Texas Architect 2011 Jan/Feb: Education
Texas Architect is the official publication of the Texas Society of Architects, each edition features recently completed projects and other editorial content largely written by AIA members in Texas. That collective participation was the basis of Texas Architect’s recognition by the national AIA with a 2010 Institute Honor for Collaborative Achievement.
texas architect 1 / 2 2 011 27 C o m m e n t a r y Investments in Heritage Preserving Texas’ historic county courthouse makes sense even in challenging economic times by J. Brantley HigHtower, aia Some of the 254 county courthouSeS that dot the texaS landscape were built when the communities they serve sat quite literally on the frontier of civilization. highly visible symbols of a commitment to the rule of law, these historic buildings were more than mere containers for the functional needs of county government. today, they continue to serve their communities while also representing part of a rich architectural heritage that is unique to our state. Because county governments exist as local administrative arms of the State of texas, the construction of these facilities have always been tied to decisions made in austin. In fact, most of texas’ historic courthouses were built in the last two decades of the 1800s after the texas Legisla- ture enacted measures that allowed counties to issue bonds to finance the construction of public build- ings. the result was a construction boom of ornate structures erected in the then-popular Victorian and romanesque styles. over the decades that followed, changing economic conditions caused many of these grand edifices to fall into increasing states of dis- repair. the courthouses, designed to meet specific programmatic needs of a century ago, were often severely challenged in adapting to the expanded scope of county gov- ernment. years of deferred main- tenance, poor integration of new mechanical systems, and insensi- tive additions took their toll, often rendering the buildings unrecognizable from their original forms. furthermore, a number of truly misguided aesthetic “modernizations” stripped elaborate ornament and tower structures in order to create a more streamlined exterior appearance. Internally, former grand volumes were often subdivided to accommodate additional office space. By 1998 the situation across the state had deteriorated to the point where the national trust for historic Preservation placed texas’ county court- houses as a group on its annual list of most endangered Places. While public sentiment almost always favored returning these structures to their original condition, local budget conditions limited the scale of restoration work. one year later, the texas Legislature created the texas historic courthouse Preservation Program (thcPP) that had been championed by then-governor George W. Bush. the texas historical commission was charged with devising a process by which individual counties could apply for grants to execute appropriate restorative work. In the 12 years that have passed since its inception, the results of the preservation program have been remarkable. In all, 137 grants have been awarded to 81 counties. By the end of this year, a total of 55 courthouses will have been rededicated following complete restoration funded through thcPP grants. But the preservation program has produced much more than beautified government buildings. the restoration of a county courthouse also can serve as a catalyst for redevelopment of the towns where they are located. In Weatherford, Parker county Judge mark riley recently described how the restoration of the 1886 courthouse helped “stabilize downtown.” the revitalized courthouse (originally designed by architect W.c. dodson; restored under the direction of cauble, hoskins & Loose and rededicated in 2003) also has become a center for community activity. Judge riley related how a recent production of “twelve angry men” was ‘improvements’ to the 1886 Bosque county courthouse, designed by J.J. Kane, expunged its Victorian Gothic revival characteristics. But, thanks in part to a grant through the texas historic courthouse Preservation Program, its missing italianate clock tower has been reconstructed. architexas was the restoration architect. Continued on page 77 PhoTos CourT esy A rChiT e x A s