Renovation work is set to begin on one of the more unique neo-classical buildings in downtown El Paso.
Originally built to house any number of different-sized offices on its upper floors, with retail on the ground level, the Abdou is one of a handful of downtown El Paso structures treasured by preservationists and historians for the way it was put together.
Designed by the celebrated architect Henry Trost, the building, says Daniel Carey-Whalen, the chairman of the El Paso Historic Landmark Commission, is “the second of five buildings built by Trost on a two-block stretch of Mesa Avenue between 1909 and 1910.”
“It is most notable in that it was Trost’s first completely exposed concrete building in which both the structural and decorative components were made out of reinforced concrete.”
Architect Bill Helm, a principal with the El Paso-based Situ Architecture, says that the concrete aspect is more historically important than might be casually imagined.
“The building was completed before there was even a city code,” says Helm, “which means they were testing ideas and technology that were not even yet codified.”
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the elegantly simple structure at 115 N. Mesa Street, which was officially opened in 1910, has gone through several owners, as well as some physical changes, before being purchased by its current owners.
Those owners, comprising the Urban Lions LLC firm, announced plans last year to renovate and upgrade the Abdou, respecting in the process its architectural integrity while creating new spaces for luxury apartments and offices on the building’s upper floors.
In September the project took a big leap forward when members of El Paso’s Historic Landmark Commission approved the renovation plans for the 27,000 square-foot structure.
Those plans are not only inspiring people in the city delighted to save and preserve one more Trost masterpiece, but also those interested in promoting the Abdou’s larger downtown surroundings.
“This is really a project signaling the renewal of downtown residential and the establishment of modern market rate downtown residential,” remarks Joe Gudenrath, executive director of El Paso’s Downtown Management District.
“It’s the sort of thing that changes the hours of operation when you have people who are living downtown and are there in the evenings and on weekends,” Gudenrath continues.
“That brings a sense of ownership in the area that really has a dramatic impact,” adds Gudenrath.
Unlike other structures of its era and age, the Abdou has not endured the kind of dramatic downturns in fortune that lead to endemic vacancies, boarded up windows, and vandalism.
“In the past 20 years or so there have always been people living on the upper floors,” says Helm.
Constructed at a cost of $60,000, the building was originally known for housing the Rio Grande Valley Bank and Trust before being purchased by El Paso businessman Sam Abdou in 1925.
It was Abdou who kept the building rented out, even during the Great Depression, seeing the structure house such businesses as the Zales Company and Gantt Jewelry Manufacturing.
The Urban Lions team, in announcing plans for the Abdou’s renovation, have said that it is their goal to repair the exterior concrete of the building, while keeping the windows, interior walls, and marble stairs as much as possible in their original condition.
“The exterior was not covered over at any time, fortunately,” notes Helm.
“But there has been a neglect of maintenance over the years, a lot of the concrete has spalled, so the renovation work will be significant,” Helm adds.
The building will also be seeing an update of its electrical, mechanical, and plumbing systems.
It is expected that upon completion, the updated apartments inside the Abdou could rent for as much as $2,500 a month, in spaces measuring more than 2,000 square feet.
“The demand has been identified and people are lining up to be in these downtown buildings like the Abdou,” says Gudenrath, who additionally describes the project as proof that “we are at the very beginning of what should be a significant residential boom in downtown El Paso.”
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