Merrick Building El Paso

 
 

 

 

MERRICK BUILDING_El Paso

 

 View is from El Paso HABS web site

 

The Merrick Building (St. Charles Hotel, Hollywood Café), 301-303 South El Paso Street, El Paso, Texas, designed by architects John J. Stewart and William J. Carpenter, was built in 1887. The state-of-the-art building was built for Charles Merrick and his brother who operated a men’s clothing store on the first floor.  Within months of the completion of the construction contract on June 15, 1887 they ran into financial difficulties and by October 1901 all ownership had been transferred to Joseph Magoffin, one of El Paso’s earliest pioneers.

The firm Stewart and Carpenter first appeared in the El Paso City Directories of 1888, with an office at the corner of West Overland Avenue and South El Paso Street. Mr. Stewart had been practicing architecture in El Paso since 1881, but this is the first of only two designs attributed to the partnership.  The other was the Myar Opera House, which like the Merrick Building was an ornate structure with Romanesque features, was destroyed by fire in 1905.

As reported in the About Wm. J. Carpenter  page, Mr. Carpenter had left Baltimore about 1885 and his travels before arriving in El Paso are unknown, but this is his first known recorded signature architectural design.

It is noted that the Merrick Building is one of the most extensively detailed buildings in the South El Paso Street area.  The building is an example of a commercial structure with Queen Anne and Romanesque details. A very complete detailed description is documented in the Historic American Buildings Survey  conducted by the Department of the Interior in 1980. Some of the highlights  are noted here.  The original storefront was constructed of large panel glass in wood frames with cast iron columns. Mr. Carpenter had gained experience with the use of cast iron framing while associated with E. G. Lind in Baltimore.  This was his first opportunity to apply the principles to a signature design with the panel glass extending nearly the entire length of the storefront. The secondary entrance on the north facade was also of panel glass with cast iron pilasters.

The three-story with basement building is 44 feet by 97 feet.  It was constructed of brick laid in common bond with rusticated, random ashlar sandstone facing on the ground floor of the north elevation.  The dogwood blossom patterned stained glass windows in transoms were intact along the storefront in 1980.  Many other decorative features of terra cotta, tin and cast iron will be noted in the photographs. An archival photograph from about 1900 shows that there were, at one time, corbelled, decorative chimneys on either side of the pediment  and that a similar parapet existed on the east (front) elevation.  The basement is a large, open room with stone walls and a dirt floor. The first floor interior was originally a large, rectangular open space with an 18 foot high ceiling

The second and third stories have been known as the St. Charles Hotel since 1890 (1980)Each of these floors was subdivided into ten hotel rooms which measure approximately 200 square feet. There were two restrooms on each floor on the west wall.  Four rooms on each floor feature projecting three-sided bays.  The hotel area was converted to apartments in 1996.  The Hollywood Café and other businesses continue to occupy the first floor.

Soon after discovering Mr. Carpenter’s connection with El Paso I made contact with Mr. Troy Ainsworth, Ph.D. Historic Preservation Officer, El Paso, TX,  He was very helpful, and in the course of our correspondence he offered the following, which I found quite interesting considering that today El Paso is a major city of over 600,000 population.  It also gives us an idea of the type of developing area which Mr. Carpenter seems to have sought to hang out his shingle with such remarkable timing during his career.

“…, I offer this little passage from the City Directory of the City of El Paso for 1886-87 about the architectural growth of El Paso at the time your grandfather was in El Paso: “A little more than four years ago there were less than 200 persons here, all told; no railroads, no modern improvements, nothing but a few old adobe structures; and the town was almost unworthy of a name. To-day we have five railroads—the prospect just spoken of for the completion of others—and we have a population of at least 5,500 as wide awake and intelligent people as can anywhere be found. The old adobe buildings are fast giving way to business blocks as substantial and elegant as can be found in Texas; while of residence property there has been erected, on all sides of the business center, properties which have transformed an open common into a beautiful city of comfortable and elegant homes.” (Thanks to Troy Ainsworth)

I have very little information on the Opera House other than a couple of brief citations on web sites, but will report what I know on it in a few days.  Anyone with more information about it please make a comment.  Thanks, Jack

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8 Comments »

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  1. I have a picture of my father eating at Hollywood Cafe in the late 1930s or early 1940s. He used to take me and my brother there when we were little. I’m writing my childhood memories for my children and this history is very interesting for them to know.

    • Hello Mary Lou,
      Glad you found the blog helpful. If you would like to post the picture of your father in the cafe please do so. Jack

  2. I am very familiar with this building. My great uncle owned and ran the Hollywood Café.

    • Mary Lou: Interesting. Thanks for looking. Do you have any pictures or history that we can post here? Jack

  3. What was your great uncle’s name?

    • Carmen
      Grandfather Wm. James Carpenter had two brothers, Edward Wallace Carpenter, born 1855 and Lewis Carpenter, born, 1859. Hope this helps. If you have information on either please let me know. Jack Carpenter

  4. My grandmother used to work at the Hollywood cafe Margarita Hernandez and knew the owner. I was hoping to get some photos or other information on him to share with her to stroll down memory lane. Thanks! Carmen

    • Carmen
      I’m sorry it too me so long to reply. The National Register of Historic Places has a lot of info and pictures on the Merrick building that you may find interesting. Jack


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