From the Editors 29 (2011)Engineer and Editor Juan Hart Moved El Paso Forward 29 (2011)Elizabeth Garrett: Songbird of the Southwest 29 (2011)A Passionate Life: Josephine Clardy Fox 29 (2011)Forgotten No More: Korean War POW Tells Story of Survival 29 (2011)Janice Woods Windle Treasures Family History 29 (2011)Andy and Syd Cohen: The Men Behind the Name 29 (2011)Leona Ford Washington Preserved Black History 29(2011)Ingeborg Heuser Brought Professional Ballet to City 29 (2011)Lee and Beulah Moor Left Legacy of Love 29 (2011)
From the Editors 28 (2010)Chasin’ Away the Blues: Texas Sunday Legislation 28 (2010)Simeon Hart Pioneered Local Industry 28 (2010)Felix Martinez: Southwestern Renaissance Man 28 (2010)Teresa Urrea: La Santa de Cabora Inspired Mexican Revolution 28 (2010)Utopia in Mesilla: The Shalam Colony 28 (2010)Stahmann Farms Produce Pecans on Two Hemispheres 28 (2010)Betty Mary Goetting Brought Birth Control to El Paso 28 (2010)Maud Sullivan Made El Paso Public Library a Cultural Center 28 (2010)Lucy Acosta’s Legacy Continues in LULAC 28 (2010)Belen Robles: Voice for the Latino Community 28 (2010)Toltec Club: Of Ghosts and Guests 28 (2010)
Strong Women Building a Strong City -- From the Editors 27(2008)Notable Women of El Paso 27(2009)The Chew Legacy: The Story of Herlinda Wong Chew 27(2009)Desert Nightingale: Louise Dietrich 27(2009)1909-2009: YWCA Celebrates 100 Years in El Paso 27(2009)Mabel Welch: El Paso’s First Female Architect 27(2009)Myrna Deckert Remains Modest About Achievements 27(2009)Suzie Azar Still Reaches for the Sky 27 (2009)The Moocher: Callie Fairley, First Woman Vice Detective in El Paso 27(2009)Alicia R. Chacón Came to Politics Naturally 27 (2009)Rosa Guerrero: Cultural Dynamo 27 (2009)
From the Past to the Present -- From the Editor 26 (2007/08)Yandell Boulevard Named for Prominent El Paso Physician 26 (2007/08)Japanese Immigrants Came Slowly to Borderland 26 (2007/08)World War II Affected Japanese Immigrants 26 (2007/08)Living, Breathing New Mexico Ghost Town: Hillsboro 26 (2007/08)Canutillo Developed from Land Grant 26 (2007/08)Rómulo Escobar Zerman: Juárez Agronomist and Teacher 26 (2007/08)El Paso Mayor: Tom Lea Jr. 26 (2007/08)Ted Karam: Lebanese Immigrant Lived American Dream 26 (2007/08)Publication Credits 26 (2007/08)
From the Director 25 (2006)First El Paso Protestant Church: St. Clement's 25 (2006)Bowie High School: Always a Bear 25 (2006)Golden Gloves Grew Out of El Paso's Love of Boxing 25 (2006)LULAC Fought Hard to Guarantee Rights 25 (2006)El Paso Women Gained Power in LULAC 25 (2006)McKelligon Canyon: From Cattle to Culture 25 (2006)Tortugas Celebrates Virgen de Guadalupe, San Juan 25 (2006)Bataan Death March and POW Camps 25 (2006)Bataan Survivors Recall Horrors 25 (2006)Anthony Family Had Five Sons in World War II 25 (2006)Sober on the Border 25 (2006)Clyde W. Tombaugh: Farm Boy Reached for the Stars 25 (2006)A Taste of Southwest Wine 25 (2006)
From the Director 24 (2005)From the Editors 24 (2005)Gypsie Davenport and May Palmer Ran Infamous Brothels 24 (2005)Pioneer Attorney William Burges Tackled Unpopular Issues 24 (2005)Richard Fenner Burges: Renaissance Man 24 (2005)Charles Kelly Wielded Power with Political 'Ring' 24 (2005)Tom Charles Wanted World to Know White Sands 24 (2005)Dripping Springs has Rich History 24 (2005)Thomas B. White Directed Innovative La Tuna for 19 Years 24 (2005)Cowboys on the Range --- Missile Range, That Is 24 (2005)Ranchers vs. the Feds: The McNew Saga 24 (2005)Mexican Repatriation in 1930s 24 (2005)White House Department Store 24 (2005)Thomason Hospital Celebrates 90 Years 24 (2005)R.E. Thomason Shaped City, State, Nation 24 (2005)
