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Milam Building

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Milam Building –
San Antonio, Texas

At 280 feet (90 m), the 21-story Milam Building in downtown San Antonio, Texas was the tallest brick and reinforced concrete structure in the United States when it opened in 1928, as well as the first high-rise air-conditioned office building. The building was designed by George Willis, engineered by M.L. Diver, and constructed by L.T. Wright and Company. The building was named in honor of the Republic of Texas historical figure Benjamin Milam, noted for his leadership during the Texas Revolution. In keeping with that motif, the only flag that flies atop the tower is the Lone Star flag.[1]


The Milam Building has undergone many events, including fires, foreclosure, and ownership changes. It was owned by Principal Mutual Life Insurance Co. of Des Moines, Iowa while the law firm of Maloney & Maloney occupied the top three floors. The 1950s had a tenancy by Mobil, Shell, the Railroad Commission of Texas, and Exxon used the building for their Texas headquarters, before they moved to Houston. The 1960s saw a tenancy by the men's clothing firm Hutchins Brothers in the specially designed Argyle Room as a permanent retail store within the building.[2]

George Willis was the architect of the building.[3] The Milam Building was listed on National Register of Historic Places in 2014.[4] The building was the first high rise office building in the world that was completely air conditioned and the first high rise that was built with no steel girders, only reinforced concrete.[5]


The building contains 210,851 square-feet within the tower structure and it was the first office building in the United States with built-in air conditioning when constructed. [6] [7] The general contractor was L.T. Wright and Company and the architect was George Willis, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright.[8] The building engineer was M.L. Diver.[9] The building was named after Colonel Ben Milam, a leader in the Texas revolution.[10]

The Milam Company advertising proclaimed air conditioning as the building's principal feature, naming it Carrier's "Manufactured Weather."[11] Doors and windows could be closed year-round, making the interior environmentally cleaner and quieter. The air conditioning covered all 21 floors of the building including its basement.[12] The building shares an architectonic character with New York's seminal Barclay-Vesey Building. Exterior ornamentation is kept to a minimum, except at the top of the building.[13]

Air-conditioning system[edit]

The Carrier Engineering Corporation installed an air-conditioning system that promised a 75 °F (24 °C) constant temperature at 56 percent relative humidity. Some smaller single story buildings such as stores, auditoriums, and theaters had been air-conditioned earlier, but a high-rise multi-story office building required unique technology in the original construction to allow for controlled air-handling through a delivery system of ducts throughout the building. The Milam building's air-conditioning and cooling system consisted of 11 units of air-conditioning equipment, including fans, dehumidifiers, heaters. There were two refrigeration units with a maximum 375-ton capacity for cooling water, in addition to water storage tanks, pumps, and piping. The distribution lines consisted of air-distribution ducts with grills and dampers. There were manual and automatic power systems that controlled the air-flow. One air-conditioning unit served two floors, with a few exceptions. The majority of the equipment was located in the basement of the building.[7]

This early air conditioner system was modeled from a German mine shaft compressor. Large ice chunks were deposited in the building's basement to aid the chilling unit. The 18 feet (10 m) long chiller remained in service until October 1989. Its 60 years of service was trumpeted by Carrier as proving good design leading to longevity. In designing and executing this installation, and creating an artificial climate, at least nine new mechanical construction problems had to be addressed not previously encountered in skyscrapers.[7]

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers recognized, Carrier's "Manufactured Weather" had many benefits. Cooled offices helped in tenant retention. The office environment became more efficient and hospitable due to the elimination or reduction of unwanted elements. The building owners also found they could charge a premium of 10 to 15 percent more rent for air conditioned offices. In short, the deal between Travis Investment Company and Carrier Engineering resulted in the first high-rise, fully air conditioned, office building in the United States.[7]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Milam Building, ca. 1930" (Photograph). Pinterest. Retrieved December 12, 2015. With Texas State Flag flying atop the tower.
  2. ^ "Hutchins' Wonderland Store Opens". Express and News. San Antonio, Texas. November 12, 1961 – via open access publication – free to read.
  3. ^ "Tower of Americas Sparkles San Antonio Downtown Scene". The Amarillo Globe-Times. Amarillo, Texas. November 24, 1969 – via open access publication – free to read.
  4. ^ "14-3501 Type: Public Hearing On agenda: 1/7/2015 Address/Description: 115 E TRAVIS ST Landmark Name: Milam Building Applicant: Texas Historical Commission Request: Review of National Register Nomination Attachments: 1. Case_13_115 E Travis". City of San Antonio, Historic and Design Review Commission. Retrieved December 11, 2015. Includes 52 pages of exhibits in Adobe Acroat (PDf) format.
  5. ^ "Tower Is Symbol For San Antonio". Corsicana Daily Sun. Corsicana, Texas. November 12, 1969 – via open access publication – free to read.
  6. ^ Kane 1997, p. 93.
  7. ^ a b c d "The Milam Building, A National Mechanical Engineering Heritage Site Designation Ceremony". San Antonio, Texas: American Society of Mechanical Engineers. August 23, 1991. Retrieved December 10, 2015. When it opened in January 1928, San Antonio's 21-story Milam Building, originally owned by the Travis Investment Company, was the nation's tallest brick and reinforced-concrete structure — taller than comparable concrete-framed buildings in New York and Chicago — and the first high-rise air-conditioned office building in the country.
  8. ^ Henry 1993, pp. 217, 220.
  9. ^ "Milam High-rise Air Conditioned Building". The American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Retrieved December 10, 2015. The Milam Building was the first high-rise air-conditioned office building in the United States.
  10. ^ Baugh, Josh (May 5, 2012). "Cityscape: Milam Building". San Antonio Express. My San Antonio. Retrieved December 10, 2015.
  11. ^ "World's Outstanding Air Conditioner Installations are by Carrier Corp". Lake Charles American-Press. Lake Charles, Louisiana. May 23, 1961 – via open access publication – free to read.
  12. ^ "Milam Building, San Antonio Texas". Retrieved December 11, 2015.
  13. ^ Henry 1993, pp. 217, 220.


  • Henry, Jay C. (January 1, 1993). Architecture in Texas: 1895–1945. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press. pp. 217, 220. ISBN 978-0-292-73072-4.
  • Kane, Joseph Nathan (1997). Famous First Facts, Fifth Edition. # 2065: The H. W. Wilson Company. ISBN 0-8242-0930-3. The first air-conditioned office building was the Milam Building, San Antonio, TX, which opened on January 1, 1928. The building was 21 stories high, contained nearly 3 million cubic feet of space, and had 247,779 square feet of gross floor area. It was the first building in the world in which the air conditioning was a part of the original construction.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

  • ^ Lambeth, Maggie (December 1986). Texan Books (PDF). p. 3. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-12-22.
  • ^ Haggard-Kothmann, Laytha Sue (1988). "George Willis, prairie school architect in Texas". Dissertation M. Arch. University of Texas at Austin.