Borderland Treasures: Exploring the buildings built by Otto H. Thorman

Local

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — From building the first home in Kern Place to several in Manhattan Heights, architect Otto H. Thorman designed more than 1,500 buildings in the Borderland in many different styles.

Thorman began his career at only 19 years old. Originally from Missouri, he received his architectural training by correspondence. Thorman established an office in Albuquerque and in 1911 opened his firm in El Paso.

Three years later, at only 22, he would build a 3,700-square-foot residence in what is now the historic neighborhood of Kern Place. The Paul Luckett Home was built in 1915 and has somewhat of an ancient feel. Its exterior is covered in stone, making it resemble a castle.

Local architect Martina Lorey said the home is an interesting interpretation of Pueblo Revival architecture, but does exhibit an eclectic combination of styles, including classical beaux-arts features.

“I love that little toothy cornice with the concrete vigas,” Lorey said. “I don’t know any 22-year-old that would have the wit to build something like this. He really was a genius.”

The exterior is complex in design and it incorporates classical features, like the arched portico and Doric columns.

“I really think it really speaks depths of styles,” Lorey said. “He really gets how to manipulate landscape and house and make it feel like a special place.”

Step inside the residence and the simplicity and elegance of the rooms are surprising. Its main living area is an expansive L-shaped space. The floors are original and so are the windows.

“I’m reminded how Otto Thorman always drew us out by having the windows,” Lorey said. “The house is beautifully illuminated.”

Thorman designed buildings in a variety of styles, but he was famous for his Pueblo-style homes, such as the Lachman residence, also in Kern Place. Designed in 1919, the home was acquired by the Schwartz family in 1945 for $11,000.

“It was torn to pieces,” said Jonathan Schwartz, whose father bought the home.

The residence was faithfully restored and it’s been passed down from generation to generation ever since. The original black and white tile flooring add a pop in style and the original fixtures can be found in the bathrooms.

Not far away, on North Mesa Street, is a striking-brown brick building that houses the Woman’s Club of El Paso. Built in 1916, in the Georgian Revival style, the club features a classically designed porch with engaged columns, pedimented windows and stately chimneys. The brickwork was crafted by masons more than 100 years ago.

“All these really gifted people would put their hearts and souls into the work,” Lorey said.

So much history happened inside the building.

“You had WWI here,” Melissa Sargent said. “They did bandages with the Red Cross. So many organizations worked out of here.”

The Woman’s Club served as a place where women could be activists and perform community service and it is still active today.

Thorman’s masterpieces aren’t only in West El Paso. The architect also built several homes in the Manhattan Heights Historic District, like one on Federal Street, which is another example of the Pueblo style. Built in 1926, its gorgeous interior has just been restored by its owners.

On the same street, a Flemish Revival home, also designed by Thorman, is where a girl named Sandra Day spent much of her childhood, long before she was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The buildings of Otto Thorman are treasures in El Paso.

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