Postcards from the Past Editor's Column 23 (2004)From the Editors 23 (2004)Solomon C. Schutz Helped Bring Law and Order to El Paso 23 (2004)James Gillett Showed Courage in El Paso 23 (2004)Jim White Explored Carlsbad Caverns for Years 23 (2004)Ben Lilly: Mountain Man of the Southwest 23 (2004)Aldo Leopold Proposed Land Ethics 23 (2004)Escontrias Ranch: A Link to Hueco Tanks Park 23 (2004)Hueco Tanks is Site of Controversy 23 (2004)Marcelino Serna Became World War I Hero 23 (2004)Sam Dreben Soldiered All Over the World 23 (2004)Kern Place Neighborhood: The Man Behind the Name 23 (2004)Farah Manufacturing Now Just a Memory 23 (2004)Texas Knights of Columbus Began in El Paso 23 (2004)
Look for Us on the Web - Editor's Column 22 (2003)From the Editors 22 (2003)Victorio Fought to the Death for Homeland 22 (2003)O. T. Bassett and Charles R. Morehead 22 (2003)S. H. Newman: Pioneer Newspaperman Fought Vice 22 (2003)Elfego Baca Lived More Than Nine Lives 22 (2003)Woman's Club Has Long Served City 22 (2003)Cathedral's Beauty Pleases 22 (2003)Albert J. Fountain's Achievements Eclipsed by Mysterious Death 22 (2003)Albert B. Fall's Career Ended in Disgrace 22 (2003)Cloudcroft Baby Sanatorium Saved Many 22 (2003)Dale Resler Worked Hard for El Paso 22 (2003)Price's Dairy Still Family Owned 22 (2003)Woodlawn Bottling Brought Pepsi to Town 22 (2003)Union Depot Witnessed Growth of El Paso 22 (2003)
We're Now on the Web --From the Editor 21(2002)From the Editors 21(2002)Downtown Opium Dens Attracted Many 21(2002)Juneteenth Celebrates Freedom for Texas Slaves 21(2002)Black Cowboys Rode the Trails, Too 21(2002)Ku Klux Klan Had Short Life in El Paso 21(2002)Mining Became Big Business in Southwest 21(2002)Smeltertown Still Exists in Memories 21 (2002)El Paso Played Important Role in the Mexican Revolution 21 (2002)Pancho Villa Led Northern Forces in Revolution 21 (2002)Soldaderas Played Important Roles in Revolution 21 (2002)Pershing, Villa Forever Linked to Columbus 21 (2002)Cristeros Became Mexican Martyrs 1926-1929 -- 21 (2002)Houchen Settlement House Helped New Arrivals 21 (2002)Otis A. Aultman Captured Border History in Pictures 21 (2002)
Hot Springs Have Long HistoryThe Building of a City -- From the Editor 20 (2001)From the Staff (Volume 20)Pat Garrett Enjoyed Controversy 20 (2001)Marshal Dallas Stoudenmire Terrorized Town 20 (2001)History Reveals Rivalry of Madams Etta Clark and Alice Abbott 20 (2001)Kohlberg, Krupp, Zielonka Became Business and Civic Leaders 20 (2001)Olga Kohlberg Pioneered Many Local Organizations 20 (2001)Henry Trost's Architectural Legacy Lives On 20 (2001)Sunset Heights Preserves History 20 (2001)Adolph Schwartz Built Local Retail Dynasty 20 (2001)Zach T. White Brought Progress to El Paso 20 (2001)Masons Became Leaders in Texas, El Paso 20 (2001)Smallpox Epidemic Showed Need for Hospitals20 (2001)El Paso High School Remains Classic 20 (2001)Bhutanese Architecture Distinguishes UTEP Campus 20 (2001)Elephant Butte Dam Solved Early Water Problems 20 (2001)
Pioneer Ranch became Concordia Cemetery 19 (2000)El Paso Grows Up 19 (2000)From the Staff 19 (2000)Chinese Immigrants Helped Build Railroad in El Paso 19 (2000)Volunteer Fire Department Grew into Professional Company 19 (2000)1880s Brought First Theaters to Town 19 (2000)Sisters of Charity Began Hotel Dieu Hospital 19 (2000)Tuberculosis Turned El Paso Into a Health Center 19 (2000)First Public School Built in 1884 19 (2000)Enigmatic Olivas Aoy Began School for Mexican Children 19 (2000)El Paso Public Library Began Modestly 19 (2000)Jesuits Continue to Influence Area 19 (2000)Sisters of Loretto Have Long Tradition in Southwest 19 (2000)Mormons Found Sanctuary in Mexico in 1880s 19 (2000)Mennonite Colonies in Mexico Accept Change Slowly 19 (2000)Flu Epidemic of 1918 Hit El Paso Hard 19 (2000)Early City Planners Saw Future in Scenic Drive 19 (2000)Prohibition Stimulated Economies of El Paso, Juárez 19 (2000)
