B o o k R e v i e w
King of Courts Monograph relates the stories behind Gordon’s public buildings b y J . B r a n t l e y H i g h t o w e r , AIA
James Riely Gordon (1863–1937) is best known to most Texans for the ornate county courthouses he designed in the closing decade of the nineteenth century. His grand Romanesque piles for Ellis County in Waxahachie and Bexar County in San Antonio are among the state’s bestloved pubic buildings. Surprisingly, no monograph on Gordon or his work has been published in the nearly 75 years after his death. This gap in the historical narrative has finally been filled by Chris Meister’s James Riely Gordon: His Courthouses and Other Public Architecture, published in October by Texas Tech University Press. Although Gordon’s body of work encompasses more than public buildings, his most influential projects were his courthouses and so the author’s tactical decision to focus on this area of his career is justified. While Meister – a writer and graphic designer who lives in Royal Oak, Michigan – touches on important biographical moments in Gordon’s life, the majority of his text relates the stories behind the courthouses: how they were designed, the political drama that often accompanied their approval and construction, and how they pertained to the development of Gordon’s career. Additionally, Meister delves into the efforts Gordon took to craft designs that met the functional needs of county government while also addressing the broader aspirations of a particular community. The author further explains how Gordon devised techniques by which the design of the courthouse itself mitigated the harsh conditions of Texas summers. Even those readers familiar with Gordon’s work in Texas, may be surprised to learn that while he practiced successfully in San Antonio for over two decades, midway through his career he moved to New York City. While he evidently never lost his Texan accent, Gordon built as robust a practice in
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