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Historical Markers Project: O. T. Bassett Tower

Survey of thirty-three historic sites in the El Paso area, with research materials, interviews, and summary materials.

O.T. Bassett Tower Site, El Paso, Texas

Research Packet and Narrative by: Angelica Ruiz and Dr. George D. Torok 

Honors Project - Spring 2002 - National Endowment for the Humanities Historical Markers Project

 Bassett TowerAt one time the tallest building in El Paso, the O.T. Bassett Tower rises fifteen stories at the northeast corner of Texas Avenue and Stanton Street.  Charles N. Bassett built the Bassett Tower as a memorial to his father, Oscar T. Bassett, a pioneer El Pasoan who was one of the founders of El Paso’s first bank, The State National Bank of El Paso, which was organized in March 1881.  Henry C. Trost was commissioned to design the building.  

 The Art Deco Architecture of the Southwest is present in the Bassett Tower.  The style was popular briefly in the late 1920s and 1930s, and it is enjoying resurgence in popularity in architecture, furniture and accessories.  Certainly, it was the newest thing around when Henry Trost drew the designs for the tower and its eight ground-floor storefronts (his last building for El Paso).  This building is two hundred and fifteen foot nine-inch classic of the art deco style.  Art deco gets its name from the design exhibition that influenced it –the 1925 Exposition International des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris.  The term has come to mean, generally, the art movement that features streamlined shapes and geometric proportions, both being employed to emphasize the fine quality of the construction materials.

Bassett Tower.  Image provided by the El Paso Public Library.

Construction began in 1929 on the Bassett tower, a design from the drawing board of the stellar light of the El Paso architectural firm of Trost and Trost in what was described as “modern set back style.” (For many years, that style was called “Modernistic” but, by common consent, has come to be known as art deco).

The tower, measuring sixteen stories plus a basement, was built of reinforced concrete by R. E. McKee Construction Co. for Charles N. Bassett who was president of the State National Bank.  Bassett called the building a memorial to his father O. T. Bassett, pioneer El Paso banker and lumberman who had been a Civil War veteran at age fourteen. It was announced that the Bassett Tower would be one hundred and eighty feet and with thirteen floors, would cost and estimated of $500,000 (later two stories were added).  Two hundred offices were to be included, arranged into suites so they could be grouped as desired.  Eight stores would occupy the ground floor.  Such innovations as automatic elevators and circulating ice water were included in the Trost’s plans. The tower’s setback design is similar to a New York City structure that epitomizes art deco, the Chrysler Building.

Retired El Paso architect Louis Daeuble cites the tower, with its geometric lines and metal ornamentation, as El Paso’s outstanding example of art deco.  The Bassett tower’s single most striking feature is that its architecture is finished for all sides, unusual for its time.  Ten stylized stone eagles, reminiscent of gargoyles arrayed around medieval classics in Europe, stand guard around the perimeter of the top most setback, just below the tower’s copper roof. The twenty-four feet square lobby is typical Trost with floors and pilasters of marble and coffered ceiling.  Tradition has it that the sculptured portrait above the entrance, a balding, round-faced man with a walrus mustache, is Henry Trost himself; however, there’s a chance that it is the senior Bassett. Probably it’s just some balding, round-faced man, with a gesture typical of Trost’s sense of humor.  Bassett Tower was originally designed to be a commercial office construction. For more than seventy-two years has been served as an office building.


Suggested Marker Text: O. T. Bassett 

The Bassett Building was built in memory of Oscar T. Bassett. He was a businessman and financier that contributed in the creation of the El Paso’s First National Bank and the Texas and Pacific Railways.  This building was considerated the city’s first skyscraper.  It was designed by a famous architect Henry C. Trost, known as the architect of “arid America,” his commissions exist throughout Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.   Robert E. McKee, Construction Co. was the builder. 

This building construction was finished in 1930.  The Bassett tower is unique for its architectural design, based on Art Deco (popular style in the late 1920s and 1930s).  Art deco was influenced for the classic style used in Paris.  The tower’s single most striking feature is the fact that it was designed as a finished building from all sides.  At this period that type of construction was unusual.  Another characteristic is its main lobby’s doors made of bronze.  Ten eagle sentries guard the 15th floor.  The mustachioed face over the main entrance is reputed to be that of Henry C. Trost himself.

Originally, two hundred offices were to be included, arranged into suites so they could be grouped as desired.  Eight stores would occupy the ground floor. Today, the building has the same use as stores and commercial offices.



Works Cited

Flynn, Ken. El Paso An Illustrated History. San Antonio, Texas: El Paso Mission Trail Association, 1997.

Henry, Jay C. Architecture in Texas. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1993.

Mangan, Frank. El Paso in Pictures. El Paso, TX: Guynes Printing Company, 1988.

Metz, Leon. City at the Pass, An Illustrated History of El Paso. Woodland Hills, CA:  Widsor Publications, 1980.

Metz, Leon. El Paso, Guided Trough Time. El Paso, TX: Mangan Books, 1999.

Davis, Mary Margaret. “Tower keeps art deco alive.” El Paso Times.  15 June  1985.

(El Paso, TX)  Herald-Post. “Renovation Project set for Bassett Tower.” 12 March 1964.

Herald-Post. “14 Years Ago Today.”  18 February 1920.

Herald-Post “Seven Story Building for Texas and Stanton.”  10 February 1906.

(El Paso, TX) Lone Star. “Locals.”  4 January 1882.

“Bassett, Oscar T.” The Handbook of Texas Online. March, 26 2002.


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