The Editor's Column : The Building of a City 18 (1999)From the Editors 18 (1999)Magoffinsville Had Lasting Influence on El Paso 18 (1999)Town of El Paso Grew from Pioneer Settlements 18 (1999)Downtown El Paso Is Monument to Anson Mills 18 (1999)1848 War With Mexico Created Southwest 18 (1999)Colonel Doniphan and Volunteers Won Battle of Brazito 18 (1999)Gadsden Purchase Clarified U.S. Boundaries 18 (1999)Early Fort Bliss Occupied Pioneer Sites 18 (1999)Henry O. Flipper Paved Way for Integration of Military 18 (1999)Buffalo Soldiers Defended Western Frontier 18 (1999)El Paso Was Midpoint of Overland Mail Service 18 (1999)Salt War of 1877 Divided Southwest Residents 18 (1999)Geronimo Led Final Fight 18 (1999)Apache Indians Defended Homelands in Southwest 18 (1999)Texas Rangers Helped Keep Order on Frontier 18 (1999)Sarah Bowman and Tillie Howard: Madams of the 1800s 18 (1999)El Paso Grew Up with Arrival of Railroad 18 (1999)
Aztecs Ruled Complex, Rich Society 17 (1998)From the Editor 17 (1998)Aztec Beliefs Helped Conquer Mexico 17 (1998)Cortés Created New Order in Mexico 17 (1998)La Malinche Remains Controversial 17 (1998)Cabeza de Vaca: Travels in Texas 17 (1998)Estebán Furthered Legend of Cíbola 17 (1998)Coronado Searched for Cities of Gold 17 (1998)Oñate Conquered Desert to Explore Southwest 17 (1998)Festival Celebrates Oñate's Historic Arrival 17 (1998)Fray Garcia Left Great Legacy 17 (1998)Franciscans Brought Catholicism to Area 17 (1998)America's First Highway: El Camino Real 17 (1998)Pueblo Revolt Brought Tiguas South 17 (1998)Tigua Indians Survive 300 Years of Ordeals 17 (1998)Area Missions are Part of Living History 17 (1998)San Elizario Presidio Protected Settlers 17 (1998)Ethnic Terms Can Cause Confusion 17 (1998)
Oasis Restaurants Symbolized ‘50s Teen Scene 13 (1995)‘50s Cars Changed American Lifestyle And Image 13 (1995)Chevy Bel Air Charmed 1950 Car Buyers 13 (1995)San Jacinto Plaza Remains Heart Of Downtown El Paso 13 (1995)Smokey Bear: A Legend Is Made 13 (1995)El Paso's Company E Survivors Remember Rapido River Assaults 13 (1995)Company E Survivor Recalls Days As Prisoner Of War 13 (1995)El Paso Red Cross Essential to War Effort 13 (1995)World War II Took its Toll On The Home Front 13 (1995)Civil Air Patrol Protected Border During World War II -- 13 (1995)Quickie Divorces Granted in Juárez 13 (1995)Atomic Bomb Developed In Southwest 13 (1995)Former Crew Members On B-17s Remember Tough Times 13 (1995)Vintage Warplanes Keep Past Alive 13 (1995)The Cavalry Bugler: Essential To Horse and Man 13 (1995)Sun Carnival 1936 Style 13 (1995)H. Arthur Brown: El Paso Symphony Guru Of The ‘30s -- 13 (1995)Swing Music Helped Dispel The Blues Of The ‘30s and ‘40s -- 13 (1995)The General Store: A Hidden Treasure Of The Past 13 (1995)
Change on the Border 15 (1997)From the Editor 15 (1997)Latinos Work To Change Stereotypes In Hollywood 15 (1997)Cesar Chávez: Simple Man, People’s Hero 15 (1997)Shelter For Farm Workers Becomes Reality 15 (1997)Women’s Shelter Helps To Heal The Pain 15 (1997)Home Schools Become Popular Alternative 15 (1997)Renovation May Revive Downtown El Paso 15 (1997)Title IX Changed Women's Sports 15 (1997)Special Olympics Shine In El Paso 15 (1997)La Fe Clinic Serves South El Paso 15 (1997)ASARCO Works To Clean Up Its Act 15 (1997)A Growing Phenomenon: Single Fathers 15 (1997)Stepfamilies Become More Numerous 15 (1997)Teens Rebel Against Authority 15 (1997)Comics Retain Popularity 15 (1997)Tom Moore And Archie Have Timeless Appeal 15 (1997)
