Tucked into the westernmost corner of Texas just footsteps from Mexico, El Paso has a surprising architectural legacy that locals are showing renewed interest in preserving. Between a revitalized downtown studded with hip new businesses in restored buildings, including the Hotel Indigo El Paso Downtown, a university campus surprisingly full of Bhutanese architecture and a nearly-complete vintage streetcar project linking it all, you will be wowed by El Paso’s unique brand of border town cool.
Showcase for an Architectural Icon
Thanks in large part to prolific, early 20th century architect Henry Trost, downtown El Paso has really good bones. The Ohio native left his mark on cities across the Southwest in the booming early 1900s, but El Paso is the epicenter of Trost architecture with around 200 buildings scattered throughout town. When several beauties were unceremoniously torn down a few years ago, local groups like the Texas Trost Society began stepping up efforts to shine a light on Trost’s legacy and the value of historical preservation.
Today, Hotel Indigo guests can walk out the front door, pick up a cup of locally roasted coffee and check out Trost’s signature designs in restored buildings and ones still undergoing makeovers.
The beautifully-refurbished Anson Mills Building is home to Anson 11, a restaurant with fine dining and casual bistro options. Craft cocktails can be found in the hip International Bar next to Trost’s elegant Roberts-Banner Building, and you can have lunch in one of several spots in the beautiful Cortez building on the northeast corner of San Jacinto Plaza.
Trost also designed many residences in El Paso — if you have time and interest, you can go inside the Turney Home, which is about a 20-minute walk from the Hotel Indigo and also houses the free International Museum of Art.
The Bhutan Connection
Trost worked in a number of architectural styles popular in his day, including Art Deco, Mission Revival and Prairie Style, but he also became an unlikely expert in the Bhutanese Dzong style.
In 1916, a fire destroyed many buildings at El Paso’s newly-opened Texas School of Mines and Metallurgy. The dean’s wife, Kathleen Worrell, had recently read a National Geographic article filled with photos taken in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, and convinced her husband that the university’s new buildings should be built in this Bhutanese fortress-style of architecture. Reluctant at first, Trost eventually embraced the idea and worked with other architects to design buildings for what would become the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) campus.
From those century-old beginnings, a deep connection between the university and Bhutan has formed, and UTEP visitors can now experience architecture, artifacts and culture that otherwise might only be found high in the Himalayas. Old Main is one of the original Trost UTEP buildings, while the school acquired the stunning Lhakang building after it was displayed during the 2008 Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C.
In El Paso, you can get a sense of the city’s rich design past, as it’s being transformed and re-purposed for today.