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HOUSTON-The Houston Light Guard, a local militia organized in 1873, proudly constructed the fortress-like building in 1925, but the historic structure has stood empty since 1991. Now, city council is about to lease the 19,000-sf, four-story edifice to a Hispanic group for $1 a year, to preserve it and make use of it for community affairs.

If council approves the deal, the Houston Hispanic Forum will lease the building, located on Caroline Street south of downtown, for the next 30 years and be responsible for an estimated $2.6 million needed to renovate it. The work will probably take a year to complete.

“The community doesn’t want to lose it,” says Rey Gonzales, vice president of the Forum.”The building needs someone to take care of it and put it to use.”

The Houston Guard had deeded the fortress to the Texas Guard, which occupied it until 1991. Since then it has been used for storage by Houston Community College. When city council had heard of Forum’s plans, it had bought the building from the college to save it from the wrecking ball.

Forum officials say they’ll use the building’s meeting rooms, gallery and performance areas to accommodate local nonprofit groups plus incorporate a charter school for some 220 preschool to second-grade students. It has a gym, which can host receptions and gatherings of up to 400.

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