El Paso, TX, est. 1873, pop. (2015) 679,000 • Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, est. 1659, pop. 1.4MM) • El Paso-Juárez Metropolitan Area, pop. 2.7 MM • Life on the Line, NY Times Magazine
(R) Vogue Building
(C) Gem Theatre Bldg, built circa 1885, demolished 2013 • aka Odd Fellows Building, Gem Building • built by brothers Charles & Henry Lesinsky of New York • original 1886 tenants were the Henry Beneke Hardware on the ground floor & the Intl. Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF), whose 3rd floor hall was also frequently used for union meetings
• in 1910, Ohio-born Joseph L. Kopf (1874-1943) [photo] purchased the Odd Fellows’ Building • moved his Gem Saloon with its elaborate bar (said to be 40 ft. long), restaurant, barber shop & cigar store into the building’s ground floor, displacing El Paso’s Studebaker wagon agent — Fassett & Kelly Hardware • reserved the 2nd floor for offices • Odd Fellows Hall remained on the 3rd floor • the Gem Barber Shop later added turkish baths for gentlemen —El Paso Herald, 26 Jan, 1910
• the Gem’s origins trace back to Jun, 1884, when its forerunner, the Pictorial Theater, opened across the street at No. 29 • had its own traveling troupe of entertainers, including local blackface artists Boyd & Swain • placed in the current cityscape, the building would be situated between the Palace (née Alhambra) Theatre & the S. corner of S. El Paso / W. San Antonio • the complex had a restaurant fronting the street, a bar room, club room & a ~300-seat theater behind the main structure, with an additional entrance on Market St. (the alley) • during performances, drinks & food were served in the boxes —El Paso Herald-Post, 05 Jul 1976 • Lone Star Locals, Vol. XII, No. 6, 5 Nov, 1884
• the Pictorial’s management included theater vets who had moved over from Can Caddagan’s National Theater (née Coliseum) which — before it was reduced to cock fights, then unceremoniously closed in 1887 — presented variety acts, bands from Mexico City & operas such as Martha, featuring soprano Emma Abbott (1850-1891) • the noted diva also headed the Emma Abbott Grand English Opera Company, first in the U.S. founded by a woman • toured the country with up to 60 members in her troupe —El Paso Evening Post, 30 May 1928
• Nellie Boyd (1848-1909) [photo], among the best-known traveling actors in the West, was one of the Pictorial’s biggest draws • having been the first established star to perform on a Borderlands stage, such was her local popularity that she was known as "First Lady of the El Paso Theater" • was both a leading lady & manager of the Nellie Boyd Dramatic Company (est. c. 1876) which — traveling by rail & stage — toured western cities, towns & villages from British Columbia to Mexico, 1879-1888 • one of several women who managed a traveling repertory company in the last quarter of the 19th c. —The western career of Nellie Boyd, 1879-1888, Eliana Crestani, 1966
• the theater was damaged by fire, 14 Jun, 1894 • major remodeling, Jan, 1885 • by March, financial difficulties forced the owners to hand the business over to their landlord, Connecticut-born real estate developer George Look (1854-1917), who had arrived in El Paso by stagecoach c. 1880 • reopened as the Gem Saloon & Theater [photo], 05 Sep, 1885, G. Look & J.J. Taylor, proprietors • with the latest revision of El Paso Street addresses, the Gem’s address leaped from No. 29 to No. 201, although management also used No. 127 because their building adjoined No. 125, also owned by Look [map]
• when the Gem opened, there were about 20 saloons in El Paso serving a population of ~5K • the Gem offered roulette, sweat (chuck-a-luck), crap, monte, keno & faro —19th Century Gambling • The Whiskey That Won the Wild West
• in addition to the gambling, dining, drinking & variety shows in the theater, "the swellest bar in town" brought in a piano & vocalist • offered up to the minute baseball scores on the Gem Blackboard • drew crowds with a new phonograph • staged wrestling & "fistic fights" in the theater • installed a Western Union line to call the James J. Corbett – Chas. Mitchell match by rounds • received daily "Frisco racing" results by direct wire from the track • staged a chess match by wire — El Paso Herald-Post, 05 Jul, 1976
"We passed through the door, and entered a room filled with a promiscuous crowd. There were Chinamen. Mexicans (real ‘Greasers’), negroes of all shades and colors, a few cow-boys, and some business men.
