Renowned architecture firm designs $6M memorial for Joe Campos Torres, killed by Houston police in 1977

A new memorial for José “Joe” Campos Torres will serve as more than a place to reflect on one of the most notorious cases of police brutality in Houston’s history, his family said.

As crews finish up work on a small downtown park at the foot of Austin Street that will be named “Joe Campos Torres Plaza,” his family and Latino leaders are touting a plan that they say will more completely honor the 23-year-old Vietnam War-era veteran who died at the hands of Houston police in 1977.

The design concept, obtained by the Chronicle, shows a multipurpose pavilion and educational features that would be integrated with a bike trail and green areas that are now being developed by the Buffalo Bayou Partnership. The larger vision for the site also includes a fountain designed by William Cannady, the architect who created the Gus S. Wortham Memorial Fountain on Allen Parkway.

The master concept, interpreting the vision of Campos Torres’ family, was developed pro bono by Rogers Partners Architects+Urban Designers, a well-known firm with offices in Houston and New York. They are behind several other public projects, including the redesign of Constitution Gardens on the National Mall and Rice University’s Kraft Hall for Social Sciences.

“It’s going to be beautiful,” said Isidro Garza, a local leader of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), which is serving as project manager for the Joe Campos Torres family. The family calls this vision of the memorial “phase 2,” which would begin after the official dedication of the plaza in the spring.

1977 - Joe Campos Torres -- his death triggered an outcry from the Mexican-American community about police brutality in Houston.
1977 – Joe Campos Torres — his death triggered an outcry from the Mexican-American community about police brutality in Houston.Family photo

Robert Gallegos, the only Latino member of the Houston City Council, said the memorial is “very important and, as far as I know, this will be our first Hispanic memorial in the city.” He said he fully supports the family’s vision for a more expansive memorial. Gallegos took part in the process to turn the emerging plaza into a memorial, but he said he hasn’t been involved so far in the details of phase 2, including funding.

Campos Torres was arrested for disorderly conduct at a bar in Houston’s East End on May 5, 1977. Police severely beat the Mexican-American man and then pushed him into Buffalo Bayou, where he was found dead three days later. An all-white jury convicted two officers of negligent homicide, a misdemeanor, and each was sentenced to one year of probation and a $1 fee. The Justice Department then brought civil rights charges against the pair and a third officer. They were each convicted and sentenced to a year and a day in prison for civil rights violations.

“We want it to be a memorial for my uncle and a place for reflection about criminal and civil rights justice also,” said Richard Molina, who along with his mother, Janie Torres, has worked for over a decade to keep Campos Torres’ memory alive with a yearly anniversary march and other events. “We want to do this the right way.”

The emerging plaza will be dedicated to Campos Torres at an April 2 event, the city recently announced. The plaza, green areas and a segment of the bike trail that runs along the bayou, roughly from San Jacinto to McKee Streets, will all be part of the memorial, Gallegos said.

Mayor Sylvester Turner and Councilwoman Karla Cisneros, who represents the district where the memorial will be located, said recently that the plaza will include an artistic representation of Campos Torres.

Plans call for a collective mural led by artist Daniel Anguilu with other Houston artists covering the east side of the Wilson Building, facing the plaza, Garza said.

The plaza at Austin and Commerce Streets borders the south shore of the Buffalo Bayou. Not far to the left is “The Hole,” a platform hidden below street level next to the bayou where Campos Torres was killed.

The family’s broader vision is reflected in the Rogers Partners project design for phase 2. They began working on it at the request of Cannady, a professor emeritus of the Rice School of Architecture and co-founder of the Rice Design Alliance.

“This is a very important project and that’s the reason I brought in the best firm in the United States to collaborate with, and I am mighty proud of what we’ve come up with,” said Cannady. “It’s not just a park, and it’s not just a monument. It’s a place of importance.”

Rob Rogers, the founder of the firm, explained that it will serve as a place for education, assembly, speech, contemplation and leisure. The design includes the “Joe Campos Torres Justice Pavilion,” a covered area that could accommodate multi-use events and gatherings. It would have a sculpture of Campos Torres, possibly at “The Hole” Other sculptural pieces would be placed along the trail, representing relevant local and national moments advocating for criminal justice and against police brutality.