Life on the Border: 1950s & 1960s --14 (1996)From The Editors 14 (1996)A Baseball Team By Any Other Name 14 (1996)Drive-In Theaters Appealed to all Ages 14 (1996)El Paso Trolley First to Connect Two Nations 14 (1996)Barbie Doll Revolutionized Toy Industry 14 (1996)Rabies Took Bite of Sun City 14 (1996)Rabies: A Deadly Virus 14 (1996)Border Patrol Used Variety of Methods to Control Immigration 14 (1996)L. A. Nixon Fought Texas Voting Law 14 (1996)Douglass School Served Black Community Well 14 (1996)Thelma White Case Forced College Integration 14 (1996)Steve Crosno: An El Paso Original 14 (1996)Rock 'N' Roll Defined Teen Culture 14 (1996)A Shopping Mall by the People for the People 14 (1996)Chamizal Dispute Settled Peacefully 14 (1996)Turney Mansion Becomes Work of Art 14 (1996)First Hispanic Mayor Elected in 1957 -- 14 (1996)Flower Children Chose Alternative Lifestyle 14 (1996)
Three Decades of History 12 (1994)From the Editors 12 (1994)The Plaza Theater…Here to Stay!? 12 (1994)El Paso Broadcasting: The Stories Behind the Call Letters 12 (1994)Alphabet Agencies: FDR's Brainstorm 12 (1994)Chihuahuita in the 1930s: Tough Times in the Barrio 12 (1994)Hobo Sign Language Targeted El Paso 12 (1994)Self- Sufficiency Key to Farmers' Survival During Depression 12 (1994)Hanna's Story A Holocaust Survivor Remembers 12 (1994)Former Members Recall Life in Hitler Youth 12 (1994)German Prisoners of War Interned at Fort Bliss During World War II -- 12 (1994)German POWs Remembered at Fort Bliss 12 (1994)One German POW's Story 12 (1994)Ration Books and Victory Gardens: Coping with Shortages 12 (1994)Women Changed Wartime Work Patterns 12 (1994)Bracero Program Hurt Domestic Farm Workers 12 (1994)San Pedro Pharmacy Retains Look of the Past 12 (1994)Teenage Fashions of the Nifty Fifties 12 (1994)Rebel Image of Motorcyclists Set in 1950s -- 12 (1994)
Border Customs and Crafts From the Editor 10 (1992)From the Editors 10 (1992)King on the Mountain 10 (1992)Piñatas! 10 (1992)How to Play the Piñata Game 10 (1992)Out of a Cotton Boll Bloom Beautiful Crafts 10 (1992)Cotton Boll Entertains Too 10 (1992)Hands That Create Art and Soul 10 (1992)La Charreada - Mexican Horsemanship 10 (1992)Boots - A Family Tradition 10 (1992)Some Boys Still Grow Up to be Cowboys 10 (1992)Boot Capital of the World 10 (1992)The Magic of Mariachis 10 (1992)Ballet Folklorico - High School Style 10 (1992)New Generation of Mariachis 10 (1992)The Lady is a Bullfighter 10 (1992)The Midwife: Choices for Border Women 10 (1992)Retablos: Echoes of Faith 10 (1992)Tigua Indians: Dancing for St. Anthony 10 (1992)The Aztec and the Miracle 10 (1992)A Hispanic Girl's Coming of Age 10 (1992)Art - Low and Slow 10 (1992)Wedding Traditions on the Border 10 (1992)
Border Food Folkways From the Editor 9 (1991)From the Staff 9 (1991)Tortillas: Border Staff of Life 9 (1991)The Booming Tortilla Industry in Mexico 9 (1991)Where's The Beef? In El Paso! 9 (1991)How Do I Love Thee, Piggy? Let Me Count the Ways! 9 (1991)Tamales By Any Other Name Remain The Same 9 (1991)Rio Grande Thanksgiving 9 (1991)The Tigua Indians: Food for Thought 9 (1991)Corn: The Golden Gift from Our Ancestors 9 (1991)Border Pottery - Function and Beauty 9 (1991)Holy Hot Mole! 9 (1991)Looking Back at the Chile Pepper 9 (1991)Men Behind the Chile Pepper 9 (1991)Hot Peppers : They're Not Just for Eating 9 (1991)Food, Spices Double as Folk Cures 9 (1991)Weeds or Edible Desert Plants? 9 (1991)Cactus: It's Good for You! 9 (1991)Day of the Dead Celebrates Spiritual Tradition 9 (1991)Nutricious, Delicious Beans 9 (1991)Menudo Makes The Big Time 9 (1991)Mediterranean Cuisine: Old Tradition, Fresh Idea 9 (1991)Lenten Foods: From Fasting to Fabulous 9 (1991)Tarahumaras Rely on Nature for Food 9 (1991)Tempting Sweet Breads : Pan de Dulce 9 (1991)
