The Concilio Superior building in Antonito is the headquarters of La Sociedad Protección Mutua de Trabajadores Unidos (SPMDTU; Society for the Mutual Protection of United Workers), a mutual-aid society established in 1900 to protect Hispano workers in the San Luis Valley from discrimination and to provide burial aid and other assistance. In the 1920s the society built the Concilio Superior building as its headquarters and meeting hall. The building continues to serve in that capacity and was recently restored with the help of several State Historical Fund grants.
Origins of SPMDTU
In the late nineteenth century, Hispano workers in the San Luis Valley and across the Southwest often suffered from racial discrimination. They faced segregation and were not allowed in white schools, hospitals, and restaurants. As a result, Hispano communities across the Southwest established mutual-aid societies to combat racial discrimination, work for social and economic rights, celebrate their culture, and provide basic social insurance programs such as unemployment and burial aid.
One of the most important Hispano mutual-aid societies in Colorado was SPMDTU. Founded by the jewelry worker Celedonio Mondragón, the society held its first meeting on November 26, 1900, at his house in Antonito. Membership was restricted to men, who were required to attend meetings, pay dues, and be good citizens.
The society quickly spread across the San Luis Valley, spurred by ongoing discrimination and violence against Hispano workers in the valley, including the murders of several shepherds in 1902. Members initially gathered in houses, with ten members needed to form a new local council. The society had seven councils by 1910 and ten by 1915, including councils in Denver and New Mexico. By the 1910s the society offered unemployment and sickness subsidies, as well as funeral and burial assistance.
In 1902 the society organized the Concilio Superior (Superior Council) to coordinate with local councils and plan for expansion. Composed of eight officers, the Concilio Superior served as the society’s executive body. It called all the local councils together in 1909 to frame a general constitution to guide the society’s activities.
Concilio Superior Building
During its early decades, SPMDTU rented the Antonito Opera House when it needed a large space for events. In 1920, as the society’s councils and membership continued to grow, the Concilio Superior decided to build a permanent headquarters and meeting hall in Antonito. Each member was initially assessed a tax of seventy-five cents to get the process started. Members were later taxed an additional five to ten dollars to buy the building site and start the construction fund. These amounts were essentially loans that were refunded upon the member’s death.
Construction started in 1923 and was completed in 1925. The building, located on Main Street, was constructed using adobe walls with a stucco finish. The Main Street façade was designed with a ticket window and two doors to accommodate sports and social events. The interior of the building included a large open hall, a raised stage, and bleachers. The building’s use of steel trusses and commercial windows in a southwestern vernacular design helped introduce new architectural features to Hispano communities in the San Luis Valley.
The Concilio Superior building has been used primarily for SPMDTU business and meetings. The main alteration to the building over the years was the addition in the 1980s of murals on the stage and the south exterior wall. The stage mural, painted by Los Muralistas del Valle, depicts Mexican nationalistic and agricultural themes. The south exterior wall has a series of three murals by Fred Haberlein, with two showing local agricultural scenes and one portraying a male angel protecting the earth.
After growing to roughly 2,000 members and sixty-five lodges in Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah in the decade after World War II, SPMDTU membership began to decline as more rural workers moved to cities. Membership dipped below 600 in the 1990s but grew again after 2000, when the society celebrated its centennial anniversary and started the process of listing the Concilio Superior building on the State and National Registers of Historic Places.
In the early 2000s the society received a grant from the State Historical Fund to assess the structure of the building and prepare a preservation plan. Two additional State Historical Fund grants and other donations and contributions allowed a full restoration of the building beginning in 2005.
In addition to the Concilio Superior, there are now seven local SPMDTU councils, which continue to engage in community service and charitable work.