Our mission is to promote the legacy of Trost & Trost and other eminent architectural firms of the American Southwest, educate the public about the rich architectural heritage of our region through the twentieth century, and advocate for historic preservation and restoration.
The Trost Society was co-founded in 2013 by Malissa Arras and Mason Sales, who were joined shortly afterwards by Dr. Max Grossman and Marcos Fernandez. In the wake of the back-to-back demolitions of two Trost buildings in downtown El Paso, the John T. Muir Building and the Union Bank & Trust Building—both of which were replaced by empty lots—they felt that a new organization was needed in order to increase public awareness of the value and beauty of our historic buildings. In fall 2015 Malissa established The Trost Society as a non-profit 501c3 and by early 2016 the Board of Directors was formed, with six initial members: Lane Gaddy, Dr. Max Grossman, Edgar Lopez, Joe Riccillo, Carl Ryan, and Bernie Sargent. Other former and current board members include J.P. Bryan, Joe Duncan, Margaret Smith, Providencia Velazquez, and Doug Yost. Malissa served as the first Executive Director, applying for grants, creating programming, organizing exhibitions, developing membership, keeping the books, managing our social media networks, and recruiting and supervising volunteers. She ably guided The Trost Society through its first six years, providing leadership and planning numerous events. Bernie Sargent was elected the first Chair of the Board and continues to serve in that capacity, and Paola Martinez is Operational Manager. In addition, our organization has a staff of four who assist the Board in implementing our mission.
Currently, The Trost Society is expanding into other cities throughout our region as we develop into a regional institution with a presence in the major places where Henry C. Trost and his firm were active. In the future, we will also be focusing on other important twentieth-century architects, such as Mabel Welch and Otto H. Thorman, as well as on the earlier architectural traditions of our region, beginning with the Native Americans.
Permanent settlement in what is now El Paso began in 1827, when Juan María Ponce de León crossed the Rio Grande from El Paso del Norte, now Ciudad Juárez, with a Mexican land grant in hand and established a ranch along the north bank. After a flood, Ponce moved his ranch to the current site of Pioneer Plaza in 1832, and in 1849 the structure was used by the United States government as a military fort, which became the nucleus of the future city. El Paso was incorporated in 1873 and the first railroads arrived starting in 1881. By the 1920s, the city was a booming metropolis fueled by international trade, with a population of over 100,000 people. Very quickly the original adobe buildings were replaced by Victorian structures and eventually by brick and concrete high-rises.
Born in Toledo in 1860, Henry C. Trost began designing buildings as early as the 1880s and in 1903 settled in El Paso, where he and his brother Gustavus co-founded Trost & Trost. A third brother, Adolphus, joined the firm in 1908 and introduced the technology of reinforced concrete construction to the region, making possible the modern skyscraper. The firm designed many of the most beautiful buildings in El Paso, including the Caples Building (1909), Anson Mills Building (1911), Hotel Paso del Norte (1912), El Paso High School (1916), Popular Dry Goods Co. (1917), Hotel Cortez (1926), O.T. Bassett Tower (1930), and Hilton Hotel (1930). Henry and his brothers were capable of designing a variety of building types and in every conceivable style, including Classical, Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance Revival, Pueblo, Art Deco, Moorish, and even Bhutanese. 27 of the 39 buildings the firm designed in downtown El Paso are still standing. By the middle of the twentieth century, Henry and his brothers had designed more than 600 buildings across the Southwest and in Mexico, an incredible legacy.
From 1970 to 2010, downtown El Paso steadily lost businesses and residents, as the majority of the community moved to the city’s East and West sides in order to live in more modern homes and have more space. The spread of the city along the I-10 corridor certainly improved the quality of life for many residents, but as in other American cities, those still living and working in downtown saw rents drop drastically, and historic buildings began to fall into disrepair. In recent years, there has been a great wave of preservation projects in downtown El Paso, and many of the Trost buildings have been repurposed and restored. Others, however, have been senselessly demolished and still others are at risk of demolition.
El Paso is the 19th largest city in the United States, yet it is one of the poorest in Texas, with a 24% poverty rate, compared to 19% in Ft. Worth and Austin. The areas immediately surrounding our historic downtown have even higher poverty rates, with a median income below $10,000 per resident (as of 2015). Many El Paso families have lived in the El Paso-Ciudad Juarez borderland for generations. It is imperative that the residents of our binational community develop a stronger awareness of the rich heritage of the region and of the historical events that occurred during the lives of their ancestors. This will not only instill in them a sense of pride in their roots, but will also provide them with an appreciation for the importance of preserving their heritage. Many of our historic buildings—including many of the most significant—are at risk of demolition, and it is critically important that as many as possible of these be saved so that El Pasoans can develop a stronger sense of their own unique identity, and the city can grow its economy in a way that incorporates heritage tourism.
Unfortunately, El Paso is one of the lowest performing tourist destinations in Texas, attracting less than 2.5% of the state’s tourist dollars in 2013, despite its rich history and cultural assets. Heritage tourism generates $7.3 billion in economic activity in Texas, supporting nearly 100,000 jobs, and continues to grow rapidly. Yet, the state’s heritage tourism boom has left El Paso behind, even though the city possesses enviable cultural assets, including an architectural patrimony that is second to none.
The Trost Society is confident that El Paso can fully participate in the state’s heritage tourism economy and develop its cultural assets into economic resources, while educating both El Pasoans and visitors about our culture and history.