|Selena performing at La Villa Real in 1992, photo from The Monitor|
After many successful years of promoting events at the McAllen Civic Center, Arnaldo “Nano” Ramirez Jr. knew it was time to secure a venue of his own. He first secured ten acres on Bentsen and Expressway 83 in McAllen. Then one night at a club, while hanging out with some friends, Ramirez met someone that was involved in the insurance business.
"Discussing my situation, she said, 'I can get you the loan, if you insure yourself for the amount of the loan. That's all you have to do.' I can't believe it's going to be that simple but it sounds great,” Ramirez said. “So I did apply, and it was going to get approved. The only requisite was, that I had to get a local bank to do the inner-financing. It was an unbelievable how I came across this insurance agent."
After being denied at several banks across the Rio Grande Valley, Ramirez ended up at First Aid Bank and Trust Company in Mission. The president of the bank, Elliot Bottom, had a friendship with Ramirez's father. That played a role in Ramirez obtaining that meeting.
"I went to go visit [Bottom] and made my presentation. Right then and there, [he said], 'Why do you need to inner-finance? I'll finance this project for you. Give me some more details, bring me the whole package and let me look at it.' This was the end of June of 1977."
Bottom looked over the details and approved the project a few days later. Bottom said the only thing he needed from Ramirez, was for him to put the land up for collateral. One issue though — Ramirez was still making payments on that property.
"I went to Mr. Gegenheimer, asked him, if he could basically release the land, even though I still owed him, so I could put it in the bank and fund my project. He went ahead and released it to me, our payments were basically without even a contract, just a verbal agreement. It was an unbelievable relationship, the old school, the word of a gentleman, a handshake. It was unbelievable back in those days. He completely gave me the property. I went to the bank, put it for collateral, got the financing."
As soon as the papers were signed, everything started moving forward from that point on. Ramirez and his crew, broke ground on Labor Day Weekend 1977. Ninety days from that weekend was the target date for the grand opening.
With a week left before its first concert, Ramirez estimates he spent up to twenty-hours a day working to have the place ready. He had contracted the Country Roland band as his first act for his new venue.
Now a day away, Ramirez was worried because the tables and chairs had not yet arrived. At 1 PM on opening day, the shipment of the tables and chairs finally arrived, much to the relief of everyone. A crew of twenty people opened up the crates and set them up.
"I had everything set-up, it was basically a miracle," Ramirez said.
As the doors opened for the very first time, Ramirez headed home to get dressed. He estimates that he had not slept in two days by this point. He was as exhausted as he was excited.
After the event, the place was a mess. Beer cans were littered throughout. While he was originally distraught by how dirty the place looked, he soon found out that if his venue was clean after an event, it meant that the event was not successful. The messier, the better.
So on December 3, 1977, La Villa Real was born.