Cortez on the Plaza -- Hotel Cortez

Note: Make sure to check out the 7 interior images at the bottom of this page! Very nice.

Cortez on the Plaza is a 9-story "L" shaped tower on a two floor rectangular base, designed in a striking Spanish Colonial Revival by renowned El Paso architect Henry C. Trost. It is located in downtown El Paso at the corner of Mills and Mesa Streets, across Mesa from the San Jacinto Plaza. Currently in use as offices, the building was recently completely restored (2011) and is in outstanding condition. Contractor for this 1926 structure was Ramey Brothers Construction, and from inception to drawings to actual erection the building took 15 years to complete.

Cortez on the Plaza, originally known as the Hotel Orndorff, was built by the Sheldon Hotel Company, at a cost of nearly six million dollars, 3/4 of which was for interior decoration. Sadly, one of the original owners, Alzina Orndorff DeGroff, did not live to see the September 10, 1926 grand opening.


In 1885, with investors J.H. Stein, Ed Hawley, and John Friedenbloom, the original Hotel Vendome was built at the site by iconic El Paso photographer Francis Parker (El Paso Herald, 1/27/1912). Many sources believe this hotel was called the Parker House, however the El Paso Daily Times from 7/28/1884 identifies the Parker House as a different property, owned by Harvey D. Parker of Boston. The following year, the hotel was purchased by a Mr. Reeves (1/3 interest) and Mr. Raynolds (2/3 interest), and managed by S. Leipziger, who operated the Vendome for about 13 years (El Paso Daily Herald, 4/12/1899). We believe the Mr. Raynolds mentioned in this source is the same individual that founded the First National Bank in both Albuquerque and El Paso, giving Albuquerque its iconic Banque Lofts Building (Trost & Trost) and El Paso its American Furniture building, also Trost & Trost.

In April 1899, Tucson, Arizona hoteliers Charles and Alzina DeGroff, operators of Tucson's New Orndorff Hotel, purchased the Vendome. According to the Arizona Historical Society, they continued to operate Tucson's Orndorff until 1931 in addition to their El Paso ventures. They immediately closed the El Paso Vendome for approximately 60 days and renovated the property, adding a fourth floor and extending the building northward. They opened it at the beginning of July, 1899 under the name Hotel Orndorff (El Paso Daily Herald, 4/12/1899; El Paso Daily Herald, 5/01/1899).

The Sheldon Hotel was located a block to the southwest of the Orndorff, at the location of the current Plaza Hotel at Pioneer Park. On April 30, 1910, the Orndorff Hotel Company was formed to own and manage both the Orndorff and Sheldon properties, in addition to the Tucson Orndorff, with Charles DeGroff as President and Burt Orndorff as Manager. In an article in the 1/12/1915 El Paso Herald, it is stated that the Orndorff "took over" the Sheldon, opening up the possibility that it was an unfriendly acquisition. The formation of this management company coincided with the planned Trost & Trost remodel of the Sheldon (El Paso Herald, 4/30/1910; El Paso Herald, 6/21/1911; El Paso Herald, 5/18/1910).

In 1916, the Sheldon was sold to a conglomerate of El Paso businessmen, including the powerful Krakauer family, but management remained in the hands of Burt Orndorff (El Paso Herald 2/5/1916). The Sheldon remained independent of the Hotel Orndorff for only 4 years, when it was re-absorbed by the Orndorff Hotel Company. On January 1, 1920, the hotel company was renamed The Sheldon Hotel Company (El Paso Herald, 1/1/1920). Management of both properties continued to be handled by Burt Orndorff, who officed at the Sheldon.

The Sheldon Hotel Company was comprised of Charles DeGroff, Alzina DeGroff, Lee Orndorff, Burt Orndorff and Seth Orndorff. In the 1911 formation of the "El Paso Hotel Men's and Restaurant Keeper's Association", Charles DeGroff represented the Hotel Orndorff as owner (El Paso Herald, 11/25/1911 pg. 11).

In 1911, the company began to plan their large, fireproof hotel to replace the existing Orndorff (El Paso Herald, 11/9/1911). 15 years later, in 1926, they completed the extant Trost structure. For approximately 1 year, the new building retained the name Hotel Orndorff, until the property was sold in September 1927 to the Hussmann Hotel Corporation and was renamed appropriately (Commercial Structures of El Paso by Henry C. Trost thematic nomination, page 7). We are unaware why the new structure was sold so quickly, however the company divested itself of the El Paso Orndorff at that time and the Tucson Orndorff by 1931, and had famously lost the Sheldon to a spectacular fire in 1929. The Sheldon Hotel Company was no more.

