By Trish Long
Photo: March 2, 1962 - Mayor Ralph Seitsinger, second from left, officiates at ribbon-cutting ceremonies during the opening of the $7 million Bassett Center. On hand to give their approval are Charles N. Bassett Corp. officials, from left, H. M. Daugherty, president and director; George G. Matkin, vice president, treasurer and director, and Promotions Director Sam Rutherford.When Bassett Center opened at 10 a.m. March 1, 1962, the $7 million, 53-acre, 18-store shopping center was the largest between Dallas and Los Angeles. It was an open-air shopping center and wasn't completely enclosed until 1974.
Bassett Center was named for Charles Nebeker Bassett, former president of the El Paso Chamber of Commerce, president and later chairman of the board of the State National.
In 1954, the city conducted a survey that determined that a sand pit owned by El Paso Sand products Co., State National Bank and the Charles N. Bassett family heirs, and bounded by Montana, Geronimo, Interstate 10 and Magruder Street, was the population center of El Paso County. Based on the survey, DeWitt and Rearick, a local real estate, firm approached the land owners about building a shopping center at the location.
Planning for the center began in November 1955, and the first lease was signed with The White House department store on June 13, 1958.
Construction of the center took just over a year. Ground was broken to begin construction on Feb. 18, 1961. General contractors for the Center were C.H. Leavell and Co. and Dan R. Ponder Co., both of El Paso. Architects were Bartlett Cocke and Associates of San Antonio, and Nesmith and Lane of El Paso. Resident architect Larry Hohlaus of Bartlett Cocke with local offices at Nesmith and Lane.
A 1974 $1.3 million renovation completely enclosed the mall. An El Paso Times article at the time said, "The Bassett Center 'Big Top' now allows shoppers to visit stores anytime of the year in complete comfort, no matter what the weather."
In 1989, Charles Bassett Center Ltd., a group of 28 El Paso investors, including Charles Bassett Hammond, grandson of Charles Bassett, sold Bassett Center to Washington D.C., investment group, Cafritz-Schonberger Group. This marked the first time the center was not owned by any descendant of O.T. Bassett.
O.T. Bassett, an orphan and Civil War veteran, came to El Paso in 1880 and built a fortune by owning the only bank and lumber company in the city. He died in 1898 and his son Charles Bassett took over his business.
The mall was purchased in October 2003 by Cypress Equities, one of the business interests owned by former Cowboys quarterback and NFL Hall of Famer Roger Staubach. On Nov. 2, 2004, Bassett Center was renamed Bassett Place.