History Revealed by ANNA MOD
Wharton County Courthouse Restoration
Ray Bailey Architects, Inc.
Stoddard Construction Conti Jumper Gardner and Associates (structural);
MNM Engineering Associates (MEP); EcoSystems Environmental (environmental) design team
Ray Bailey, FAIA; James Knight, AIA; Gerald Moorhead,
FAIA; Ivan Pire photographer
t e x a s
Gerald Moorhead, FAIA
a r c h i t e c t
The restoration of a historic building can be a controversial enterprise in which the architect must separate myth from fact. The process of accurately recreating the original form, features, and decorative elements requires extensive on-site investigation and study of archival material. Without such meticulous research, preservation projects can lead to a romanticized interpretation of history updated for modern times. By contrast, sensitive rehabilitations introduce new systems while protecting character-defining features that return historic buildings to being a useful part of the built environment. The restoration of the Wharton County Courthouse, scheduled for completion this summer, is one of the most dramatic restorations in Texas’ historic courthouse program. The project, lead by Bailey Architects of Houston, successfully removed early-twentieth-century alterations and returned the courthouse to its turn-of-the-century appearance. Built in 1889 on the downtown square of Wharton, about 60 miles southwest of Houston, the Second Empire-style edifice was designed by Houston architect Eugene Heiner, who is credited with 17 other county courthouses and 19 jails across Texas. However, the original character of Heiner’s building was almost completely obscured by a 1935 Moderne remodel and subsequent additions. When the restoration team began the project in 2000 the architects knew that the brick exterior walls of the late-nineteenth-century courthouse existed somewhere beneath an inch-thick layer of stucco. They also knew that Heiner’s courthouse had lost its central clock tower and pyramidal roof as consequences of its transformation into a more progressive style. That 1935 work included one-story additions on the north and south sides (with subsequent additions to the east and west), and installation of indoor toilets, both for whites and African-Americans. In 1949, further improvements added a new staircase, an elevator, and a third segregated indoor toilet was added for Hispanics. At mid-century,
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