Border Customs and Crafts II From the Editor -- 11 (1993)From the Editors 11 (1993)The Best Little Asaderos in Texas 11 (1993)Glass Work Disappearing on Border 11 (1993)Cockfights Legal in Surrounding Areas 11 (1993)Local Craftsmen Keep Art of Saddlery Alive 11 (1993)James and Joseph Magoffin: El Paso Pioneers 11 (1993)Chile Ristras Brighten Border Homes 11 (1993)Magoffin Home Preserves El Paso's Past 11 (1993)Bavarian Custom Celebrated in El Paso: Oktoberfest 11 (1993)Munich on the Border 11 (1993)Santo Niño de Atocha Called Miracle Worker 11 (1993)Lenten Customs Vary 11 (1993)To Ask is to Receive 11 (1993)Border Maintains Tradition of Posadas 11 (1993)A Visit from Three Kings 11 (1993)Matachines: Soldiers of the Virgin 11 (1993)Dichos Are an Intricate Part of Mexican Culture 11 (1993)Cultural Superstitions Affect Behavior 11 (1993)Que Onda Homeboy! Why Do We Talk Like This? 11 (1993)Traditional Hispanic Children's Games Disappear 11 (1993)
El Paso Women to ResearchEl Paso Women to Research (by name)El Paso Men to ResearchEl Paso Men to Research (by name)
From the Editors 30 (2012)From the Editor, Credits and Contents 30 (2012)Jessie Hawkins and Jenna Welch: Love, Loss and Laughter 30 (2012)Woodrow Wilson Bean: One in a Million 30 (2012)David L. Carrasco Gave Back to Hometown 30 (2012)Cleofas Calleros Made Local History Important 30 (2012)Robert E. McKee: From Rags to Riches to Philanthropy 30 (2012)Kate Moore Brown: A Woman of Many Firsts 30 (2012)Fun in the 1890s: The McGinty Club 30 (2012)
Borderlands Web Issue From the Editor 31(2013/14)Acknowledgements 31(2013/14)Mother Praxedes Carty: Serving God by Serving Others 31(2013/14)Carrie Tingley Hospital and the Couple Behind It 31 (2013/14)Harvey Girls Changed the West 31(2013/14)Jake Erlich: A Big Man in Many Ways 31(2013/14)Vernus Carey: Mr. YMCA 31(2013/14)
Borderlands 32 Tolerance. From the Editors and Acknowledgements 32(2014/15)Henry Kellen Created El Paso Holocaust Museum 32(2014/15)Bicycle Padre Still Working 32(2014/15)El Paso Connections: Ambrose Bierce: writer 32(2014/15)Mysterious Deaths: Bobby Fuller, Rock Icon 32(2014/15)Mysterious Deaths: Tom Ogle, Inventor 32(2014/15)Jake Erlich: A Big Man in Many Ways 32(2014)Harvey Girls Changed the West 32(2014)
Borderlands 33 Service. From the Editors and Acknowledgements 33(2015)Nothing Is Impossible: Major General Heidi V. Brown 33 (2015)Local Latino Soldiers Receive Medal of Honor Decades after Heroism 33 (2015)Vernus Carey: Mr. YMCA 33 (2015)Will the Real Leon Blevins Please stand up? 33 (2015)Carrie Tingley Hospital and the Couple Behind It 33 (2015)Mother Praxedes Carty: Serving God by Serving Others 33 (2015)
Borderlands 34 Inspiration. From the Editors and Acknowledgements 34(2016/17)Building Bridges Instead of Walls: Temple Mount Sinai 34 (2016/17)Ruben Salazar: A Bridge Between Two Societies 34 (2016/17)Luis Jimenez: Art Creates Dialogue 34 (2016/17)Richard "Tuff" Hedeman: The Michael Jordan of Professional Bull Riding 34 (2016/17)Rescue Mission of El Paso Provides Food and Opportunity 34 (2016/17)
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Mabel Welch: El Paso’s First Female Architect