In 1935, the property was sold by Hussmann to the West Texas Hotel Company (Ref: Trost Society). A contest was held to rename the hotel, and the winning name, submitted by El Paso attorney Thornton Hardie, was Hotel Cortez.


The hotel finally closed in 1970, and the building was purchased by Jorge Murra of Torreon, Mexico ( In 1972 a fire destroyed a portion of the interior, and in rebuilding Murra lost much of the hotel's early interior design. Historical websites unfairly describe it as a "gutting". Mr. Murra leased the building to various U.S. Government agencies, including the Job Corps. In 1984, the property was purchased by Carroll, DuSang and Rand, an investment firm, who remodeled the building into an office structure. Shortly thereafter, it was purchased by a subsidiary of the El Paso Electric Company called Franklin Land and Resources, who continued the process of interior and exterior restoration.

By 2011, ownership of the property had passed to George Dipp and Pasotex Realty LLC. On February 1, 2011, El Paso experienced a week of extremely cold weather where temperatures remained below the freezing mark. The highs on February 2 and 3 did not go above 10 degrees, and the rest of the week was even colder (ref: weather dot gov). A water pipe burst on the 4th floor of the Cortez, doing serious, widespread damage to the interior of the building. In response, Pasotex thoroughly remodeled the entire building and restored the first and tenth floors to their 1926 specifications. In the years since that event it has been excellently maintained.

The Cortez on the Plaza building stands as a tribute to one of the greatest minds in Architecture. From a distance, this cube seems generic; but as we walk closer, it begins to dazzle with an insurrection of the most amazing and intricate design. In a time when many Trost & Trost properties strive simply to exist, frequently threatened with demolition, the Cortez rebels and remains one of Henry C. Trost's landmark creations.

Text and research provided by Mark Stone, citing the above referenced links and newspaper clippings. Newspaper articles and advertisements used to create a narrative of historical events were accessed at either the Library of Congress' Chronicling America project ( or at the University of North Texas (Denton) Digital Repository (

S. Leipziger managed the Vendome at the site now occupied by the Cortez. This advertisement is from the June 1, 1886 El Paso Times. Image credit: The Portal to Texas History  

This image is verified from 1888, the Hotel Vendome. Image credit: Texas Mountain Trail

This is probably from 1886, according to the source. The 4-story structure to the left is not part of the Vendome, although it looks like it in the image. It was demolished shortly after this image was taken. Note that it is not present in the preceding and following images. Image credit: El Paso Ghost Tours
The first El Paso Hotel Orndorff, the immediate predecessor to the 1926 Trost property. Image credit: El Paso Ghost Tours

This clipping from the El Paso Herald, 1/1/1920, dating the merger of the Orndorff and Sheldon hotels. They had already been managed by the same company for some time, however this culminated their merger into a single firm. Image credit: University of North Texas via Library of Congress
This 1911 article indicates that the initial planning for the huge Cortez may have been considered at least 15 years before its completion. At least they were thinking about it! Image credit: University of North Texas via Library of Congress

The Orndorff under construction in 1926. Image credit: Trost Society

Here's the entrance to the Trost Orndorff on January 20, 1927, about 4 months after the building's completion. Image credit:
American Architect and Building News via St. Croix Architecture

February 1930, the Hussman overlooks the early stages of the Hilton'e construction. Image Credit: The Trost Society

The Hotel Hussman between 1927 and 1936. Before 1927 it was Hotel Orndorff for its first year,
and after 1936 it was the Cortez. Note the John Muir building to the right.
Photo Credit: Uncredited, hanging on a hallway wall on the second floor of the building. 

Here is an undated post card. The International Building to the right of the picture has gone through its 1962 remodel, dating this image to the mid to late 1960s. Image Credit: CardCow dot com.

An early 1960s ground-level shot of the building. Image Credit: Uncredited, hanging on a hallway wall
in the building.

Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Undated photo at the main Hussman entrance. Image credit: El Paso Ghost Tours

Here's the entrance in the 1970s when the owner, Jorge Murra, had leased the property to the Job Corps. Image credit: El Paso Museum of History Digie

As she looks today. Picture taken diagonally across Mills/Mesa by myself on 8/13/18

Picture taken by myself 8/13/18

Main entrance. Picture taken by myself 8/13/18

Classic Trost!! Look at these conquistadors. Look at the detail! Picture taken by myself 8/13/18

Picture taken by myself 8/13/18

Picture taken by myself 8/13/18

Up through San Jacinto trees. Picture taken by myself 8/13/18

Picture taken by myself 8/13/18

I love the detail. Again, classic lovely Henry Trost. Picture taken by myself 8/13/18

Picture taken by myself 8/13/18

The following 7 images were taken by myself on 8/13/18. This is the current state of the building's interior, and it is nothing short of gorgeous. Every square inch spotless and well appointed.