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Crystal City, Texas
Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Crystal City
Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Crystal City
Spinach Capital of the World
Location of Crystal City, Texas
Location of Crystal City, Texas
Zavala County CrystalCity.svg
Country United States
State Texas
County Zavala
 • Total 3.65 sq mi (9.46 km2)
 • Land 3.64 sq mi (9.44 km2)
 • Water 0.01 sq mi (0.02 km2)
558 ft (170 m)
 • Total 6,354
 • Density 1,743/sq mi (673.1/km2)
Time zone UTC-6 (Central (CST))
 • Summer (DST) UTC-5 (CDT)
ZIP code
Area code(s) 830
FIPS code 48-18020
GNIS feature ID 1355449

Crystal City is a city in and the county seat of Zavala County, Texas, United States. The population was 6,354 at the 2020 census. It was settled as a farming and ranching community and was a major railroad stop being 110 miles (180 km) from San Antonio. Spinach became a major crop and the city has promoted itself as "Spinach Capital of the World." During World War II, a large internment camp was located here. The town is also noteworthy in the history of Mexican American political self-determination for the founding of the La Raza Unida Party.


Farming, ranching, railroad

Downtown Crystal City, TX IMG 4240
A view of downtown Crystal City

Crystal City was originally settled by American farmers and ranchers producing cattle and various crops. Crystal City was a major stop along with San Antonio, Uvalde, Carrizo Springs, and Corpus Christi on the defunct San Antonio, Uvalde and Gulf Railroad, which operated from 1909 until it was merged into the Missouri Pacific Railroad in 1956. From 1909 to 1912, the SAU&G was known as the Crystal City and Uvalde Railroad. There was also an eastern link to Fowlerton near Cotulla in La Salle County. The remaining San Antonio-to-Corpus Christi route is now under the Union Pacific system.

The successful production of spinach evolved into a dominant industry. By March 26, 1937, the growers had erected a statue of the cartoon character Popeye in the town because his reliance on spinach for strength led to greater popularity for the vegetable, which had become a staple cash crop of the local economy. Early in its history, the area known as the "Winter Garden District" was deemed the "Spinach Capital of the World" (a title contested by Alma, Arkansas). The first Spinach Festival was held in 1936. It was put on hold during World War II and later years. The Festival was resumed in 1982. The Spinach Festival is traditionally held on the second weekend in November, and draws former residents (many of them former migrant farm workers) from Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, California, Washington State, and beyond.

Internment camp

During World War II, Crystal City was home to the largest of the World War II internment camps, having housed American civilians of German, Japanese, and Italian ancestry.

Oasis Drive-In, Crystal City, TX IMG 4246
Oasis Drive Inn on U.S. Highway 83 in Crystal City

Political activism

With the stream of refugees fleeing the Mexican Revolution of 1910, and later added to by Mexican migrant workers lured by the local spinach industry, the demographics of the small rural city began to shift over the years since its 1910 incorporation, due to its proximity to the U.S./Mexico border. By 1963, Crystal City experienced a tumultuous Mexican American electoral victory, as the swiftly emerging Mexican American majority elected fellow Mexican American to the city council, led by Juan Cornejo, a local representative of the Teamsters Union at the Del Monte cannery in Crystal City. The newly elected all Mexican American city council, and the succeeding administration, had trouble governing the city because of political factions among the new officials. Cornejo was selected mayor from among the five new council members. His quest for control of the city government eventually led to his loss of political support. Although these five elected officials known as "Los Cinco" only held office for two years, many consider this moment the "spark" or starting point of what became known as the Chicano Movement. A new group made up of both Anglos and Mexican Americans, the Citizens Association Serving All Americans, announced its plans to run candidates for countywide offices in 1964, and won.

La Raza Unida Party

By the late 1960s, Crystal City would become the location of continued activism in the civil rights movement among its Mexican American majority population, and the birthplace of the third party political movement known as La Raza Unida Party founded by three Chicanos, including José Ángel Gutiérrez over a conflict about the ethnicity of cheerleaders at Crystal City High School. 200 Mexican American students went out on strike with their parents' support. La Raza Unida, and related organizations, then won election to most offices in Crystal City and Zavala County in the periods between 1969 and 1980, when the party declined at the local level.

In the 1970s, following protests of charges (essentially non-payment of services) on the part of La Raza Unida, Crystal City's natural gas supply was shut off by its only supplier. Crystal City residents were forced to resort to mostly wood burning stoves and individual propane gas tanks for cooking. To this day, there is no natural gas supplier in the Crystal City area, although most residents purchase propane from the city.

