Prior Posting: On Walkabout: Walking Tour of Downtown El Paso, Texas – Part 1
As I continued my walking tour of downtown El Paso, Texas, I found myself heading down El Paso Street and just a short distance from the Camino Real was the old building that once housed the 1st National Bank:
This building completed construction in 1883 and was used by 1st National Bank until 1914 where over the years has been used to house a variety of other businesses. Today a boutique store is using the building, but is also was once home to the El Paso Herald newspaper, Wells Fargo Express, and the law office for the reformed gunslinger John Wesley Hardin. You can read more about Hardin at my prior posting about Concordia Cemetery where Hardin was buried after being murdered in El Paso.
Just down the road from the old 1st National Bank building is the Montgomery Building:
This small building seems pretty inconspicuous, but it is actually one of the most historically significant buildings in all of El Paso since it is the city’s oldest surviving false front wood structure. It is also the city’s oldest surviving commercial structure. It was built in 1882 and named after its builder William Montgomery. Check out this old 1882 picture of the Montgomery Building that was included in the pamphlet that I believe gives people greater appreciation of the historic past of this now inconspicuous building:
I think this picture is pretty awesome to see a wagon train going by a building in downtown El Paso that still exists to this day.
Further down El Paso Street was the next building I went to check out, the Palace Theatre:
This building was constructed in 1914 and was originally called the Alhambra. This was another building designed by Henry C. Trost and for this building he decided to give it a Spanish and Moorish inspired exterior. Today the building is no longer a theatre and instead is used as a nightclub. Further down the street was the Merrick Building and the St. Charles Hotel:
This is a very old building with it being constructed in 1887 by John J. Steward tand William J. Carpenter in 1887. The design of the building was typical of Victorian style brick homes of the time. A man by the name of Charles Merrick who was considered a famous clothier and tailor in El Paso operated his business out of the first floor of the building. The first floor would later during the Mexican Revolution be turned into a major arms dealer called the Shelton Payne Arms Company. In 1931 the Hollywood Cafe replaced the arms store. The St. Charles Hotel was operated on the 2nd and 3rd floors of the building and was once considered the longest running hotel in El Paso until it closed in 1996. The building was beautifully renovated in 2000 and today a retail store operates on the first floor and the rooms of the St. Charles Hotel have been converted into apartments.
Walking down San Antonio Street right next to the old First National Bank building I spotted this Union Bank & Trust Co. building:
It was obviously no longer being used as a bank, but unfortunately my walking guide had no information about this building. Further down the street was the State National Bank building:
This bank was constructed in 1881 with the arrival of the railroads into El Paso. The bank was an important part of the early development of the city. This building was once again designed by Henry C. Trost who created a building inspired by classical Roman and Italian Renaissance design. The bank moved out of this building in 1962 and is currently used like many of El Paso’s historic buildings as retail space.
Further down San Antonio Street is the Caples Building:
Richard Caples was the mayor of El Paso from 1889 to 1893 and hired Trost to build El Paso’s first reinforced concrete building in 1909. The two additional stories seen on top of the building were added in 1916. The bottom floor of the building is still used today as commercial business space while the other floors were used for office space. Interestingly some of the office space was used by Mexican revolutionaries to include Francisco Madero who planned the pivotal Battle of Juarez from his office on the building’s 5th floor.
Across the street from the Caples Building is the Popular Department Store:
This was another building designed by Trost who once again turned to the Chicago commercial style he favored to construct this store in 1912. The Popular Department store closed in 1995 and now is used for retail space. Right across the street from the Popular Department Store is the site of the old Acme Saloon:
There is a dollar store now constructed on the site but the original saloon was built of adobe and wood. What made the saloon historically significant was that this was the location that John Wesley Hardin was murdered on the night of August 19, 1895:
His last words were supposedly, “Brown, you have four sixes to beat.” After uttering those last words John Selman walked up behind Hardin and shot him through the head killing him instantly. A short walk up Mesa Street from the Acme Saloon site is the Abdou Building:
This was yet another Trost building that he constructed in 1910 for the Rio Grande Valley Bank. It was renamed the Abdou Building in 1925 when the building was bought by prominent businessman Sam Abdou. The building was then used to house commercial space on the first floor and apartments on the floors above. Here is a historic picture of the Abdou Building from 1911:
A short walk up Texas Street from the Abdou Building is what I think is the nicest looking building in downtown El Paso, the O.T. Bassett Tower:
This was another masterpiece designed by Henry C. Trost that was completed in 1930. Charles N. Bassett the son of the prominent El Paso businessman O.T. Bassett built the tower in honor of his father who was one of the founders of the State National Bank. The building is 15 stories high and built in an art deco style that would fit in quite well in New York City:
The O.T. Bassett Tower was briefly the tallest building in El Paso until the Hilton Hotel was completed later that same year in 1930. Today the building is dwarfed by the Wells Fargo building right next to it along with a few other large buildings that cause it to not appear to be very prominent like it was in the past. It is shame because it is architecturally one of the nicest buildings in the city:
From the O.T. Bassett Tower I turned down Mills Avenue to head back towards San Jacinto Plaza and that is when I next saw the historic US Post Office building:
This building was constructed in 1917 and designed by James A. Wetmore. The building is still used as the main Post Office for downtown El Paso to this day. Right next to the Post Office is the Cortez Building:
The Cortez Building like just about every other major building in downtown El Paso was built by Trost as well. This building opened in 1926 as the Hotel Cortez. The hotel’s most famous guest was John F. Kennedy who visited on June 5, 1965. The building continued to operate as a hotel until 1970 when it closed. It wasn’t until 1984 that the building was renovated and turned into office space which is what it is still used for today. Another Trost built building, the Roberts-Banner Buidling is located across the intersection from the Cortez Building:
This building was built in 1910 and was financed by prominent New Mexico stockmen M.D. Roberts and W.M. Banner. Adjacent to the Roberts-Banner building I noticed the backside to the old S.H. Kress building discussed earlier in the walking tour:
From there I headed back to San Jacinto Plaza where I started my walk:
When I visited the plaza it was being used as the site for the Occupy El Paso protests. So the place was filled with tents, but what I found interesting was that it appeared that very few people were actually sleeping in the tents:
It was about 8:30 in the morning when I was walking around the tents and I only saw a few people who were out and about and eating breakfast at the little eating area they setup. They looked like college students and hippees that were eating breakfast, besides that it was just me walking around. If people are going to go out and about and not stay in the plaza or in their tents then they should not be allowed to camp out there in my opinion. All the tents and signs were a multi-week eyesore for the city of El Paso:
After Thanksgiving the City of El Paso government finally kicked the protesters out of the plaza, not that is stopped their activities as they then decided to go protest local businesses as well. I guess that is better than camping out in the park.
Next Posting: On Walkabout: Walking Tour of Downtown El Paso, Texas – Part 3