James Bowie Elementary History
Special to the Star:
They call it La Escuela de Las Viboras – The School of Snakes
Bowie Elementary at 309 W. Lincoln in Harlingen is known for the Aztec-style serpents which seem to writh all over the front of the building.
The cast concrete façade was created by sculptor Luis Lopez Sanchez, who came to the United States from Monterrey in 1910 at the age of 15.
Sanchez lived at a house at 217 W. Polk St. with his wife, Rosita.
When Bowie Elementary School was built in 1928, the W.T. Liston Co. of Harlingen was awarded an $11,342 contract for concrete work, and Sanchez – already a sculptor with impressive credentials – got the job of making the molds and mixing paint pigments for the concrete castings.
What resulted was a design that’s the blend of several Mexican cultural highlights.
For instance, part of the frieze resembles Mayan works at Chichen-Itza. A feather headdress recalls the Toltecs – the artisans and craftsmen of ancient Mexico. The Aztecs are represented with symbolic figures called glyphs emanating from stern visages.
Also included are representations of what used to be local wildlife, the most intriguing of which are the snakes. In most Native American cultures, serpents were associated with knowledge and wisdom, which is believed to be the reason Sanchez chose to plaster them across the front of the school.
Luis López Sánchez was commissioned in 1928 to make the molds and mix the paint pigments for the school’s concrete castings. The design that the sculptor chose was a mixture of Mexican art forms, ranging from Mayan works to the glyphs of the Aztecs.
One of the schools with the most unique external design in Harlingen is Bowie Elementary on West Lincoln Avenue. The entrance to the school is decked out with an eye-catching snake and Aztec motifs reminiscent of Mexican art forms, giving the school its nickname, La Escuela de las Víboras, or The School of Snakes.
Colorful tiles and intricate work from several cultures are masterfully assembled for Bowie Elementary’s façade.
One of the many snake figures that adorn the walls of Bowie Elementary are taken from the Aztec speech glyphs. The snake is associated in Mexican and Indian cultures with wisdom and knowledge, an appropriate motif for a school. When the legendary Quetzalcoatl Feathered Serpent arrived in Mexico, he brought the skills of civilization, which included reading, writing, and mathematics.