A section of the trail would include interpretive graphics and interactive features for visitors to connect and learn about the history using their smartphones.

Rogers said the project would cost between $6 million and $10 million, depending on which features are included.

Garza, the manager for the family, said a fundraising campaign will be launched for phase 2 after the unveiling of phase 1. He said “time is of the essence” because the family would like to see the memorial completed while Margarita, Campos Torres’ 87-year-old mother, is still alive.

“My grandmother has bore the brunt of this entire deal for 44 years without seeing justice, and throughout all those decades, she hasn’t had the chance to see something positive come out of this story involving her son,” said Molina. “This would be the closest thing to justice.”

During A Dialogue for: Joe Campos Torres Houston Police Chief Troy Finner gives the family of Jose 'Joe' Campos Torres, the man killed by police in 1977, a formal apology to for the murder Sunday, June 27, 2021, in Houston.

During A Dialogue for: Joe Campos Torres Houston Police Chief Troy Finner gives the family of Jose ‘Joe’ Campos Torres, the man killed by police in 1977, a formal apology to for the murder Sunday, June 27, 2021, in Houston.


Steve Gonzales, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer

Isidro Garza points out landmarks as a group tours the site of a planned mural and memorial to José “Joe” Campos Torres, Friday, Jan. 28, 2022, in Houston. Campos Torres was murdered by Houston police and dumped in Buffalo Bayou in 1977 near the spot of the planned memorial.

Isidro Garza points out landmarks as a group tours the site of a planned mural and memorial to José “Joe” Campos Torres, Friday, Jan. 28, 2022, in Houston. Campos Torres was murdered by Houston police and dumped in Buffalo Bayou in 1977 near the spot of the planned memorial.


Mark Mulligan, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer

Richard Molina stands near Buffalo Bayou as he accompanies a group touring the site of a planned mural and memorial to his uncle, José “Joe” Campos Torres, Friday, Jan. 28, 2022, in Houston. Campos Torres was murdered by Houston police and dumped in Buffalo Bayou in 1977 near the spot of the planned memorial.

Richard Molina stands near Buffalo Bayou as he accompanies a group touring the site of a planned mural and memorial to his uncle, José “Joe” Campos Torres, Friday, Jan. 28, 2022, in Houston. Campos Torres was murdered by Houston police and dumped in Buffalo Bayou in 1977 near the spot of the planned memorial.


Mark Mulligan, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer

Houston Police Chief Troy Finner (left), Isidro Garza (top right) and Richard Molina (bottom right) are pictured together in this photo grid. (Mark Mulligan, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer)

Cisneros said she is “very supportive and enthusiastic about this whole process.” She said the Campos Torres memorial is about “an important story that people need to learn about to become better people.” Phase 2, she said, would have to go through a process of permits and coordination among several entities, including the city, the Buffalo Bayou Partnership and Harris County.

“That’s not something that’s going to happen quickly,” said Cisneros, adding that “what the city can commit to is the naming of the plaza” at this time.

Last spring, Turner and Police Chief Troy Finner issued a formal apology to the family, with Finner describing Campos Torres’ drowning death as “straight-up murder.”

“For four decades, the city of Houston has remained quiet (about what) was a George Floyd-type of situation of the ‘70s, so I am very proud of Mayor Turner and Chief Finner,” said Harris County Commissioner Adrian García, likening Campos Torres’ death to the killing of former Houston resident George Floyd by Minneapolis police in 2020.

According to Garza, García was the person who suggested to LULAC members in March that they turn an unkempt lot into a memorial.

“We need to make an investment for the community and the family in recognizing this horrific event,” said García, a former Harris County sheriff and Houston police officer. “I believe that the Campos Torres family should have the full right to decide what this memorial and monument should look like. I am fully committed to this.”

Although phase 2 fundraising hasn’t officially started, some Latino businesspeople are already offering support. One is Gilbert A. García, managing partner of García, Hamilton and Associates, a Houston-based money management firm.

Richard Molina, center, talks about the mural that will take up a wall along the Buffalo Bayou with Gilbert Andrew Garcia, left, and architect William T. Cannady as they tour the site of the planned mural and memorial to José “Joe” Campos Torres, Friday, Jan. 28, 2022, in Houston. Campos Torres was murdered by Houston police and dumped in Buffalo Bayou in 1977 near the spot of the planned memorial.

