niels & mellie esperson
continued page 3 of 5
By: Thomas M. Ciesla
As fate would have it, he never got to see his dream. While on a trip in 1922 to Chicago to visit with an architect for his theatre project, Niels died from a heart attack. He left behind large land holdings across Texas including 300 acres on the Ship Channel, 35,000 acres at the mouth of the Rio Grande, a 1300 acre ranch in Liberty County full of oil reserves, and numerous corporations in several states.
Mrs. Esperson put her grief aside and took the reins
of the Esperson empire. She turned out to be a forthright business person. During their marriage, Mellie was always at her husbands side, listening and learning everything about the oil and real estate business. Niels and Mellie would talk about the business every day they were together. With this in-depth knowledge in her pocket, she oversaw the control of their far-flung businesses and construction of the Majestic Theatre . It was completed in 1923 and stood until 1971.
Upon completion of the theatre, Mellie asked architect John Eberson, who had designed the Majestic Theatre, to design an office building to complete her husbandís dream. With Mr. Eberson at her side, Mellie scoured the United States and Europe looking for just the right materials and craftsmanship to complete the building. The result was the Niels Esperson Building, fashioned after a building Niels admired in Chicago. The 32-story, $4 million skyscraper was the tallest structure in Texas for two years after its completion.
It was 1927 when the Niels Esperson Building was dedicated. Two years had passed since Houstonís first enduring radio station -- KPRC -- went on the air, and two years since the Warwick Hotel opened its doors. It was also two years since Mellie married Harry Stewart , a successful advertising executive and a man 20 years her junior.
The next year, Mellie sold the Esperson Building, keeping the 25th floor as a base for her business operations. When the building went into default in 1932 during the Great Depression, Mellie bought it back for three quarters of the original construction costs at a foreclosure auction. She had now spent a total of seven million dollars on her husbandís memory.
In 1934, after less than ten years together, Mellie divorced Harry, who was by then living in Dallas. Details of the breakup were kept private.
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