Saturday, June 19, 2010

the caples building

The Caples building. Probably one of the most significant buildings in all of downtown. Originally built in 1909 by Henry C. Trost for Richard Caples, former mayor of El Paso from 1889 to 1893. The building was initially built with five stories, but then in 1915 two additional stories were added converting the overall design to Romanesque Revival. I love the terra cotta detailing and arched windows of the upper stories. Aside from the architectural features, it also has a significant history. During the Mexican Revolution, it housed the offices of various Mexican political figures -- most notably Abraham Gonzalez and Francisco Madero. The pivotal Battle of Juarez in 1911 was plotted in the fifth floor. I believe Madero's provisional government as the new president was initially run out of this building. Of course, those were turbulent times and his presidency didn't last long. He was forced out a few years later by Victoriano Huerta.
Ok, enough with the history lesson. As you can see the building is pretty run down -- it's been that way for the last few decades. It was recently listed as one of the most endangered buildings by Preservation Texas. What I find quite exciting is that it finally looks like it's getting some much deserved TLC. The owner recently filed a request to replace all the windows and refinish the window frames on the exterior. I walked by the other day though and it looks like they're actually restoring the windows, just replacing the glass. It's going to look so awesome -- a good start to breathing new life into this old building. I hope they remove the plywood addition between the two towers in the U-shaped design. A lot of the brick and terra cotta could use some love too. My suspicion is this building is getting fixed up now as a result of the new city ordinance to bring vacant buildings (in their entirety) back up to code. So while this building lost its fight recently, I do like seeing the positive of what stronger city enforcement will mean.

Monday, June 14, 2010

billy the kid festival

One of the touristy things to do around town is to check out the mission trail. I think it's still in its infancy in terms of being something that actually draws people from out of town to check out, but the history is pretty cool. I think it's got loads of potential. This San Elizario mission above was built in 1882 and is actually the youngest of the missions. The first in the area dates to the 1600s, so this is a young chap. Even a wee lad needs some restoration work though. Especially when you're dealing with adobe.

The little town of San Elizario just east of El Paso is a reminder of the way things used to be. This town was actually the county seat back in the late 1800s, but when the railroad was built it bypassed San Elizario and instead went to El Paso. What happened was El Paso/Juarez grew into a metropolis and San Elizario stayed a small town with agrarian roots. One thing that's always interested me is the Old West lore of the late victorian times. John Wesley Hardin, Dallas Stoudenmire, and of course Billy the Kid. The first annual festival I attended over the weekend was pretty cool. I annoyed my wife with my best Estevez-esque "I'll make you famous" (ca. Young Guns) until I wore her down to go check it out. It was a little light on attendance, but I was pretty impressed nonetheless by the little town that could. Quite a few of the old buildings have been restored and are inhabited by galleries and restaurants.

Some are still waiting for some love.

This is the old county jail that Billy the Kid busted a friend out of in 1876. Uber cool.

A re-enactment troupe called Six Guns and Shady Ladies provided lots of gunfight recreation mayhem. It rocked.

Friday, June 11, 2010

the Gist boarding house

Whenever I walk downtown I tend to pass this building. It's located in the northern part of downtown, roughly in what I call the "dead zone". The Sunset Heights neighborhood overlooks downtown -- the buffer between my neighborhood and the real downtown is the dead zone. First you got the interstate (built in the 60s) that severed the neighborhood from the commercial center. Over time, the old buildings in this roughly 18 block area just south of the freeway took a dirt nap. Currently there are about 10 or so vintage buildings in this area. Think about that for a sec. The vast majority of the dead zone is parking lot or insignificant modern construction. Looks like we can scratch another building off the list.

The other day I was floored when I saw this cool old building missing its hat. At first I was optimistic and thought "oh they're just going to put on a new roof, no big deal -- it's about time". Alas, it was not to be. Today I passed by again and a substantial part of the brick walls are torn down. Now the building itself isn't a particularly amazing piece of architecture. A late victorian apartment building with some neat features. I liked the bay windows and the turned posts on the porch. Years ago there was a fire here, not sure if it was also when the victorian house next door burned down.

The building at 419 El Paso St was built in 1898 for Sarah Gist as a boarding house. Several of the tenants were doctors associated with one of the first hospitals in el paso. As far as I can remember this building has been abandoned and in shambles. There is development going on just south of this block so there may be interest to sell. However, my guess as to why it's coming down now is it was a preemptive move. The city is getting serious with abandoned buildings and is on the verge of unleashing a new ordinance to enforce the codes that downtown building owners have been ignoring the past 30 years. On top of that, the Historic Landmark Commission had an interest in this particular building for a historic overlay. With the building gone, the owner won't have to worry about getting visits from city inspectors and/or historic preservation. Part of the charm of downtown is all the old buildings. You'd never know it by walking through the dead zone though. Here's hoping the property owners who still own the handful of vintage buildings in this area consider the value of the brick and mortar, not just the land underneath them.

Not to be all doom and gloom, I'd like to highlight other buildings that are actually getting fixed up -- possibly by the threat of the same city ordinance. I'll save that for next time.