Esperson Buildings: Historic Houston Structures

Updated on February 13, 2020
Peggy W profile image

I live in Houston, and I have worked as a nurse. My interests include art, traveling, reading, gardening, cooking, and our wonderful pets.

Clear view of top of Niels Esperson Building
Clear view of top of Niels Esperson Building | Source

Historic Houston Buildings

Come along with me and learn about the Esperson Buildings in the central business district of downtown Houston.

The first building originated as a commemorative. This memorial became the tallest building in all of Texas as well as west of the Mississippi River. It ranked as the third-largest in all of America back in the year 1927. It was and still is called the Niels Esperson Building.

Looking up at this building through a car window
Looking up at this building through a car window | Source

Niels and Mellie Esperson

This successful power couple met and got married in Oklahoma back in 1893. In 1903 they moved to Houston.

Niels and his wife, Mellie, became immensely wealthy. The Texas oil industry was the source of much of their wealth. Niels was an early developer of what was called the Humble oilfield. As Texas crude oil gushed up from the ground and their bank accounts ballooned, the Espersons expanded their interests to include real estate.

Mellie continued her interest in oil, real estate, and other business ventures after her husband died in 1922. Her vast holdings included land, some of which is now the location of the Houston Ship Channel.

Mellie Esperson was an active participant in the Houston Chamber of Commerce, as well as many other organizations. She was a great supporter of the Houston Ship Channel, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Houston Symphony.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Another view of top of Niels Esperson Building Crowning glory Notice the distinctive building in the background looking through the water towers of Tranquility Park.
Another view of top of Niels Esperson Building
Another view of top of Niels Esperson Building | Source
Crowning glory
Crowning glory | Source
Notice the distinctive building in the background looking through the water towers of Tranquility Park.
Notice the distinctive building in the background looking through the water towers of Tranquility Park. | Source

Niels Esperson Building

Mellie wished for this first memorial building named after her husband Niels to be architecturally distinctive. She traveled to Europe to get some design ideas. She liked a particular building in Rome that was built in 1502 by Donato Bramante. It marks the spot in which St. Peter had been crucified. It is a small temple referred to as a tempietto.

A video below shows this historic structure in Rome.

Italian Renaissance Architecture

Mellie employed architect John Eberson to transform her ideas into plans to be executed.

Thus it was that Italian Renaissance architecture with columns, urns, and terraces with a crowning six-story tiered monument on the top of the building became a distinctive part of downtown Houston. Gold leaf added to the luxurious crowning adornment of the tempietto and illumination at night gave it even more prominence. The Niels Esperson building is 32 stories tall and rises 410 feet from the ground.

Much taller skyscrapers now exist in downtown Houston and have for some time. Fortunately, they are built some distance away. So these Esperson buildings can still be viewed without being dwarfed by adjacent structures.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Top of the Niels Esperson BuildingStreet viewNiels Esperson building dwarfed by modern skyscrapers in downtown Houston Note height difference of Niels Esperson Building (middle of picture to the right) compared to surrounding skyscrapers. Photo taken from high up in the former location of the Petroleum Club in downtown Houston.
Top of the Niels Esperson Building
Top of the Niels Esperson Building | Source
Street view
Street view | Source
Niels Esperson building dwarfed by modern skyscrapers in downtown Houston
Niels Esperson building dwarfed by modern skyscrapers in downtown Houston | Source
Note height difference of Niels Esperson Building (middle of picture to the right) compared to surrounding skyscrapers. Photo taken from high up in the former location of the Petroleum Club in downtown Houston.
Note height difference of Niels Esperson Building (middle of picture to the right) compared to surrounding skyscrapers. Photo taken from high up in the former location of the Petroleum Club in downtown Houston. | Source

Mellie Esperson Building

Completed in 1941 was the adjacent Mellie Esperson Building. Built during the Great Depression, it offered the most considerable amount of office space in one structure at that time. It also had central air conditioning, which was a first.

The Mellie Esperson building is 19 stories tall, rising 272 feet from the ground. She used the same architect, John Eberson plus his brother Drew, to draw up the designs for her building. Mellie Esperson is carved upon “her” building, and she had Niels Esperson inscribed onto “his” structure. Mellie died in 1945. Her remains are in Forest Park Cemetery.