Article first published in Vol. 27, 2009.

By Elizabeth Torres, Javier Medina and Ruth Vise

Mabel Welch, El Paso's first woman architect


View PDF version

A wife and mother in her 20s. A widow and the sole owner of a construction business at 35. A University student at 46. A registered architect at 49.

In today’s American culture, women are encouraged to follow their dreams regardless of age. But for a woman who moved from Mississippi to Texas in 1900 in a covered wagon to marry late, have her first child at almost 30, run a successful business and go to a university in her 40s in the early part of the twentieth century was most unusual. Mabel Clair Vanderburg Welch never blinked an eye. As she once said, “Things had to be done, and I managed to get them done.”

Image caption:  Mabel Welch designed and built many homes in El Paso.  (Photo courtesy of the El Paso Historical Society)

Mabel Welch accompanied her husband from DeKalb, Texas, to El Paso in 1916, looking for a cure for his tuberculosis. Born near Longtown, Mississippi, she would not only embrace her new home but become the first woman architect in El Paso and only the second registered one in Texas.

Following graduation from high school, Mabel Vanderburg served apprenticeships in both millinery and interior decoration, traditional female pursuits in her day. These two artistic endeavors would serve her well both in helping her husband with his building company and later when she herself began building homes.

Mabel Welch built houseAfter courting for five years, Malcolm and Mabel married in 1915. During an Army physical, Malcolm was told he had TB and a doctor recommended that he come to dry West Texas. Malcolm took three years to convalesce, and although he had been a successful merchant in DeKalb, he began building houses in El Paso, an occupation that would keep him outside in the soothing dry air he and Mabel had come to love. Having built houses on a farm he owned, Malcolm began financing homes for El Paso residents and by 1920 began building homes in earnest.

Image caption:  The home at 3021 Federal Ave. sits high above the street.  Photo by Javier Medina, Jr.