Richard Molina, center, talks about the mural that will take up a wall along the Buffalo Bayou with Gilbert Andrew Garcia, left, and architect William T. Cannady as they tour the site of the planned mural and memorial to José “Joe” Campos Torres, Friday, Jan. 28, 2022, in Houston. Campos Torres was murdered by Houston police and dumped in Buffalo Bayou in 1977 near the spot of the planned memorial.


Mark Mulligan, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer

Isidro Garza, Jr., center, points out landmarks as a group tours the site of a planned mural and memorial to José “Joe” Campos Torres, Friday, Jan. 28, 2022, in Houston. Campos Torres was murdered by Houston police and dumped in Buffalo Bayou in 1977 near the spot of the planned memorial. Among participants, Tyler Swanson from ROGERS PARTNERS Architects+Urban Designers in Houston, second from left. Next to Garza to the right, William P. Cannady, architect and Rice University professor, Richard Molina, nephew of Campos Torres, Gilbert A. García, managing partner at Garcia Hamilton and Associates, Jose Jimenez, director of Neighborhood Services for Harris County Precinct 1, and Ruby Muñoz Dang, partner at Garcia Hamilton and Associates.

Isidro Garza, Jr., center, points out landmarks as a group tours the site of a planned mural and memorial to José “Joe” Campos Torres, Friday, Jan. 28, 2022, in Houston. Campos Torres was murdered by Houston police and dumped in Buffalo Bayou in 1977 near the spot of the planned memorial. Among participants, Tyler Swanson from ROGERS PARTNERS Architects+Urban Designers in Houston, second from left. Next to Garza to the right, William P. Cannady, architect and Rice University professor, Richard Molina, nephew of Campos Torres, Gilbert A. García, managing partner at Garcia Hamilton and Associates, Jose Jimenez, director of Neighborhood Services for Harris County Precinct 1, and Ruby Muñoz Dang, partner at Garcia Hamilton and Associates.


Mark Mulligan, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer

Isidro Garza, Jr., center, point out points of interest while talking with architects William T. Cannady, left, and Tyler Swanson, and Gilbert Andrew Garcia, right, as they tour a planned mural and memorial to José “Joe” Campos Torres, Friday, Jan. 28, 2022, in Houston. Campos Torres was murdered by Houston police and dumped in Buffalo Bayou in 1977 near the spot of the planned memorial.

Isidro Garza, Jr., center, point out points of interest while talking with architects William T. Cannady, left, and Tyler Swanson, and Gilbert Andrew Garcia, right, as they tour a planned mural and memorial to José “Joe” Campos Torres, Friday, Jan. 28, 2022, in Houston. Campos Torres was murdered by Houston police and dumped in Buffalo Bayou in 1977 near the spot of the planned memorial.


Mark Mulligan, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer

Richard Molina, center, talks about the site of his uncle José “Joe” Campos Torres’ death, Friday, Jan. 28, 2022, along Buffalo Bayou in downtown Houston. Campos Torres was murdered by Houston police and dumped in Buffalo Bayou in 1977 near the spot of the planned memorial.

Richard Molina, center, talks about the site of his uncle José “Joe” Campos Torres’ death, Friday, Jan. 28, 2022, along Buffalo Bayou in downtown Houston. Campos Torres was murdered by Houston police and dumped in Buffalo Bayou in 1977 near the spot of the planned memorial.


Mark Mulligan, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer

Mark Mulligan, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer

“As a leading Hispanic firm, we feel a corporate obligation to support this memorial, so our firm, and my family and I personally, will also be financially supporting it,” said Gilbert García, former chairman of the METRO board. “This is very important because it’s by learning about our history and remembering it that you can prevent it from happening again.”

Civil and racial injustices have moved to the top of the national debate in recent years.

“It’s my hope that people, not just Hispanics, will see our lead, and that corporations and the city will rally to this and contribute to its success as a way to hold hands and reach a point of cleansing and peace,” he said.

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Twitter.com/oliviaptallet

 


https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/joe-campos-torres-memorial-architecture-16822516.php

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