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Houston History: The first high-rise in Houston built with central air conditioning

Niels and Millie Esperson Building postcard
Niels and Millie Esperson Building postcard (Boston Public Library)

HOUSTON – Long before 1941, high-rise buildings in Houston were not built with any cooling systems. As technology advanced, developers began adding central air to existing buildings.

Nearly 80 years ago on this day, one high-rise structure made Houston history by becoming the first large building to be built with central air-conditioning. On February 25, 1941, The Mellie Esperson Building opened its door to the public.

Mellie Esperson Building
Mellie Esperson Building (Texas State Historical Association)

This nineteen-story building was named after Mellie Keenan Esperson, a businesswoman and developer from Kansas. It was an adjoining structure to the thirty-two story Niels Esperson Building, named after Esperson’s husband.

According to Cameron Management, Mrs. Esperson asked architect John Ebserson to build this structure on the right of Mr. Esperson’s building, as she always to him.

It’s believed that it was the largest office building in Houston to be constructed during the Great Depression.

The companion building was connected to the Neils Esperson Building on all but two floors.

Today this historic structure provides offices for banks, oil companies and other professional interests.


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