Originally settled after the Civil War, the earlier riverfront portion of the neighborhood known as El Ranchero derived its name from the ranchers who came to gather supplies in this area. The upper, or northern, portion was named El Azteca after a popular, no longer extant Spanish-language theater from 1922.
When I-35 reached the Rio Grande in the early 1980s, it eradicated a thirteen-block area of densely built historic fabric that linked the San Agustín and El Azteca/El Ranchero neighborhoods. As a result, El Azteca/El Ranchero was severed from the community, further reinforcing its insularity as a tightly knit, self-contained social unit within Laredo. Architecturally, with few intrusions since World War II, the three hundred historic properties in the neighborhood compose an authentic urban landscape of the borderlands dating to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Similar to Barrio El Cuatro, the narrow urban grid of El Azteca/El Ranchero is built more densely and with smaller-scale structures and setbacks in the area closer to the Rio Grande. The board-and-batten one-room cottage (c. 1910) at 101 Water Street is reflective of this fragile fabric, which contrasts with the earlier Esteban Herrera House (c. 1870) at 401 Grant Street, a traditional Mexican vernacular stone cottage with raised-end parapets reminiscent of those in northern Mexico.
Iturbide Street traditionally served as the commercial corridor of the neighborhood and transitions from the El Ranchero to the El Azteca segments. Substantial, two-story buildings in the Border Brick style (c. 1890) at 18–20 and 100–102 Iturbide Street, with missing metal canopies, recall similar residential-commercial family compounds in Brownsville and Rio Grande City.
Varied building types continue on Hidalgo Street. An L-shaped, multifamily unit (c. 1915) at number 207–209 boasts a rhythmic elevation in brick with round-arched passageways leading to rear courtyards and reveals rapid accommodation of incoming population caused by the Mexican Revolution. In the Puig Villa Block (1928), the 600 block of Hidalgo Street, a series of stuccoed, one-story Spanish Mediterranean bungalows, with arched porches and small front yards, read more like a Latin American residential enclave. They suggest the mix of middle-income home owners with low-income residents that was prevalent in the district until the mid-twentieth century.