The Sugar House, El Paso, TX

The Sugar House, El Paso

In the border city of El Paso, Texas, 4301 Leavell is the Casa de Azucar (The Sugar House). The striking home stands out from the other houses in the architecturally undistinguished neighborhood. It is the sole building on a long narrow plot, with houses on two sides and a tall highway embankment on the third. This allowed the owner to build three street-side walls, with an undecorated alley on the backside. Just about every inch of those walls is covered with delicate ornate decorations, looking much like applied frosting (hence the name).

Started in 1973 by Rufino Loya, a retired Levi Strauss worker, it has been growing ever since. The inspiration for the house was a promise he made to his wife that he would make something beautiful for her. Drawing from memories of the churches he saw growing up in Mexico he created a magical corner of the world in El Paso - an oasis of beauty sitting incongruously beside Highway 54. It's a true labour of love.

Shrines to Jesus, The Virgin Mary, Saint Francisco de Asis and scripture are built along the walls. Mild variations within the decorative elements give everything a hand-crafted look. It couldn't be tidier the day I visited, having the appearance of daily cleaning and attendance. As far as I could tell, not a decorative element was broken or cracked, no sign of being tagged, touched or molested. It looked respected.

While named the House of Sugar, the home itself is only modestly decorated and offered no tours. This leaves the exterior walls and shrines to speak for themselves. As one sign stated, "This House is a Little Piece of Mexico." And a lovely piece at that.

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