Front & Center
Preservation: The Past Meets the Present
PHOTO BY BRANTLEY HIGHTOWER, AIA
by Catherine Gavin, Editor
Completed in 1894, the Caldwell County Courthouse was designed by Henri E. M. Guidon. It was fully restored in 2000 independently of the THC program. In January 2013, the county approved a contract for extensive maintenance and repairs to the historic building.
rchitectural historian and critic Colin Rowe argued that the Texas courthouse-town typology was not just a slice of Americana but an understudied and underappreciated urbanistic success. His 1955 essay “Lockhart, Texas” sings the praises of Caldwell County’s stately Second Empire courthouse; it also leaves you with a broader vision of the town. Beyond this one architectural gem is what Rowe describes as “an uninterrupted staccato of distinctly assertive structures.” The cohesive scale and materials of the brick and limestone buildings executed in a variety of late-19th- and early-20th-century architectural styles “detains the observer.” His poetic description of the town’s visual continuity pays tribute to its layered yet coherent streetscape. Rowe’s appreciative vision is a testament to the value of conservation efforts that have preserved courthouses and Main Streets across the state. Even in the face of their challenges, we are still able to recognize many historic Texas towns. But the fact that the historic courthouses of Texas made the 2012 National Register’s List of the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places is a reminder that much work remains to be done. To date, 50 courthouses have been restored since the Texas Historical Commission’s (THC) Historic Courthouse program’s inception in 1999. This work has not only benefited the restored buildings themselves but has had a real economic
impact on the surrounding towns; nearly 10,000 jobs have been generated through these efforts. The THC’s Main Street program has shown similar results despite the fact that both programs have suffered cutbacks. and main street programs represent only a facet of historic preservation practices across the state, and they generally tend to illustrate the more traditional side of the field. This issue explores preservation in the context of rehabilitation, adaptive reuse, and contemporary design. The features open with an essay dedicated to the ongoing efforts in the Bayou City to recognize and protect Houston’s architectural heritage — including the Brutalist Alley Theatre. Many of the projects demonstrate that preservation can in fact meet prescribed sustainability standards. The rehabilitation of Pioneer Hall in San Antonio and the Beck House in Dallas illustrate that significant Beaux-Arts and Modernist buildings can accommodate new additions that are well scaled and use appropriate materials. As individual examples of measured responses to development and growth, these projects attest to the possibilities of a successful dialogue between the old and new. Yet the courthouse
Texas Architect 5
Published on May 8, 2013
This issue on historic preservation illustrates themany facets of the field, including restoration,rehabilitation, and adaptive reuse.