The Plaza, An Architectural Marvel & Family Legacy
Trost & Trost is the historically revered local architecture firm behind the aesthetic of The Plaza Hotel Pioneer Park. When you read up on our historic hotel, it shows how the firm designed the Sheldon Hotel, which opened here in 1899, and burned down in 1929. The following year, Hilton took over and contracted Trost & Trost to revive the property with a Pueblo Art Deco flair.
Background on The Property’s Architecture
With our recent reopening, the revival of the Trost’s work is beyond exciting. We consulted William Helm, Founding Principal Architect from in*situ architecture, and learned, “When originally built, the building was the last major design commission for Henry C. Trost—who designed an Art Deco hotel tower crowned with Ludowici clay tile pyramidal roof for Hilton that would hold the record of El Paso’s tallest skyscraper for 24 years.”
Helm also taught us how, “Trost & Trost were pioneers in the use of reinforced concrete construction in Texas, and the El Paso Hilton was a prime example of the firm’s designs used for the expression of a high rise, which the hotel exhibits with its clean rectilinear form and projecting tower.”
“The facade of the hotel showcases a mix of geometric, organic, botanical pattern forms rendered in glazed terra-cotta block and precast stone elements in a sleek Art Deco style that has since become known as ‘Pueblo Deco’ which describes the regional stylings of pueblo art and architecture common to that era,” said Helm.
A Deeper Dive Into Trost & Trost
We took some time to speak with Margaret Smith. Her great-uncle Henry C. Trost is credited above with designing our Art Deco property, and her grandfather Gustavus served as a colleague, fellow architect, and co-designer on this great project.
To dive into local architectural history, check out the interview here:
Tell me about your relationship with the Trost family.
Okay, so the four architects, the four gentlemen who were in the firm were: Gustavus Trost, who is my grandfather, and then Adolphus Trost, who’s my great uncle—he’s my grandfather’s twin. There’s also Henry Trost, who was my great uncle. And then George, who was my cousin.
I understand you discovered more about the architectural firm recently.
Yes, in 2013, I was able to speak to Professor Engelbright and his wife Jean Marie—they were the only people that wrote a book on Trost. It took me two years to go through everything he collected.
Did you get to know your grandfather, Gustavus, while he was alive?
Unfortunately, he passed before I was born. But my mom, who is his daughter, is still alive. And she told me about my grandfather. He was a very talented architect. There’s no recording of him ever attending any architecture school. So, pretty much between being an apprentice, and just kind of learning things on his own, he got into the field of architecture.
He was a family man. Often, he would take my mom, her brother, and his wife on trips to see buildings, and they would often go to the hotels in New Mexico. He would have to travel up there to check on something in the hotel, so he would take his wife and his two kids. And then one interesting thing my mom shared with me is, whenever they drove, my grandfather would see a historical marker alongside the road, and he would stop and read the entire marker to everybody because he was always very interested in the history of any area.
And then anytime they went on vacation, the whole family went on vacation. My grandfather and my two great uncles would veer off in the city and find the buildings and would spend hours talking about the architecture of this city. Everyone else would go shopping or sightseeing, their mission on vacation was to look at architecture. That’s what they loved to do! My grandfather was very active in the El Paso community.
Have you come across anything noteworthy or unknown about the building?
Yes. There are a couple of things. The Plaza (or the Hilton) is the only building in downtown El Paso where you can actually see the name Trost & Trost inscribed on the building. That’s the only building. They actually inscribed their names on the building in downtown El Paso. It’s on the front of the building, and it’s in black marble. So you have to look for it. Also, when they put the cast stones on the exterior when they were doing the first three floors of the building, the star represents the Texas star. I did find that out.
And then this is interesting… The main entrance of the hotel was required to face the Mills building. So in 1930, when they were getting ready to build the building, Miss Overton, who was the daughter of the owner of the Mills building at the time, opposed having the hotel put on that part of the plaza.
She was concerned that a high rise hotel would cut off the air and light to the Mills building. So she was planning to have the work stopped by filing an injunction. She was living in California at the time. So they sent over a gentleman called Jay H. McBroom. I don’t know if he was with Hilton, or I don’t know his association. But he traveled to California and talked to Mrs. Overton, and he was able to get her to withdraw the injunction suit against Hilton for the building. There was one requirement — the main entrance of the hotel was required to face the Mills building.
Trost & Trost also built the Mills building, correct?
Yes. They also built the Mills building.
Did Henry Trost work on the design for this hotel?
He probably did. When we talk about the buildings, our family always likes to state that it was a firm. They all worked on all the buildings. This firm started in 1903. It started with my grandfather Gustavus and Henry, and then in about 1908-ish, that’s when Adolphus Gustavus’s twin joined the firm. Now, Adolphus was a structural engineer. He was not an architect and so it was really rare at that time that you could go to an architectural firm and have an architect and the structural engineer in the same firm. So that was a big bonus!
But, then Henry died in 1933, and then the firm extended on to the 1950s. So, anything done between 1903 and 1933 was done by the firm. And then after that, Henry wouldn’t be doing anything after 1933. And it was mostly my grandfather, and other architects he added on, but we like to say that all the buildings were done by the firm. I’m sure Henry worked on some of the Hilton. I’m sure!
Why didn’t they continue the firm?
My grandfather passed away in 1950, and then George, who was more of the office and financial manager, and he, after my grandfather died, went into banking. And there was just the only other person who could have carried it on, and it was my uncle. He had other plans. So nobody wanted to carry on. My grandfather died in 1950. So, that’s why we say probably ended sometime around the end of the 1940s.
What do you hope people will remember when they think about the work of your family and the firm?
Well, I hope people remember the amazing talent the firm had for designing a range of styles and architects. In downtown El Paso, you have Art Deco and Mission Style Revival. You have Bhutanese at UTEP. You have Prairie Style houses. I don’t know anywhere today, in any city, where you can find so many different styles of architecture. I want people, especially people in El Paso, to know that they have something unique.
Also, all the gentlemen in the firm never received any formal training. They all did apprenticeships. So that’s amazing how they built over 650 structures and had no formal school training. My uncle Adolphus, he was a self-taught structural engineer. There are no records of him ever going to school for engineering. But he taught himself. He was a math whiz. And the firm extended into Arizona and New Mexico, West Texas and there is one in East Texas that’s still standing. I just want people to appreciate the architecture and the history that the firm left in the West.
Is it true the hotel was the eighth Hilton property?
I know that at the time that they were building a hotel in Marlin, Texas, and that was finished before the one in El Paso. El Paso was supposed to be eighth, but they finished the other one first. That’s when it became the ninth Hilton Hotel.
Also, a fun fact, the first guest who checked into the Hilton was Bill Davis. And he used to live in the Hotel Shelburne. So, he was the first guest to check-in.
DISCOVER MORE OF EL PASO
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