One of the more unique buildings sitting off of San Jacinto Plaza is the Roberts-Banner building. I’ve checked it out a few times recently and used to frequent it for lunch in my runner/courier days, when it had a McDonalds.
It was built in 1910 and is one of the better surviving Trost buildings downtown, though it’s mostly vacant now. There had been a banner advertising its remodel but it’s either been removed or blown off. El Paso Development news reports the city’s interested in it, but no firm details.
The owners have the all the doors open, either in a bid to air it out or because the locks don’t work. It adds to the already surreal, frozen in time vibe, the interior has. There is one office that still houses a business, G J Jewelry:
The small space is packed and looks to have all the necessities for the trade. I’ve only been here on the weekends and haven’t seen anybody inside. The Christmas decorations sort of imply some level of inactivity, but you never know:
All of the office spaces are small one or two room affairs still sporting radiators for heat. You get the sense that this building was probably quite active in its past, housing all manner of solo practitioners, lawyers, doctors etc.
The Roberts-Banner is in a good spot overlooking the rebirth of our downtown. Lets hope the building gets its share of TLC too. Full set of pics here on flickr: Roberts-Banner Building
A while back it was decided to let the Muir building get razed since it was considered “non contributing” and deemed to expensive to restore by the owner. The general gist was that the modifications by the various tenants over the years had removed much of what made it historic. In its last role as a Payless Shoe Store it did look that way.
You can debate that all day long but until you start taking down walls, you don’t really know. There’s a good pic taken by Jim Tolbert at the elpasonaturally blog that shows how much was really left under the facade. Now I’m no engineer, but it looks like there was quite a bit of the original building left that could have been worked with:
Buildings come and buildings go. It’s a tough decision and if the money isn’t there or if its not financially feasible to the owner what are you going to do? You would hope the need to preserve the past would trump the pocketbook but its rare when that actually happens.
I drove by the spot were the Muir sat and if there’s a small silver lining to all of this, its what was hidden behind it:
Its a pretty nifty look at some old building signage that I would guess predates the Muir’s construction. I hope it doesn’t get immediately painted over in favor of white so that the future patrons of this, soon to be parking lot spot, will get to see some history.
About a month ago, it was published in the El Paso Times and in the El Paso Inc that the current owners of the Muir Building want to tear it down. As you might have guessed this has already stirred the pot between historians and developers:
I had kind of forgotten about it, but as luck would have it I came across a blog post from the TimeTravelNow Blog. It had a picture of the Muir building from about the 1950s:
This happy bustling scene is a sharp contrast to what the location looks like now:
It got me thinking a bit. That contrast highlights the challenges that we’ll face in the coming years as we try to wrestle back vibrancy to our downtown after years of neglect. We have had a few redevelopment shining stars, namely the Plaza Theater and the recent Mills Building remodels. My fear is that like the Muir building, much of our historic buildings are to far gone to salvage.
City council has moved forward with the historic decision to approve the destruction of city hall to make way for a AAA baseball stadium. El Paso will soon be facing some serious development vs. cultural vs. design aesthetic choices to make. Right next to City Hall are some significant historic buildings like the Scottish Rite Temple. There are many more behind it, in the Old San Francisco Historic District. Will the historic guidelines the city has established for the area hold true? Does it apply to the design of the Stadium?
The great beast ASARCO has already been slain and the government is winding up its far reaching public corruption scandal. Downtown development is our next great battle royal and the factions are lining up to take sides. Break out the popcorn, this will be a fun fight to watch.
Update (10/10/2012): the El Paso Inc has a updated article regarding this issue, check it out here: Preservation vs. Progress by Robert Grey
Update (11/13/2012): KVIA is reporting that the council has reversed an earlier decision and decided to let the building be demolished