By Zahira Torres
El Paso Times
From homes that housed officials with the Mexican Revolution to a former cemetery that was converted into a library, Central El Paso provides a rich history that spans more than a century.
"Every building represents a story about the people who built it, but there are also thousands of stories about people who went to work every day, who frequented the place..." said Gary Williams, coordinator for the Pass of the North Heritage project. "Downtown buildings are the fabric of El Paso from 1880's forward to today. As the city has expanded to different landscapes Downtown has remained intact in many ways."
During the Mexican Revolution the Sheldon Hotel, which was later renamed the Plaza Hotel, served as the unofficial headquarters for many of the participants and the Caples Building housed the offices of notable revolutionary leaders like Francisco Villa and Abraham Gonzàlez.
Sitting on a bench and eating chicharrones at San Jacinto Plaza with her family, Melissa Garcia, 31, had a full view of many key historical buildings.
"I love coming here every time I come in to town," said Garcia, who moved to Austin two years ago. "I love just sitting here and looking at the old buildings and remembering when I would come shopping with my mom during Christmas. Everything seemed so big."
El Paso Public Library (Main Branch), 501 N. Oregon. The Downtown public library was built on land that was once a graveyard that included the old Fort Bliss Cemetery. In 1904 the library was built and the bodies were transferred to Concordia Cemetery. There is still controversy over whether all the bodies were removed from the area. Some claim the library is haunted.
Mills Building, 303 N. Oregon: The 1911 creation of Gen. Anson Mills was built by Trost in stages, from 1911 to 1915. The building stands on the original site of the 1832 Ponce de León ranch. It was the largest reinforced monolithic concrete structure in the world at that time. Erected when El Paso was a city of 15,000, the 12-story building dominated the Downtown landscape.
International Museum of Art, 1211 Montana. The building was built as a home between 1908 and 1910 for W.W. Turney. It was designed by the noted architect Henry C. Trost. In 1910, the building became El Paso's first museum.
Cortez Hotel, 310 N. Mesa Street: It was designed as a hotel and built in Spanish revival style with faces of conquistadors on the exterior. John F. Kennedy stayed at the hotel June 5, 1963. The hotel, which closed in 1970, has been renovated for office space.
Camino Real Hotel (formerly the Paso Del Norte hotel), 101 S. El Paso: The brick steel and terra-cotta building was built in 1912 by Trost. The rooftop ballroom was a favorite place to gather and watch the progress of the Mexican Revolution across the river. The hotel became the headquarters for cattlemen and ranchers and claimed that more head of cattle were bought and sold in its lobby than at any other single location in the world.
Caples Building: Richard Caples, El Paso mayor from 1889 to 1893, commissioned Trost to design what El Paso's first reinforced concrete building. It was built in 1909 at 300 E. San Antonio, and two additional floors were added between 1915 and 1916. It housed the offices of notable revolutionary leaders like Francisco Villa and Abraham Gonzàlez.
Plaza Theatre, 125 Pioneer Plaza: With its Spanish Colonial Architectural style, the theater on Pioneer Plaza across from the Camino Real Hotel once hosted performers such as Rita Moreno, John Wayne and the Barrymore family. The Plaza started as a vaudeville house in 1930 and later featured movies. The theater is currently being restored.
Plaza Hotel: The first high-rise grand hotel by Conrad Hilton, at Oregon and Mills, was built in 1929 at a cost of $1.75 million. Made to last, the building was constructed of steel, concrete and brick.
Kress Building: The building, at Oregon and Mills, was built in 1938 for $450,000 with an art deco style and some Southwestern flavor. The company operated a five-and-ten-cent store at this location could only be compared to New York's Fifth Avenue store, according to the architect. It's made of terra cotta.
Downtown Post Office, 219 Mills Ave.: Designed by a government architect, it was built in 1917 at 219 E. Mills in Roman style with Ionic columns. An interesting mosaic floor was put in during the 1950s.
Bassett Tower, 303 Texas: The 15-story building was one of the first key skyscrapers built in the city in the 1930s. There is a building that matches the art deco style in Phoenix. The entrance is an elaborate display of Art Deco design elements. The face over the main entrance is reputed to be that of Henry C. Trost himself.
Popular Department Store, One Union Fashion Center: Adolf Schwartz founded the Popular Dry Goods Co. in 1902. The store, built by Henry C. Trost in the Chicago style, served the region for 93 years.
Old Lerner Store (Acme Saloon), 227 E. San Antonio: The original building was wood and adobe and had a doorway opening to the bar. On Aug. 19, 1985, gunslinger John Wesley Hardin was at the bar rolling dice for the drinks, then turned and said, "Brown, you have four sixes to beat." At that instant, John Selman shot Hardin in the head, killing him instantly.
White House, 123 Pioneer Plaza: Designed by Henry C. Trost, the building was erected for a department store and the McCoy Hotel in the early 1900s on El Paso Street across from the Plaza Hotel. The two connected buildings that made up the structure were later renovated and became known as The Centre.
False Front (Dave's Pawn Shop), 216-218 South El Paso Street: El Paso's last false-front structure. The one-part commercial building is a simple box with a decorated wood facade and cornice.
Source: Morris Brown, Gary L. Williams and El Paso Times Library archives.