"I first thought that these places were licensed. I have learned since that there is no such a thing; but the city of El Paso derives quite an income from these ‘dives’ nevertheless. At the end of each month a collector goes around and fines (note this particularly) each keeper of a gambling-house (I think, fifty dollars), and if he cannot pay the fine the majesty of the law steps in and closes his place." —Letters from the Southwest, Rudolph Eickemeyer, 1894
• apparently the shakedown actually consisted of three classes of monthly "license fees" based on the class of the clientele • the Gem was in the highest class & paid $200/mo. (about $5,000/mo. in 2016 dollars) • pressure from the Law and Order League in the form of prohibitively higher fees, resulted in the closing down at least 4 houses • in 1896 the Governor sent in the Texas Rangers to shut down illegal prize fighting —Samuel J. Freudenthal Memoir
"Over fifty of the sports have left town for San Antonio, Fort Worth, Prescott, Tombstone, Phoenix and other points where gambling is tolerated. It is believed around at the Gem that 150 to 200 sports will quit the town, a large percentage being negro gamblers." —El Paso Herald, 5 August, 1889
"Dance halls in El Paso were closed last night and the death knell of gambling was sounded when 100 good citizens of the city banded themselves together and agreed to furnish the money necessary to prosecute all violations of the Texas gaming laws. Within the past few days, the gambling devices have been removed from the Pullman saloon, the Gem, the Zeiger, the Tammany club, and the Toltec saloon, and from many other ‘popular’ places." • somehow, the Gem survived this and another crackdown in 1894 —El Paso Herald, 10 Aug, 1889
• the Gem, like several other Old West saloons, is remembered as the site of a famous gunfight • on 04 Apr, 1885, one of the saloon’s patrons, former lawman William Polk Rayner (1857-1885), was mortally wounded at close range (6 ft.) by Robert Bates "Cowboy Bob" Rennick (b. 1861) • Rennick’s friend, Charles M. "Buck" Linn, who had seen young Faro dealer Robert Cahill separating the combatants before the shooting began, pursued and threatened Cahill, assuming he was complicit in Rennick’s death • Cahill retreated, returned with a pistol & killed Linn • one of the witnesses was lawman Wyatt Earp, who was in town visiting a friend • he testified the next day:
"According to Earp’s possibly embellished account, he watched Rayner closely as he approached. At one point Rayner drew his gloves through his hand, slapped his palm with them, and said, I suppose you know that when a Southern gentleman goes hunting trouble, he likes to take his gloves along? He sometimes finds them useful.
"’The kind of trouble you’re heading into right now, Rayner, can’t be handled with gloves,’ said Earp" …read on at HistoryNet
• c. 1907, the Gem moved next door to No. 125 • the "Old Gem" building became J.M. Cannon Mercantile and later a jewelry store operated by Peter Kern • in 1910, once the Gem had made its final move — across the street to the this building [map] — George Look had the "Old Gem" demolished & replaced it with the Hotel Fisher (1910) • in May, No. 125 was demolished to make way for the W. San Antonio St. extension
• by the early 1920s, having hung on briefly as a family restaurant, the Gem Saloon faded away • it was replaced by the Splendid Café, Golden Bowl Café, World’s Museum, a series of retailers & in 1962, El Paso’s first Ben Franklin Five & Dime Variety Store • the Gem Barber Shop survived through most of the 1920s — EP herald Post 15 Sep, 1963
(L) First National Bank Building, built 1883, burned, 2012 • one of the first major buildings to be erected downtown after the arrival of the railroad in 1881 • destroyed by fire, 2012 [photos] • vintage interior photo
Marker: First National Bank
"The First National Bank Building was constructed in 1882-83 as part of the real estate boom that took place after the arrival of the railroad. Joshua and Jefferson Reynolds, active in New Mexico banking, financed its construction and were the bank’s first presidents. It was originally a two-story structure in the Italianate style but in the mid-1880s a pitched roof, which served as the walls of a third floor, was added. This transformed it into the Second Empire style. The interior had elaborate woodwork and glass partitions that separated the many offices and professional spaces. By 1900, a main entrance was installed near the center of the East San Antonio side of the building.
"Over the years the First National Bank Building has housed many businesses and services, including the Wells-Fargo and Company’s Express, the Texas & Pacific Railroad, and the El Paso Herald newspaper. The building’s most famous tenant was gunfighter John Wesley Hardin who had his law office here on the second floor, on the El Paso Street side, in the 1890s. When the First National Bank merged with the American National Bank in 1914, it vacated the building. As one of El Paso’s most prosperous banks it thrived for more than fifty years but closed its doors in 1933 during the Great Depression. Since that time the building has undergone several renovations and continues to serve as retail and professional office space."
