Dallas’ Cement City is gone, save an old, obscure cemetery

Did you know about Cemento Grande?
Texas and Dallas History and Archives, Dallas Public Library, Cement City Collection, Coke & Coke

A cemetery behind the AT&T facility on Cockrell Hill Road is the remaining physical vestige of a town inhabited by the Mexican laborers who worked for Trinity Portland Cement. Circa 1915, the business built two villages for its workers—one for Anglos and the other, Cement City aka Cemento Grande, for Mexicans (99 percent of the immigrant workers hailed from Mexico; early residents came fleeing the atrocities of the Mexican Revolution, according to a Dallasconty.org newsletter).Victoria Farrell-Ortiz knew nothing of Cement City either until a certain conversation with her grandma, a living cemetera (that’s a Cement City dweller).The ensuing interrogation of Abuela snowballed and evolved into a full-fledged documentary, set to premiere this month.

Writes our Oak Cliff expert Rachel Stone, who interviewed Victoria last year:

“Wela” is the film from first-time director Victoria Farrell-Ortiz.

During that interview with Grandma, Victoria realized she’d scratched the surface of a larger story that she wanted to tell. So she enlisted friends and her husband, Mesach Ortiz, to help her make a full-length documentary.

She wants to show the movie to her students (at the time of the interview, she was working to become a history teacher).

“So that kids can realize that West Dallas has an important history in the City of Dallas,” says Ferrell-Ortiz, who is working on certification to become a middle-school history teacher. “I want them to have a lot of pride in where they’re from.”

Cement from West Dallas was used to build the Houston Street Viaduct and much of early Dallas’ infrastructure.

Ferrell-Ortiz’s “wela,” 87-year-old Lupe Barrera Chapa, moved to West Dallas from Mexico at age 15 and met her husband in Cemento Grande.

As development takes over West Dallas, Ferrell-Ortiz points out that immigrants are the ones building all this shiny new stuff, again.

“There is so much construction going on now that we complain about, but where would we be without those things?” she says. “I wouldn’t be here without Cemento Grande.”

Keep up with the project by following “Wela Documentary” on Facebook or @weladocumentary on Instagram.

See it at 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 22 at the Latino Cultural Center.

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