Esperson Buildings: Historic Houston Structures
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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 was built 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 when it was completed in the year 1927. It was and still is called the Niels Esperson Building.
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.
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.
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 from the Niels Esperson building. So these Esperson buildings can still be viewed without being dwarfed by adjacent structures.
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” building. Mellie died in 1945 and is buried in Forest Park Cemetery.
Cameron Management now owns and operates the Esperson Buildings. They own other classic buildings in downtown Houston as well.
The Esperson 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.
I created a limited edition linocut of the Esperson Buildings and titled it Crowning Tribute. It can be purchased at Perimeter Gallery in Houston, Texas. Click here if interested.