Toltec Club El Paso
TOLTEC CLUB BUILDING, 717 E. SAN ANTONIO AVE., ERECTED IN 1910 AT A COST OF $100,000
Built in 1910 for the eight-year-old men's club, the Toltec Club building was once the address where El Paso’s business and political decisions and debates and glitzy socializing took place. The membership list of the club read like a “who’s who” of El Paso society. Some of the most prominent members included Joseph Magoffin, founder of the first bank in El Paso and civic leader; Henry C. Trost, the Southwest’s foremost architect; and W. W. Turney. Guests included President Roosevelt, Porfirio Diaz and General John J. Pershing.
The Toltec Club was founded in 1902 and originally occupied the second and third floors of a three-story red brick building on Texas Ave., opposite the Popular Dry Goods Co. On the first floor there was a saloon, which offered free lunches and all kinds of drinks, including nickel beers. The best whisky was 15 cents a glass and the customer poured his own. Annual dues were very expensive: $50 for residents and $25 for non-resident members. There were 14 rooms on the third floor that were rented to bachelor members. Social affairs at the Toltec Club were sparkling and brilliant, particularly the annual banquets. Food, most of it imported, along with champagne and fancy liqueurs, were popular items.
Britton Davis, first president of the club (1902-1904) was an old Indian fighter. He was an Army lieutenant and served with contingents that chased Chief Geronimo across the Southwest and into Mexico. He was reputed to be the first white man to cross the Sierra Madre range, east to west. The list of officers and members of the Toltec Club included the pioneers who laid the economic foundation for El Paso. There was Zach T. White, who gave residents gas lights to replace kerosene lamps, then electric lights, and street cars, and built the Paso del Norte Hotel; Harwood J Simmons, general manager of the El Paso & Southwestern Railroad, who with Frank Powers once owned The El Paso Times; and the Eddy Brothers, Charles B. and J. Arthur, who built the El Paso & Northeastern Railroad.
The thriving Toltec soon outgrew the building on Texas Street. A story in an issue of the El Paso Times (July 23, 1908) stated that the club had purchased the triangular site at E. San Antonio Avenue and Magoffin Avenue for $80,000. The First Baptist Church that had stood there since 1885 was demolished. The new show place structure was designed by J. J. Huddart in the Beaux Arts style and completed at a cost of $100,000. The club, in its new quarters, was formally opened and dedicated on the night of Oct, 14, 1910. “It was a gala party. Men, in full dress suits and women, in gowns with long trains, danced in the pink and gold room, which glittered with lights,” according to the El Paso Times.
The club was not only a social center of the city, but a place where visiting dignitaries were lavishly entertained. One such group was the U. S. Senatorial committee which decided on the Elephant Butte project. Theodore Roosevelt was an honored guest at a breakfast in the club. An open house was held for the staff and retinue of Porfirio Diaz of Mexico when he came to El Paso to meet U. S. President Howard Taft. Generals Pershing and Wood attended affairs of the club.
Historic meetings were hosted there as well. There was a banquet given May 31, 1911 by citizens of El Paso celebrating the establishment of peace in Mexico and tendered to Francisco I Madero, who was then president of the republic.
The Toltec Club declined in the 1930s with the onset of the Great Depression. In February 1935 the Elks Club rented the building and moved in. Many businesses have leased space within the 105-year-old structure at one time or another. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979: http://focus.nps.gov/AssetDetail/NRIS/79002934.