From the beginning, Mabel was an active part of Welch Construction Company. She did all the drawings for the houses her husband built, as well as the interior decorating. He built houses on Trowbridge Drive, Pershing Drive, Tularosa Avenue, Hastings Drive – all over Central El Paso – and in the Lower Valley, all of dark brick with white trim and black lines around screen doors. The couple would move into a newly built house until it was sold. In a 1960 interview Mabel said, “For five years we did not occupy the same house over two months at a time. My husband built them and I furnished them.”

Three years after their arrival in El Paso, their only child, Elvin Carl, was born in December 1919. Even though Mabel Welch called herself “old fashioned” for believing that “women who have a good economic position should not work,” she herself was not only a wife and mother but a draftswoman and decorator and part owner of a successful company in the 1920s.

In 1924, Malcolm’s TB became active again and Mabel had to finish a house under construction. While her husband was in the hospital, Mabel built the home she lived in most of her life at 3131 Wheeling Ave. The house was designed as a duplex, with her tubercular husband living in quarantine in the east side which opened to a porch where he could talk with his building crews. As an adult, his son Elvin recalled the only way he and his dad could communicate while the latter was quarantined was to wave to each other from their respective sides of this uniquely designed house.

Mabel Welch built houseIn a typed autobiography her son recently presented to the El Paso County Historical Society, Mabel Welch noted that at first, the men who worked for her husband refused to work for a woman. So she replaced them and had “no more trouble.” She proceeded to build nine homes in the 3100 block of Wheeling Avenue and a total of 15 on the street in order to be close to her son and husband. During this time, Malcolm advised his wife on financial matters, building techniques and methods of dealing with building crews, and she learned every part of the business. In 1927, Malcolm died, and Mabel became the sole owner of the construction business, drawing all the plans, supervising the building, and even keeping the books.

Image caption: This home at 2619 Altura Ave. features a supporting beam taken from the old Santa Fe Bridge to Juárez. Photo by Elizabeth Torres.

At the time of Malcolm’s death, the Welches had a home under construction which had to be completed or Mabel would have lost the $10,000 bond. She needed money to complete construction and also to build other houses nearby, so she went to Sam Young, then president of El Paso National Bank, who lent her the money immediately, despite the fact that widows were poor financial risks in her day. In her autobiography, Mabel said that Young lent her money because he “had never seen me dancing or partying in Juárez.”

Mabel had begun building Spanish style homes before her husband’s death. Having discovered Spanish architecture in California while on a vacation, she thought the style complemented El Paso’s culture more than the Eastern red brick bungalow style that was then popular. She showed Malcolm one of her early Spanish houses on 2915 Wheeling Ave. on the way to the hospital for the last time before he died. “It’s very beautiful,” he said.

Mabel Welch built houseHer second such design was at 2731 Wheeling Ave. and then three elaborate two-story houses followed in Castle Heights below Manhattan Heights. From then on, Mabel Welch would be known for her Spanish-Mediterranean designs – with wrought iron decoration, red tile roofs, arches, balconies, and courtyards.

Image caption:  The right side of the home at 3100 Federal Ave. shows the red tile roof, arches, balcony, and white stucco walls that Welch loved.  Photo by Javier Medina, Jr.

While many builders went out of business during the Depression, Welch did not. She sold her medium-priced houses as quickly as they were built. In 1934, the Women’s Division of the Chamber of Commerce began an architectural program in El Paso to support the use of Spanish design. Welch herself wrote, “A city with our historical background and geographical location should have an architectural flavor appropriate to, and typical of, our surrounding culture.” In 1935, the city presented her with an official commendation for changing the predominant style of architecture in El Paso from American bungalow to Mediterranean.

Mabel Welch built houseIn 1936, Welch studied architecture and related subjects at the University of Chicago. In 1937, Mabel Welch began studying with George Washington Smith of Santa Barbara, the foremost authority on Spanish Colonial Revival architecture in California and credited for that state’s love affair with the style. She also studied Spanish architecture in Mexico City and San Antonio. In 1939, the Society of American Registered Architects admitted Mabel Welch, El Paso’s first woman so honored.

Image caption:  The home at 3101 Gold Ave. was built in 1952. Photo by Elizabeth Torres.

