and Archives, Edinburg Campus. 

Preserving Our Past: People Saving Places 2022

Invoice from the Rath Packing Co., SA [San Antonio]. Container:56, Box 9. Manuel Guerra Store, ELIBR-0056. University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Special Collections and Archives, Edinburg Campus. 

The Manuel Guerra Store

Manuel Guerra (1856–1915), was a banker, rancher, and Democratic political boss in Starr County. He married Virginia Cox (~1860–1937) of Lima, Ohio in 1876, and moved the couple moved to Roma and started a mercantile business in the late 1870s. Virginia bore many children and seven sons survived into adulthood.

As a mercantile, or general store, M. Guerra & Son would have sold all types of products and merchandise, including processed meats, produce, candy, candy, can milk, and other household necessities. Guerra purchased sold items from near and far, including companies like the Schumacher Company (TX) and Rath Packing Company (IA).

The location also served as the home of Manuel and Virginia Guerra and their family. The business was operated on the first floor, while the family resided on the second. Manuel died in 1915, and she and their sons continued to operate the store and oversee the Guerra family holdings. Virginia continued to live on the complex until her death in 1937.

Virginia Cox Guerra's obituary exalted her both her matriarchal and community leadership as a pioneer of the area, "Widespread regret was expressed throughout the county at Mrs. Guerra's passing today" (The Monitor, 25 Jan 1937).

Preserving Our Past: People Saving Places 2022

Actor Marlon Brando standing outside a building in Roma (possibly the Manuel Guerra Store) while children look on. Source: Marlo Brando during filming of “Viva Zapata” [Photograph]. (1951). UTSA Libraries Special Collections.

Viva Zapata!

The film Viva Zapata!, starring Marlon Brando, was filmed on Roma's main plaza in 1951. It was an American Western film directed by Elia Kazan, and John Steinbeck wrote the screenplay based on the book Zapata the Unconquerable, by Edgcomb Pinchon (1941). It was fictionalized account of the life of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata.

Manuel Guerra Store & Residence