Today, the Stegman building is home to the new Brownsville Performing Arts Academy, with spacious dance studios, and rooms suited for music lessons, but more than 100 years ago it was the home and business center for Baldwin Gustav Stegman.
Stegman was a telephone tycoon. By the end of 1908 he controlled 85% of the phone mileage within the Rio Grande Valley, while he served as the Chair for the 1910 Census Committee and for the historic 1910 Brownsville Matamoros Bridge Inauguration Committee.
“With the coming of the train Stegman tied that together with the running of the lines in order to build a phone company,” said Eugene Fernandez, Commissioner of the Cameron County Historical Commission.
That same year, he bought a lavish home on the corner of Washington and 11th, which he transformed into the Stegman Building. There was an apartment on the second floor where the Stegmans lived. The grand building would also be large enough to house the Elks Club, the beginning of the local public library, office space, a meat supplier, a bowling alley, pool hall, penny arcade and dry goods establishment.
“What was on this part prior to the building of the Stegman building in 1910 was a magnificent old Hacienda looking structure that was built by the Lucena family, it was about the time of the Civil War this building was built in 1910 and it was named after Gustav Baldwin Stegman,” Fernandez said.
Eventually, the challenge of pursing commercial success had a toll on his health, which resulted in his early death at age 48, which shocked the community. But his legacy lives on as his luxurious building still stands and continues to serve the community.
The Brownsville Performing Arts Academy opened its doors to the public this Monday at a ribbon cutting ceremony. The Revival of Cultural Arts will host one of the new academy’s first productions at the building on July 6.