Ownership and Management

Cameron Management now owns and operates the Esperson Buildings. They own other classic buildings in downtown Houston as well.

These buildings will long stand as testaments and memorials to this wealthy and influential couple who left their marks upon Houston. The address is 808 Travis St., Houston, Texas 77002.

My original linocut of the Esperson Buildings
My original linocut of the Esperson Buildings | Source

My Linocut of The Esperson Buildings

I created a limited edition linoleum cut art print (linocut) of the Esperson Buildings and titled it Crowning Tribute. It is available for purchase at Perimeter Gallery in Houston, Texas.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
View of these buildings in downtown Houston Looking up at the top of the building Top of building
View of these buildings in downtown Houston
View of these buildings in downtown Houston | Source
Looking up at the top of the building
Looking up at the top of the building | Source
Top of building
Top of building | Source

Do you have any buildings in your part of the world topped off with temple-like structures such as this Niels Esperson one in Houston?

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Questions & Answers

    © 2020 Peggy Woods

    Comments

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      • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

        Peggy Woods 

        6 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

        Hi Manatita,

        Gaudi's work was indeed, visionary! We saw much of his architectural wonders in Barcelona. To my eye, the top of the Niels Esperson building looks more classical. I hope you are enjoying your day, and thanks for your comment.

      • manatita44 profile image

        manatita44 

        6 weeks ago from london

        I don't really know if there's anything like it in London.They remind of Gaudi, but again he was very visionary.

        Nice work and great legacy.

      • Robert Sacchi profile image

        Robert Sacchi 

        7 weeks ago

        You're welcome.

      • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

        Peggy Woods 

        7 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

        Hi FlourishAnyway,

        Thanks for the compliment on my linocut. I already have featured the ones that I have done, except for commissioned pieces, on HubPages.

      • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

        Peggy Woods 

        7 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

        Hi Robert,

        Thanks for your interest in learning about the Esperson buildings in Houston.

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        7 weeks ago from USA

        This is beautiful architecture and I am most impressed with your linocut. You shout do a hub about how you’ve gotten into theat (if you haven’t done it already) and how others can start it as a hobby.

      • Robert Sacchi profile image

        Robert Sacchi 

        7 weeks ago

        A good look at some of the historic buildings in Houstion.

      • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

        Peggy Woods 

        7 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

        Hi Liz,

        Thanks for the compliment on my linocut. The Esperson buildings are one of many beautiful and historic buildings in downtown Houston that I chose to feature. I am pleased that you enjoyed learning about them.

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        7 weeks ago from UK

        This is a fascinating article. I really appreciate the biographical detail and background. Your linocut is impressive.

      • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

        Peggy Woods 

        7 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

        Hi Linda,

        Interestingly, the Niels Esperson building was once the tallest in Texas. I appreciate the unique architecture at the top of it.

      • AliciaC profile image

        Linda Crampton 

        7 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

        This is another enjoyable article about Houston. I found the history of the Niels Esperson Building's design especially interesting. Your linocut is lovely, Peggy.

      • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

        Peggy Woods 

        7 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

        I am glad that you liked this Ruby. Yes, Houston is a beautiful city! (Smile)

      • always exploring profile image

        Ruby Jean Richert 

        7 weeks ago from Southern Illinois

        This was an interesting read, Houston is a beautiful city. Thanks for the tour.

      • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

        Peggy Woods 

        7 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

        Hi Bill,

        Yes, Houston is now the 4th largest city in the U.S., and will soon become the 3rd largest in the next few years, given our rapid rate of expansion.

      • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

        Peggy Woods 

        7 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

        Hi Pamela,

        It is a pleasure to show off more of our city to you, Pamela. Most of the more modern buildings contrast in style to this earlier version with the temple-like crown.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        7 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

        Did I read somewhere that Houston is the 4th largest city in the U.S? Is that true? You don't think of Houston when thinking of large metro area. Shows you how little I know. :) Thanks once again for the tour.

      • Pamela99 profile image

        Pamela Oglesby 

        7 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

        Houston is such an interesting city, Peggy. I like the architecture and your pictures are great. We don't have anything quite like these building in Jacksonville.

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