By Richard Coltharp
Frank O. Papen had big dreams for Las Cruces.
You’ve heard the saying, “When you dream, aim for the stars! Even if you miss, you might hit the moon!”
Space was big in the 1960s, and Papen was banking on it. Literally.
An influential board member, chairman and president of First National Bank of Doña Ana County, Papen was known as “Mr. First National.”
In 1962, President John F. Kennedy had challenged America to get to the moon by the end of the decade. The Soviet Union had already beaten us with the first satellite (Sputnik, 1957), and the Space Race was on.
Papen knew NASA had a future in Florida and in Houston, but NASA had a presence in Las Cruces (White Sands Test Facility, 1963) and he was betting on the come.
He envisioned thousands of Las Crucens working for NASA in a big building downtown. After all, southern New Mexico was a cradle of space history, with Goddard’s rocketry pioneering in Roswell, Von Braun’s V2 at White Sands Proving Grounds, the high-speed test track at Holloman Air Force Base and, of course, 1945’s atomic bomb test.
So, he built a building that would get as close to space as any building in Las Cruces ever would: The First National Bank Tower. Construction began in 1966 for a seven-story building, and by the time It opened its doors in 1967, it had grown to 120 feet and 10 floors, 11 if you count the basement. Las Cruces was as poised as any Southwest city for an explosion.
Most of those NASA jobs, however, stayed in Florida; Houston; Huntsville, Alabama; and elsewhere. The flurry of skyscrapers never came.
First National Bank sold to Wells Fargo, which had the tower for many years and maintained offices in the tower, as did several government agencies. In 1983, Abraham’s restaurant took a space on the fourth floor. (When I came to Las Cruces in 2007, Abraham’s also took a space in my heart. I love their meatloaf, burgers, pie and, of course, the fact they sell RC Cola). But by the mid-2010s, everything with the aging tower seemed to be taking the “down” elevator.
A half century after Papen, however, another man came along who had big dreams for Las Cruces.
In 2009, Anthony Dohrmann began a little company now known as Electronic Caregiver, which creates devices that assist people with healthcare and safety. A few years ago, having grown the company steadily, Dohrmann looked for some bigger office space.
If you’ve ever met Dohrmann, you know he doesn’t think small.
So, he went for the biggest building in town. At first, they occupied one floor, then two, then three, then four and more. The next step: Stripping Wells Fargo’s name from the top of the tower and replacing it with Electronic Caregiver.
And now, the biggest step: Monday, July 11, Electronic Caregiver bought the whole building.
For Kiel Hoffman, Las Cruces market president of Pioneer Bank, which orchestrated the loan for the $8.9 million purchase price, the deal has additional personal meeting. His late father, Bob Hoffman, was a New Mexico economic developer who worked on the original deal for the building in the 1960s and attended the ribbon cutting.
The sale solidifies not only Electronic Caregiver as a force in New Mexico and beyond, it further solidifies the Las Cruces community and our re-emerging downtown.
Here’s to the big dreamers!