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Historic Buildings, Linocuts

Esperson Buildings: Historic Houston Structures

Clear view of top of Niels Esperson Building
Posted: December 28, 2016 at 11:25 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

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Historic Houston Buildings

Come along with me and learn about the Esperson Buildings in the central business district of downtown Houston.

The first building originated as a commemorative.  This memorial became the tallest building in all of Texas as well as west of the Mississippi River.  It ranked as the third-largest in all of America back in the year 1927. It was and still is called the Niels Esperson Building.

Looking up at this building through a car window

Looking up at this building through a car window

Niels and Mellie Esperson

This successful power couple met and got married in Oklahoma back in 1893.  In 1903 they moved to Houston.

Niels and his wife Mellie became extremely wealthy.  The Texas oil industry was the source of much of their wealth.  Niels was an early developer of what was called the Humble oilfield.  As Texas crude oil gushed up from the ground and their bank accounts ballooned, the Espersons expanded their interests to include real estate.

Mellie continued her interest in oil, real estate and other business ventures after her husband died in 1922.  Her vast holdings included land, some of which is now the location of the Houston Ship Channel.

Mellie Esperson was an active participant in the Houston Chamber of Commerce as well as many other organizations.  She was a great supporter of the Houston Ship Channel, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Houston Symphony.

Notice the distinctive building in the background from <a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer">Tranquility Park</a>.

Notice the distinctive building in the background from Tranquility Park.

Niels Esperson Building

Mellie wished for this first memorial building named after her husband Niels to be architecturally distinctive.  She traveled to Europe to get some design ideas.  She liked a particular building in Rome that was built in 1502 by Donato Bramante.  It marks the spot in which St. Peter had been crucified.  It is a small temple referred to as a tempietto.  A video below shows this historic structure.

Italian Renaissance Architecture

Mellie employed architect John Eberson to transform her ideas into plans to be executed.

Thus it was that Italian Renaissance architecture with columns, urns, and terraces with a crowning six-story tiered monument on the top of the building became a distinctive part of downtown Houston.  Gold leaf added to the luxurious crowning adornment of the tempietto and illumination at night gave it even more prominence. The Niels Esperson building is 32 stories tall and rises 410 feet from the ground.

Much taller skyscrapers now exist in downtown Houston and have for some time.  Fortunately, they are built some distance away.  So these Esperson buildings can still be viewed without being dwarfed by adjacent structures.

Top of the building

Top of the building

Street view

Street view

Mellie Esperson Building

Completed in 1941 was the adjacent Mellie Esperson Building.  Built during the Great Depression, it offered the most considerable amount of office space in one structure at that time.  It also had central air conditioning, which was a first.

The Mellie Esperson building is 19 stories tall rising 272 feet from the ground.   She used the same architect, John Eberson plus his brother Drew, to draw up the designs for her building. Mellie Esperson is carved upon “her” building, and she had Niels Esperson inscribed onto “his” structure. Mellie died in 1945 and is buried in Forest Park Cemetery.

Ownership and Management

Cameron Management now owns and operates the Esperson Buildings.  They own other classic buildings in downtown Houston as well.

These buildings will long stand as testaments and memorials to this wealthy and influential couple who left their marks upon Houston. The address is 808 Travis St., Houston, Texas 77002.

My original linocut

My original linocut

I created a limited edition linocut of the Esperson Buildings and titled it Crowning Tribute.  It is available for purchase at Perimeter Gallery in Houston, Texas.  Click here if interested.


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