The first expensive Spanish style home that Welch built was at 3100 Gold Ave. for the Paul Harvey family. With walls two feet thick, as many as five layers of tile on the roof, heavy wooden beams to support the tile and ironwork made to look old, the house caused Welch to hire Mexican artisans to produce many of the Spanish techniques, as American workers did not have the needed skills. Welch writes in her autobiography that she hired a Mexican wood carver to carve the faces of the Harvey children on the ceiling beams of the living room and other decorations throughout the home.

Mabel Welch built houseWelch also built huge homes on Rim Road for prominent families, including A. B. Poe, J. P. Kemp and F. P. Schuster, whose house was designed not in Spanish style but English Norman, based on ideas the Schusters had collected from various sources during a trip to Europe in 1927. The original recycler, Welch bought marble mantles and stair treads from the old U.S. Courthouse downtown when it was razed and used the marble in the Schuster “castle” in 1939. She was to use other salvaged materials in other houses during her career.

Image caption: The stunning mansion at 939 Rim Rd originally built for Dr. FrankSchuster is one of the few homes Welch designed in a style other than Mediterranean. ve. was built in 1952. Photo by Javier Medina, Jr.

In 1943, Welch and several other members of the Women’s Division of the El Paso Chamber of Commerce took a goodwill tour of Chihuahua City, about 220 miles south of El Paso to study the city’s Spanish architecture and the regulations that kept that city so clean and inviting. Welch came back with many ideas to incorporate into her own designs. This goodwill tour also created a bond with Mexico, and it was such a success that the El Paso Chamber invited the Chihuahuan women to visit later that year.

Mabel Welch built houseFour of Welch’s Spanish designs were chosen for inclusion in Planning Your Home for Better Living by Clarence W. Dunham, Yale engineering professor and Milton D. Thalberg. The house at 3038 Federal Ave. was one of the featured homes in the book used at Yale University for several years as a compilation of outstanding architecture throughout the nation.

Image caption:  The home at 3038 Federal Ave. was featured in a book used at Yale University for many years. Photo by Javier Medina, Jr.

In 1959, Mabel Welch became a Fellow in the Society of American Registered Architects in recognition of her long and distinguished career. She built more than 800 homes in West Texas, New Mexico and Northern Mexico. Many of those were in Manhattan Heights, a historical district at the base of the Franklin Mountains in Central El Paso. Welch built a number of large homes after World War II on Gold Avenue, Silver Street and Frankfort Avenue. She also became a real estate broker and bought older homes to remodel and sell.

While excelling in her career, Welch raised her son, who became an electrical engineer, and spent much of his life working with the nation’s space and guided missile programs. She was active in the Women’s Division of the Chamber of Commerce for decades, influencing many businesses to build in Mediterranean style downtown, helping to give El Paso a distinctive look. Taking an active role in making El Paso an attractive place to live, Welch established the “Beautify El Paso Association” in 1966 and worked on President Lyndon B. Johnson’s beautification committee.

She served her city in many ways including working for the Sun Carnival Association and women’s auxiliaries of Texas Western College (now UTEP), the symphony and Providence Memorial Hospital. She was a member of the National Society of Arts and Letters, the El Paso Museum of Art, the Historical Society and the Humane Society.

Welch was always interested in furthering the relations between El Paso and Mexico and was active in the Pan American Round Table and established the Juárez Chamber of Commerce Women’s Department. Texas Governor Coke Stevenson recognized Welch for “renewed efforts toward good neighborly relations with Mexico.”

By 1960, Welch recognized that fewer homes were being built in Mediterranean design. Whereas in the 1920s and 1930s, adobe was among the cheapest of building materials, it had become one of the most expensive, along with the red tile roofs her designs featured. Late in life, she gave her vast collection of books on Spanish architecture to the El Paso Public Library.

Welch died in December 1981 in California where her son and family lived. She was 91. In fall 2008, the El Paso County Historical Society inducted her into its Hall of Honor. Her son Elvin, retired and living in Yakima, Washington, attended the ceremony. He told Pat Worthington, curator for the Society, that his mother had made him promise to burn all her plans and papers in McKelligon Canyon after her death. Like a good son, Elvin did. What has not been destroyed, however, are all the marvelous Spanish homes in Manhattan Heights and other areas in town that Mabel Welch created for families, a concept that gave her such joy.

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