ARCHITECTURE: TROST’S SPANISH REVIVAL DESIGN IN BIG BEND HOTELS – HENRY TROST (1860-1933)

The Big Bend area boasts several homes and buildings designed by renowned and prolific architect Henry Trost, whose main work occurred from 1899 to 1933.  His firm, established in El Paso in 1903, designed over 500 buildings throughout the Southwest during this thirty-year period.

Trost & Trost designed the four historic Big Bend area hotels featured here.  Each of these hotels has been beautifully preserved by their owners and are in active use today.  They all demonstrate Trost’s utilization of the Spanish Colonial Revival style in his designs.
Characteristics of the Spanish Colonial style include arches, courtyards, plain wall surfaces, exterior ornamentation, wrought iron work and tile roofs, colorful interior tile and decorative exposed ceiling beams.  Inspired by the Mission Revival style (first fully displayed with the California Building at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893), Spanish Colonial style designers were influenced by architecture of the Mediterranean world, Southwest adobe structures, late Morrish architecture, medieval Spanish and Italian churches, and Italian Renaissance elements.  Trost was living in Chicago in 1893 and certainly visited the California Building. 

The Spanish Colonial Revival style was first prominently displayed in 1915 with buildings built for the Panama-California Exposition held in San Diego in today’s Balboa Park. This style was primarily used from 1915-1931 in residential and small commercial designs in the arid Southwest – from California (Santa Barbara being a prime example), to Texas and into Florida.

Trost, having moved to Tucson in 1899 (prior to his move to El Paso) was introduced to and influenced by existing Spanish architecture. He wrote, “With accurate instinct the old Spanish builders adapted their structures to the requirements of environment. The object, therefore, is to build so as to cut off the intense heat of the sun in the summer, to retain the artificial warmth of the house in the winter, and to create a green flowery oasis for man’s pleasure and comfort.  This threefold end was attained by the Spaniards with their thick walls, patios, deep porches, and large, high-ceiling rooms.” 

This view would carry forward into many of his later designs and into the very design vision of his El Paso firm.

The Hotel Paisano
Marfa, Texas

Trost made his first study for a hotel in Marfa in 1919.  This early design was a Mission Revival style that was modified to Spanish Colonial by the time the hotel was built in 1930.  It features the typical elements of red tile roof parapets, ironwork balconies, exterior ornamentation, extensive interior tile and wood beams and courtyard.
The 35,000 square foot building was developed by Charles Bassett and constructed by McKee Construction, both of El Paso, as part of a chain of hotels Bassett built. Constructed in eight months with 65 rooms all with private baths, it was known as the most elegant hotel between San Antonio and El Paso.  In 1955, motion pictures came to Marfa and the Paisano was headquarters for Warner Brothers and the filming of the movie Giant, starring James Dean, Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor.

Learn more at www.HotelPaisano.com

Hotel El Capitan
Van Horn, Texas

The El Capitan was also constructed in 1930 by Bassett and built by McKee Construction.  The design is very similar to the Hotel Paisano, although smaller at 26,000 square feet and 52 rooms.  The El Capitan exterior design and lobby finish follows the same Spanish Colonial Revival emphasis with an exterior courtyard, cast concrete ornamentation, wrought ironwork, tile work, exposed ceiling beams and high ceilings.  Today the current owner, who also owns the Paisano, has beautifully restored both hotels, making them destinations again.

Learn more at www.thehotelelcapitan.com

The Gage Hotel
Marathon, Texas

The Gage was constructed in 1927 as a hotel and ranch headquarters office by Alfred Gage, a prominent Trans-Pecos rancher.  It was built by H.T. Ponsford of El Paso.  This building contains many Spanish Colonial design influences but represents Trost’s embrace of alternatives to that style and his design flexibility.  It is a simpler building than the other hotels mentioned here but it’s purpose was different serving the needs of its owner – office and home away from home.
While incorporating some Mission elements – particularly on the interior – exterior ornamentation is less pronounced than on other Trost designs.  Current owners have restored and expanded the hotel as a destination adding 20 rooms in a separate building to the 16 in the main original building.

Learn more at www.GageHotel.com

The Holland Hotel
Alpine, Texas

The original Holland Hotel was built in 1908 by John Holland, noted area rancher, who saw the need for a “respectable” hotel in Alpine.  Upon his death in 1922, his son Clay assumed management and in 1927 invested $250,000 hiring Trost & Trost and Ponsford to remodel, adding a third story.  This resulted in a hotel of 70 rooms with all the conveniences of the day.  The exterior was designed by Trost to match the existing adjacent structure and includes cast concrete ornamentation.  The interior features all the Spanish Revival elements  – embossed wood beams, arches and tile floors – indicative of the style.

The Holland Hotel quickly became one of the most prominent gathering places for travelers and community members.  Holland sold the hotel in 1946 and by 1969 after several subsequent owners the hotel closed.  In 1972, the property was purchased and new renovation began with the new owner restoring the beautiful Spanish Revival elements.  Current ownership is maintaining this interior and has added an upscale restaurant  – the Century Grill – incorporating beautiful custom finish keeping with the hotel interior and fine art from the Museum of the Big Bend.

Learn more at www.TheHollandHotelTexas.com

Thank you to Margaret Smith, great-niece of Henry Trost and Melleta Bell, Senior Archivist at Archives of the Big Bend for assistance with this article.  Further information on Trost can be found in the 1981 book Henry Trost: Architect of the Southwest by Engelbrecht. 


Alfred S. Gage  – (1860-1928)
Alfred S. Gage moved from Vermont to Texas in 1879 at age 19 to join his brother Edward who had acquired land in Presidio and Pecos counties.  After working on some ranches in North Texas, Gage moved to Marathon in 1881 to take charge of a small herd of cattle his brother owned, earning $100 a month.

By 1912, Gage acquired full ownership of his brothers cattle company having suffered through the drought and agricultural depression of the 1880’s and early 90’s.  Gage continued to acquire land in the area until he owned much of the most valuable land in the Trans-Pecos area. Gage moved to San Antonio in the early twentieth century and was a leading businessman there serving for many years as the President of the San Antonio Water Company.

In 1927 he built the Gage Hotel as a ranch office and for a comfortable place to stay on visits to the area. Gage died in June 1928 from surgery complications, unable to fully enjoy his hotel. Upon his death he was remembered as a man who “…never went back on a friend and never endeavored to get the best of any by any unfair means. He was always ready to do what he could for the benefit of the people and community.” 

Today, Marathon – and the Big Bend – benefit from his desire to bring a well- designed hotel to the region.