Borderland Treasures: Exploring the homes of Mabel Welch

El Paso News

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Her homes are breathtaking, impressive and iconic.

Mabel Welch was El Paso’s first woman architect and introduced a Spanish influence to the Sun City.

“Everyone of them was built around a dream,” Troy Ainsworth, Historic Preservation Specialist said. “Not just her dream, but her client’s dream.”

Mabel Clair Vanderburg Welch was born in November 1890. She became a mother in her 20s and a widow at 35. Welch then went on to study architecture at 46 and became a registered architect at 49.

Welch and her husband Malcolm came to El Paso for the climate, seeing he had contracted tuberculosis. Malcolm Welch began building his own homes in the 1920s, but as his health deteriorated it was Welch who took over the business.

“This includes finances, construction costs, managing a work crew,” Ainsworth said. “This is pretty novel work for a woman in the 1920s.”

It was while on vacation in California, Welch was inspired.

“That’s the first time she saw what we call Spanish style architecture,” Ainsworth said.

Ainsworth said Welch felt the style would fit El Paso.

Architect Martina Lorey said many of Welch’s home encompass Spanish features, including intricate wrought iron work that can be found in many of her homes.

“Wrought iron was a central feature to Spanish Revival houses,” Lorey said.

One single-level home found in Central El Paso features detail on top of detail. Carved beams can be found as one enters the home, as well as around door entrances.

“I think she was in love with building,” Lorey said. “I think she was in love with making homes for people and having their lives be an expression of a great home.”

One particular home along Altura Street was built in 1929. Old photos showcase what life was like all those decades ago.

Another of Welch’s most extravagant homes sits majestically on Rim Road. It was named the J.W. Peak Mansion. The Mediterranean Revival home was built in 1939.

The current owners of the home allowed KTSM to get a tour from the inside, which leaves one in awe.

It is estimated Welch built about 1500 homes across the region. Each one tailored to her clients, like one in the Kern Place area.

“The entry is really special,” Lorey said. “It is asymmetrical, the entry is very large and the center is beautiful with a three-arched window separated by spiral columns.”

Lorey said the home exhibits examples of Spanish Revival architecture.

Back on Rim Road, a home many native El Pasoans call simply ‘the castle house.’

“Interesting how Mabel Welch had a wide range of styles that she approached,” Lorey said. “This is called English Norman.”

Welch passed away at 91-years-old. Her homes are a legacy, a stunning treasure that live on.

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