• John Wesley "Wes" Hardin (1853-1895) [photo] was an outlaw, controversial folk icon & arguably the most feared gunslinger in the American West
• born near Bonham, Texas • named after John Wesley, founder of the Methodist faith • said to have run away at age 9 in an attempt to join the Confederate army • his father, Tennessee-born Methodist preacher James "Gip" Hardin (1823-1876), was also a circuit rider, farmer & slaveholder • his mother was Mary Elizabeth Dixson (1826-1885) • the couple raised 10 children
• although most of the killing in the Old West was accomplished by not particularly accurate back-shooters, Hardin was reputed to be fast & deadly, honing his marksmanship & draw through practice • killed 12-40 men, the 1st, a former slave, at age 15 • an apocryphal story has him killing another for snoring • claimed to have killed 42 men, but contemporary newspapers said the actual number was 27 • met & befriended Western legend Wild Bill Hickok through a dispute involving a large logo of a bull with an erection, painted on an Abilene, KS saloon
• with a $4,000 price on his head, was captured & sentenced to serve 25 years in Huntsville Prison • while in "the joint," he studied law & wrote an autobiography, The Life of John Wesley Hardin: As Written by Himself, much of its content now considered wildly exaggerated or simply made up • conducted a Bible class for fellow convicts • released from prison with a law degree, 1894 • passed the state bar exam • opened a law practice in this El Paso building, c. Feb. 1895
• one of his early clients was former prostitute Helen Beulah M’rose (1872-1904), mistress of Polish cowboy/rustler Martin M’rose • hired Hardin to fight extradition of her "husband," who was incarcerated across the border in Juárez • as he arranged for M’rose’s release pending approval of Mexican citizenship, Beulah became her lawyer’s mistress • hearing of the affair, Martin R’rose decided to cross the border into the U.S. • theories as to why he did this include: 1) he decided to surrender to American authorities 2) he was lured over by crooked lawmen looking to collect the substantial bounty on his head 3) Beulah (& possibly Hardin) wanted him killed • M’Rose crossed the border into the U.S. and was immediately shot dead — probably ambushed — by waiting lawmen —Wikipedia • Goddess of War, Dennis McCown
• in Aug., young El Paso lawman, John Selman, Jr., arrested "widow" M’Rose for "brandishing a gun in public" • Hardin confronted Selman & the two men argued • on Monday afternoon, 19 Aug., 1895, Selman’s father, the cane-carrying Constable John Selman, Sr. (1839-1896) [photo] — himself a notorious gunslinger & sometime outlaw — tracked down Hardin & exchanged heated words • that night, Hardin played dice at the Acme Saloon at 225-227 San Antonio St. (now San Antonio Ave.), about 1.5 blocks from his office
• shortly before midnight Selman Sr. walked up to Hardin from behind & shot him in the head, killing him instantly & leaving an exit wound by his left eye [post mortem photo] • Selman fired 3 more shots into the corpse on the floor • was arrested for murder • pled self-defense claiming Hardin attempted to draw, resulting in a hung jury • released on bond, pending retrial • before the retrial, Selman was killed in a shootout with US Marshal George Scarborough, 6 April, 1896 —Tumbling Dice Wins Hardin a One-Way Ticket to Hell • Murdertopia • The Man Who Killed John Wesley Hardin, Gun Raconteur • Hardin’s Deadly Tools, True West
"Like most of his contemporaries, Selman would have laughed hilariously at the idea of today’s Hollywood confrontation of two protagonists walking toward each other down the middle of an open street, guns left holstered until the opposition commenced festivities by essaying a draw. It just wasn’t done that way, and on the night of August 19, 1895, "Uncle John" Selman gave a classic demonstration of the style that had kept him alive long past the age when most good gunslingers had passed to their reward." …read on at Dark Canyon
"In a vintage 1924 article, John Hunter quotes John Wesley Hardin’s midwife as predicting he would either turn out to be a ‘great hero’ or a ‘monumental villain.’ In truth he was wholly neither…. and a little of both.
"Hardin was a prime example of that special breed of men known collectively as ‘gunfighters.’ Given the proliferation of firearms in the Old West of the 1860’s, 70’s and 80’s, just the fact of packing a Colt wasn’t near enough to qualify someone as a true gunslinger. Nor did a single occasion of firing a gun in defense or anger make one an accomplished gunfighter." …read on at Legends of America
• Bob Dylan named the song & album John Wesley Harding (1967) after the gunslinging outlaw/lawyer, accidentally misspelling his name
• video: John Wesley Driving Tour (2:48) • HABS TX-3308
Tagged: , El Paso , el paso county , texas , tx , united states , usa , southwest , north america , architecture , building , commercial , business , office building , saloon , bank , gunfight , wild west , 1880s , 20th century