Hoover House Celebrates Centennial

Last Updated on May 30, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Originally published May 30, 2017

By PJ Vierra

UTEP Asset Management and Development

Hoover House – the home to UTEP’s presidents since 1965 – celebrates its 100th anniversary in October 2017. The elegant home is also a campus facility, hosting several events each month in service to the University and the community – a role to which this architectural treasure of El Paso has been long accustomed.

Hoover House
The Hoover House, the official residence of the UTEP President, celebrates its 100th birthday in 2017.

Hoover House has several remarkable connections with UTEP that date back to 1917. The home’s original owner, Richard M. Dudley, a prominent contractor and politician, had been sworn in as El Paso’s representative to the Texas legislature in January. One of his first acts in office was to coauthor an emergency appropriation with fellow El Paso representative R. Ewing Thomason to fund the rebuilding of the State School of Mines and Metallurgy (now UTEP) after fire destroyed the original main building the previous October. On Oct. 13, 1917, when Dudley and his wife, Frances, moved into their new home, work was progressing less than a mile away on the construction of the School of Mines’ new Paso del Norte campus, which would welcome its first cohort of students two weeks later on Oct. 29. The original designer of UTEP’s Bhutanese Revival architecture, Charles Gibson, also served as the architect of the Dudley home. Despite his involvement in designing the campus, Gibson had not been awarded the contract for the School of Mines. The Board of Regents of the University of Texas, however, did purchase his original designs and assigned them to the firm of Trost and Trost.

Costing a reputed $40,000 ($1.5 million in 2015 dollars), the 7,063-square-foot, two-story manor from its earliest days has been considered one of El Paso’s most elegant homes and one of the foremost addresses for entertaining. Frances Dudley quickly earned the reputation of a gracious hostess and gifted gardener, and easily exceeded all expectations as First Lady of El Paso following her husband’s election as mayor in 1923. The exterior grounds of the home became the envy of Kern Place, which in the early 1920s was still considered something of a barren wilderness. So lush were the grounds, area residents lobbied the city council not to turn off the water supply during a period when the home was vacant so that volunteers could prevent the trees and shrubbery from dying.

After her husband passed away in 1925, Frances Dudley found the home too large for her needs. She sold the property in 1930 to Rosario Blanco, the wife of Tomas F. Blanco, a wealthy Juárez banker and brewer. Keeping the house in his wife’s name, however, did not shield Blanco’s foreign earnings from Franklin Roosevelt’s 1935 Wealth Tax Act and its rather progressive 75 percent upper tax bracket. When the Internal Revenue Service presented the Blanco’s with a tax bill in excess of $300,000 ($12.1 million in 2015 dollars), the couple returned to Mexico. Tomas Blanco’s cash flow had suffered considerably following the end of Prohibition and, in a deal with the I.R.S., the couple surrendered the home to the U.S. government.

From 1938 to 1943, the home was occupied by a series of renters and caretakers. The last of these was the family of Robert T. Hoover, a prominent cotton broker and grower. When the home became vacant in 1943, Robert Hoover quickly snatched it up, as the region’s wartime housing shortage had made finding suitable accommodations difficult. The following year, Hoover paid $14,000 ($357,000 in 2015 dollars) for title to the home at a government auction.

The house the Hoover’s moved into was far from its once pristine condition. Hoover’s daughter, Louann, described it as being in a terrible state as plumbing problems and a leaking roof had ruined walls and original tapestries. Repairs, however, had to wait until the conclusion of the war given the shortage of contractors available for private projects. Once the war ended, the Hoovers hired O. H. Thorman, another architect with connections to the College of Mines, to design a sunroom to replace the patio located on the home’s west end. They also tore out the tennis court installed by the Blancos and restored Frances Dudley’s landscaping. In time, the yard became a favorite playground for neighborhood children and a popular spot for hide-and-seek.

By 1945, with repairs completed and renovations underway, Hoover’s wife, Louisiana, placed the home once again at the center of El Paso society. One of the first events she hosted was a fundraiser for the College of Mines Woman’s Auxiliary. Other beneficiaries included the Radford School, Junior League, Kern Place Garden Club, and El Paso Woman’s Club.

When her husband died in 1960, Louisiana purchased a second home in California, returning to El Paso only for short visits. Recognizing an opportunity, the president of the University at the time, Joseph Ray, approached the Hoover children with a proposition. At first, he proposed swapping the “old Dudley home,” as he referred to it, for the president’s home, then located at 4312 Donnybrook Place in Mission Hills. When that proved impractical, the Hoover’s instead bequeathed the house to the U.T. System in exchange for preferable tax deductions. In recognition of their gift, the Board of Regents named the property “Hoover House.”

Ray had great plans for Hoover House. He envisioned it not so much as his home, but as “a public building the faculty uses along with the president.” True to his word, Hoover House became a venue for many annual functions held not only by the University but also the community. The home’s event schedule ensured that every member of the faculty and staff had a chance to visit the manor at least once each year, as well as allowing local groups, including the Woman’s Club, continued access to the facility.

Since UTEP took possession of the home in 1965, it has undergone several major renovations to better accommodate visitors. One such renovation took place in 1970, when two “powder rooms” (restrooms) were added to the foyer. More recent improvements included exterior renovations to improve ADA accessibility to the backyard.

As UTEP prepares to celebrate the 100th anniversary this October of the four buildings that comprised the original Paso del Norte campus, let us not forget the fifth centenarian in Kern Place that today plays an active role in carrying out the mission of the University. If only Charles Gibson had known in 1917 his part in shaping The University of Texas at El Paso.

Related: Public Invited to Tour Historic UTEP Home

Make Plans

What: Public open house to celebrate the 100th birthday of the Hoover House, the official residence of the President of The University of Texas at El Paso

When: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Saturday, June 3 and noon – 5 p.m. Sunday, June 4

Where: Hoover House, 711 Cincinnati Ave.