It's been a week since I returned from the Permian Basin road trip: 16 counties in 3 days. I've already blogged about the daily drives so now I'll say a few words about the courthouses I visited. Executive summary: it's not a very memorable collection of buildings. Actually, some are very memorable; just not a good memory! Let's get started.
As you might guess, this mid-70's building replaced a beautiful, turn of the century courthouse. An interesting twist: the center of this symmetrical building is solid. There are entrances on either side of the large blank facade, behind which is the courtroom. Personally, I don't think it's a good design strategy to fill the center of a facade with, well, nothing. Compare this to the Kent County courthouse which, using the same bi-lateral plan, successfully fills the large blank wall in the center by treating it as a billboard for the county.
Not a bad design, but not particularly memorable or imaginative. It's your basic mid-20th century governmental box. An office building with a grand entrance. I saw a lot of these in the Permian Basin. They're very sturdy and utilitarian, like a good pair of work shoes.
South of Big Spring, in the middle of a vast rolling prairie, much of it cultivated, is Garden City. This lovely "temple" courthouse is in urgent need of a restoration, but its has good bones. Hands down, the best courthouse I visited in the Permian Basin.
A brick box with some very flat classical details pasted on the facade. Several additions later, this courthouse is still the most siginifcant building in the county, but that's setting the bar pretty low. The ruins of a 1911 stone courthouse still exist a few miles north, in the former town of Stiles. They're slowing collapsing, but the simple monumentality of the former Reagan County courthouse is still impressive.
Typcial story. The railroad passed Stiles by and the county seat moved to Big Lake.
Another courthouse that was absorbed within a so-called alteration and addition that left no evidence of the previous building. The 1926 courthouse, by Abilene architect David S. Castle, is presumably still within this 1958 building, but you'd never know it. From what I can tell, the original building is on the right in this photograph. The vertical entrance piece in the center of the courthouse is new construction, along with everything to the left of the entrance.
The Crane County courthouse is a banal collection of several modern boxes with little personality. Only the curving entrance canopies are noteworthy. The remainder of the building is simply utilitarian and, let's just move on, okay?
The courthouse in downtown Odessa covers an entire city block. The perforated sunscreen skin, supported by piloti, treats each facade in the same anonymous manner. Is this the front, the side, or the back? In this building, it doesn't matter. A sign at this corner identifies it as the "public entrance." Okay. There's also another courthouse hiding somewhere inside this shell. The 1938 courthouse was absorbed in this 1964 addition. So I'm told.
Like the Howard County courthouse, this modern, mid-century building isn't bad. It's just difficult to see the original courthouse. Wings were added on each side, and the trees have almost completely obscured the front facade. Really, can't they trim them?
Speaking of trees, this trend of hiding the front of the courthouse between a veil of trees is getting tiresome. This 1937 courthouse in Pecos has a nice Mediterranean style but it, too, has been repeatedly added to and altered, and not for the better. And, the best part is hidden behind the trees.
All 82 of Loving County's residents could comfortably fit inside this modest courthouse. It has survived 77 years in the middle of nowhere, Texas without any apparent additions and/or significant alterations. And, the surrounding trees are at least some distance from the building. A new courthouse annex has been erected across the street.
A David S. Castle design, obscured by overgrown trees. The building is another vaguely classical box. Boring, but serviceable, I'm sure. If the front facade were visible, it would be monumental, no doubt. Time to trim the trees.
I discussed the Midland County courthouses in the previous blog entry. To repeat, the 1930 building was absorbed into a 1974 shell that screams "look at me, I'm monumental!" The current courthouse, housed in a modified 1980's office building is actually very appropriate for Midland County. Seriously.
You'll be surprised to learn that trees hide the front of this courthouse. The original utilitarian modern box has a one-story addition on the front that did to the composition of the main facade what the trees have done to the addition. Move along, nothing to see here.
A familar story, the 1922 courthouse is altered and extended in 1955, leaving the historically styled original building hidden behind a modern facade. And, a few trees.
This is the last and the saddest courthouse I visited in the Permian Basin. The original 1916 building was completely despoiled during a 1952 "remodeling" that left the poor courthouse looking for all the world like a high school gym-nasium that's seen better days. Oh, and there are trees obscuring all four sides of this courthouse. In this case, that's a benefit. All of the courthouses I visited could be greatly improved by a good landscape design. Simply planting some trees in random locations and letting them grow, without any pruning, is not doing these public buildings any favors. Except, perhaps, for Dawson County.
Leonard G. Lane, Jr., AIA
- Chronological Order (of my visits)
- County List (alphabetical)
- Texas Courthouse Blog
- James Riely Gordon, Architect
- Eugene T. Heiner, Architect
- Henry T. Phelps, Architect
- Alfred Giles, Architect
- Corneil G. Curtis, Architect
- Wesley Clark Dodson, Architect
- Lang & Witchell Architects
- Voelcker & Dixon, Architects
- Wyatt C. Hedrick, Architect
- David S. Castle, Architect
- Page Brothers, Architects
- James Edward Flanders, Architect
- Pierce, Norris, Pace & Associates, Architects & Engineers