1976 indictments

Zavala County Bank, Crystal City, TX IMG 4245
Zavala County Bank in Crystal City

In 1976, eleven officials in Crystal City were indicted on various counts. Angel Noe Gonzalez, the former Crystal City Independent School District superintendent who later worked in the United States Department of Education in Washington, D.C., upon his indictment retained the San Antonio lawyer and later mayor, Phil Hardberger. Gonzalez was charged with paying Adan Cantu for doing no work. Hardberger, however, documented to the court specific duties that Cantu had performed and disputed all the witnesses called against Cantu. The jury unanimously acquitted Gonzalez. Many newspapers reported on the indictments but not on the acquittal. John Luke Hill, the 1978 Democratic gubernatorial nominee, had sought to weaken La Raza Unida so that he would not lose general election votes to a third party candidate. Victory, however, went not to Hill but narrowly to his successful Republican rival, Bill Clements. Compean received only 15,000 votes, or 0.6 percent, just under Clements's 17,000-vote plurality over Hill.

Political corruption

In February 2016, almost every top official of the city was arrested under a federal indictment accusing them of taking bribes from contractors and providing city workers to assist an illegal gambling operator, Ngoc Tri Nguyen. Mayor Ricardo Lopez, city attorney William Jonas, Mayor Pro Tem Rogelio Mata, council member Roel Mata. and former council member Gilbert Urrabazo. A second councilman, Marco Rodriguez was already charged in a separate case with smuggling Mexican immigrants. A week earlier Lopez was taken into custody for assault and disorderly conduct during a city council meeting in which a recall election to remove himself and two other city council members was discussed. In December, Jonas surrendered to authorities after being charged with assault for allegedly manhandling an elderly woman who was trying to enter a city council meeting. That left one councilman free of federal charges.


According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 3.6 square miles (9.4 km²), all of it land. Major bodies of water near Crystal City include the Nueces River and Averhoff Reservoir. Soils are well drained reddish brown to grayish brown sandy loam or clay loam of the Brystal, Pryor and Tonio series; the Brystal is neutral to mildly alkaline and the other two tend to be moderately alkaline.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1930 6,609
1940 6,529 −1.2%
1950 7,198 10.2%
1960 9,101 26.4%
1970 8,104 −11.0%
1980 8,334 2.8%
1990 8,263 −0.9%
2000 7,190 −13.0%
2010 7,138 −0.7%
2020 6,354 −11.0%
U.S. Decennial Census

As of the census of 2000, 7,190 people, 2,183 households, and 1,781 families resided in the city. The population density was 1,974.1 people per square mile (762.7/km2). The 2,500 housing units averaged 686.4 per square mile (265.2/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 67.96% White, 0.67% African American, 0.39% Native American, 0.10% Asian, 0.06% Pacific Islander, 28.33% from other races, and 2.50% from two or more races. Hispanics or Latinos of any race were 94.97% of the population.

Of the 2,183 households, 43.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 51.9% were married couples living together, 25.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 18.4% were not families. About 16.9% of all households were made up of individuals, and 9.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.25 and the average family size was 3.67.

In the city, the population was distributed as 34.9% under the age of 18, 9.6% from 18 to 24, 24.2% from 25 to 44, 18.7% from 45 to 64, and 12.6% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 29 years. For every 100 females, there were 91.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 86.1 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $15,400, and for a family was $17,555. Males had a median income of $22,217 versus $14,591 for females. The per capita income for the city was $8,899. About 39.8% of families and 44.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 51.3% of those under age 18 and 43.2% of those age 65 or over.


The Crystal City Correctional Center, a private prison, was previously one of the largest employers in the Crystal City area when it housed prisoners from a variety of jurisdictions, including federal prisoners.

South of Crystal City on U.S. Highway 83 is Ecoloclean Industries, founded in 2001. The company engages in the manufacture and sale of machines for the treatment of contaminated water. In 2005, the company was retained by officials in Biloxi, Mississippi, to provide drinking water to Hurricane Katrina victims and to establish water remediation needed in the aftermath of the storm along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Crystal City, TX, Correctional facility IMG 4248
Crystal City Correctional Center
SWTJC branch in Crystal City, TX IMG 4239
The Southwest Texas Junior College branch in Crystal City


Crystal City is served by the Crystal City Independent School District. The high school teams are known as the Javelinas.

Also, the area has a branch of Southwest Texas Junior College, of which the main campus is to the north in Uvalde.


Crystal City is served by U.S. Route 83 and FM 65, FM 582, and FM 1433.

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Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Crystal City (Texas) para niños

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