Ornate downtown Houston high-rise set for resi makeover

Cameron Management is planning a $50 million resi conversion of the iconic — and allegedly haunted — Esperson complex in downtown Houston

Dougal Cameron and Mellie Esperson with Niels and Mellie Esperson buildings
Dougal Cameron and Mellie Esperson with Niels and Mellie Esperson buildings (Downtown Houston, LinkedIn, Cameron Management)

Considered to be the only complete examples of Italian Renaissance architecture in Downtown Houston, the Niels and Mellie Esperson Buildings will soon be offering rental units for between $3,200 and $6,400 per month. Mamma mia!

Cameron Management is planning a $50 million makeover of the iconic Esperson complex — a more than 80-year-old high-rise known for its tempietto or “little temple” cupola atop the tower. Much of the design — massive columns, great urns, and elaborate terraces — was patterned after the courtyard of San Pietro in Rome built in 1502. Houston-based Cameron will now be converting the historic office space into luxury apartments, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Built in 1927 and 1941, respectively, the Niels and Mellie Esperson Buildings at 808 and 815 Travis Street were named after the late real estate developer and pioneering female entrepreneur Mellie Esperson and her husband, Niels, a real estate and oil tycoon. Mellie’s ghost is said to haunt the building, though when the Chronicle reached out to management about that, they did not provide comment.

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Cameron Management first acquired the office complex roughly 18 years ago. So far, it’s poured more than $16 million into upgrading the historic structure with modern elevators and utilities.

The latest renovations are set to launch this fall starting in what’s known as the Mellie Esperson building, which is attached to the Niels Esperson building, company president Dougal Cameron said. The company aims to have at least 10 units ready by early next year, gradually adding up to about 100 units over time. In total, the plans call for 100,000 square feet of residential space spread across both buildings, on top of about 400,000 square feet of office space and 100,000 square feet of flex/coworking spaces on the lower six levels, says Cameron.

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Cameron has a specific clientele in mind for these residential units.

“We are trying to produce a vertical entrepreneurial village,” he said. “We will respond to the market, but we always plan to have flex office and residential and perhaps some hotel/dorm-like rooms for young entrepreneurs.”

Like most high-rises looking to attract well-off young professionals, the new Esperson building will of course have an amenity deck on the 17th floor complete with a pool, dog park, wellness facility and speakeasy, as well as lounge areas and space for catered gatherings.

The Esperson project is Cameron’s slightly more affordable answer to Hines’ towering Brava high-rise.

“We expect to use the Brava as our guide and have units that compare with the Brava with amenities… and then price at a 20 percent to 30 percent discount to Brava since our (cost) basis is so low,” Cameron said.

Maddy Sperling