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Mills Building
El Paso, Texas


Description: The Mills Building
Other Names: none
Address: 303 North Oregon Street at Mills Avenue, El Paso, El Paso County, Texas
Type: commercial: office with street level stores
Original Client: Anson Mills
Historic Inventory: Texas Historic Civil Engineering Landmark
Date: 1910-1911
Condition: extant

Architect or Firm: Henry C. Trost
Associated Architect or Firm: Trost & Trost; John J. Stewart, supervising architect
Contractors: H. L. Stevens Construction Company, Atlanta and Houston
Dimensions and Orientation: 12 stories, L-shaped; approximately 74 feet on Mills Street, including the curve, x 145 feet on Oregon; entries on both streets
Budget/Cost: $300,000

Foundation: concrete
Wall Materials: exposed reinforced concrete
Roofing Materials: flat
Other Materials Used:
Remodeling and Additions: basement remodeled by Trost & Trost for Modern Cafe in 1916 cost $8,000.00; remodeled by Trost & Trost, 1928 and 1940; remodeled by Greener & Sumner, 1974-1975 (See Remarks [5])Remodeled basement by Trost& Trost, September 30,1916

Present Owner: Franklin Land and Resources Inc., a subsidiary of El Paso Electric Co. Current owner Paul Foster

Location of Drawings: El Paso Public Library: (C-7) five ink on linen sheets, and one ink on linen drawing for alteration, Commission 2768, dated July, 1928, and one blue print for the latter; (C-8) one tissue for alteration, Commission 2943, dated November 7, 1940; (C-3) one tissue for alteration of one store, dated January 15, 1941; (WW-8) blue line, 8 sheets of designs by Greener & Sumner for remodeling, Commission 74350, dated November 1,1974
Location of Documentary Photographs: El Paso Public Library: Aultman, A5017, A5598, A5424, early perspective view; A5336, under construction with workmen; A5739, A5316, perspective view, original condition; 149, 148, 1620; Mills file: 2, 3, 5; A5841, from San Jacinto Park before Hilton was built; A5073, A5712, A5783, under construction, about floor 6 or 7; A5306, under construction, 9th floor; A5286, view of the Southwest side; other photographers, E.P. 1930-1960 file: 9063; Aultman EP 1930-1940, aerial view of downtown El Paso showing the Mills Building; C-260, aerial view of downtown El Paso showing the Mills Building; one of the Golden Jubilee photographs, made May 16, 1923, includes an aerial view of downtown El Paso with the Mills Building visible (given to the El Paso Public Library along with a letter describing the gift, Walter Bender to Maud Sullivan, May 29, 1923); Arizona State University, Luhrs Collection, as seen from the Cortez Hotel

Bibliography: (1) Lloyd C. and June F. Engelbrecht, Henry C. Trost: Architect of the Southwest (El Paso: El Paso Public Library Association, 1981), pages 55-58, 77, 99, 104-105 and 116 (discussed); page 56-57 (illustrated with exterior photograph and floor plan); pages 127-128 (bibliographical notes)
(2) Department of Planning, Research and Development, City of El Paso, El Paso’s Forgotten Past; Historic Preservation (El Paso: author, 1977), page 12 (exterior photographs of the Mills Building made in ca. 1944 and in 1977; the 1977 photographs show the restoration of 1974-1975 by Greener & Sumner, described in the text)
(3) Evan Haywood Antone, editor, Portals at the Pass; El Paso Area Architecture to 1930 (El Paso: El Paso Chapter, American Institute of Architects, 1984), pages 34-37 (discussed, illustrated with early photographs and with 1983 drawings by Morris A. Brown)
(4) Landmark Commission Asks Council Assist on Buildings, El Paso Times, November 15, 1978, page 1B (reference to a proposal to restore the exterior to its previous condition [i. e., to reverse the changes made in 1974-1975])
(5) Ed Kimble, City’s `First Skyscraper’ To Be Recognized, El Paso Times, June 18, 1979, page 1C (history of the building and its ownership; report on dedication of the Mills Building as an official Texas historic site)
(6) Jay C. Henry, Architecture in Texas: 1895-1945(Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993), pages 47-48, discussed; figure 3.11
(7) El Paso Herald September 30,1916 shows Trost & Trost as chosen to make plans for remodeling the basement of the Mills Building, which will be converted into one of the finest restaurants at cost of $8,000
(8) El Paso Herald September 30, 1916 page 10 “Restaurant in Mills Building’

Remarks: (1) Trost & Trost had its office in the Mills Building from the time of its completion until 1920 or 1921.
(2) Correspondence concerning the Mills Building, principally between Anson Mills and Horace B. Stevens, covering the years 1906 through 1916, is in the Special Collections of the Library of the University of Texas at El Paso.
(3) A portion of the Mills Building was once used by the adjoining White House department store.
(4) The Texas Historic Civil Engineering Landmark status was awarded as an early use of reinforced concrete to a multistory building.
(5) In the 1974-1975 remodeling, the double-hung windows were removed and reflective glass installed; matching tempered glass was installed over the spandrels, to create continuous vertical ribbons. The original entry porches had been removed previously.
(6) In their book cited in item 1 in the Bibliography, above, the authors wrote, on page 58: because of its size, its pleasing lines, and its bold use of concrete, the Mills Building deserves to be ranked among the most significant of the pioneer efforts to incorporate reinforced concrete into serious architectural practice.
(7) El Paso Herald, January 26,1910 page 13, reports Trost & Trost preparing plans for the remodeling of the Mill Building at St. Louis and Oregon at a total cost between $65,000 and $80,000.

The Mills Building stands on the site of the 1827 Jose Maria Ponce de Leon Ranch. Anson Mills served as district surveyor in El Paso until 1860. He acquired part interest in the property in 1859.

In 1883 Mills and Judge J.F. Crosby erected the Grand Central Hotel on this location.  A three story structure. Another story was added in 1886. In 1896, a fire destroyed the building. Then around 1899, Mills bought his partner’s interest ($15,000)  and began construction of a two story hotel and mercantile. In 1906, he razed that edifice to erect this large office building. Construction for the Mills building began in 1909 and the eight story completed in 1911. By 1915 four more floors were added, for a total of twelve stories. Mills died in 1924 and the building was left to Anson’s daughter, Constance Mills Overton. She gave half the property and building to her husband, Winfield S. Overton. In the 1940s the building and property was given to their daughters and their families. Mabel Overton Cotter, bought out her relatives’ interest and became owner in 1959. The building was owned by the Mills family until 1965.

In 1916, Trost & Trost drew plans for the remodeling of the Mills building basement. The plans called for the basement to be converted into one of the finest restaurants in the southwest. The cost for the alterations was approximately $8,000.

The Modern Cafe opened on Sunday, December 24,1916. The cafe served breakfast, lunch and dinner. A lunch counter was installed for the busy businessmen of El Paso. The dining room provided full dinner service and a full orchestra provided music for dancing.

In 1929, the White House Department Store took over the Modern Cafe. The plan was to enlarge the facilities and to upgrade the comforts for its patrons.

Prepared for the El Paso Public Library by Lloyd C. and June F. Engelbrecht under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, 1993