dancing with architecture: El Paso, Texas

El Paso has its roots in a 1659 settlement on the south bank of the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo in a community called El Paso del Norte. Anson Mills, in 1854, platted a town on the northern bank and called it El Paso. Due to the similarity of the two names and the resulting confusion, El Paso del Norte renamed itself Ciudad Ju├írez in 1888.

El Paso is Trost Town. Born in Toledo, Ohio, Henry Charles Trost worked in Denver, Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Fort Worth, Galveston, New Orleans, and Dodge City before settling for a time in Chicago between 1888 to 1896 as an ornamental metal designer. Trost was a member of the Chicago Architectural Club where he rubbed elbows with Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright and saw an example of Mission Revival at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. In 1896, Trost and his wife moved to Colorado Springs and then Tucson before settling for good in El Paso in 1903. There he formed the architectural firm Trost and Trost with his brother Gustavus Adolphus Trost (they were later joined by Gustavus' twin brother Adolphus Gustavus).

Trost and Trost were jacks of all architectural trades competently designing bungalows to skyscrapers all over the southwest in the style of your choice. Their work includes the addition to the Driskill Hotel (so well done and unobtrusive that most people don't know that there is an addition); the railroad hotels in Marfa, Alpine, Van Horn, and Marathon; and much of historic downtown El Paso (sadly, many of his buildings are at risk of demolition).

Trost was not a theorist, but he was an able consumer and practitioner of the latest developments in architecture. With the right client, his architecture could soar, albeit in established schools of style. The best example is his house, a fantastic adaptation of Prairie Style to Chihuahuan desert (photos above and below). Legend has it that when Frank Lloyd Wright was given a tour of El Paso and saw Trost's house, he exclaimed: "I didn't know I designed a house here!"

I speculate that Chicago's Prairie Style was Trost's preferred medium. There's his house, which is, of course, excellent evidence of his preference, and also his last project, the O.T. Bassett Tower, which is thankfully in the middle of a restoration after being threatened with demolition. The National Register lists the Bassett as Art Deco, but by my eye, this is clearly a Prairie Style skyscraper, and a gorgeous one at that.

For more information on Trost:

Henry C. Trost Historical Society (which includes a list of buildings)
Texas State Historical Association

Trost double-roofed his house to keep the actual roof out of direct sunlight and to allow air to flow between the roofs.

I fell in love with the Bassett Tower.

The story is that this is the likeness of Henry Trost.

Some more random Trosts:

Chicago-style windows.

Chicago-style windows with pour-in-place concrete construction.

A neighborhood up in the hills called Mountain Park sports some nice Midcentury Modern homes:

View of El Paso and Juarez from a mountain overlook:

A couple of neat houses I saw on the drive down the mountain, a Streamline Moderne place and a Frank Lloyd Wright-influenced Usonian home:

I stayed at a newly remodeled Midcentury Modern hotel downtown. Highly recommended.

Random impressions of El Paso walking around early in the mornings and late at night...

There used to be alligators in the downtown park!

Oh yes! And I almost forgot the House of Sugar, a gorgeous art environment on the north side of town:

And finally, here are some photos from a trip I took to El Paso back in 2008:

A kittycat at the Trost house.

I followed a mission trail down the river.


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