Sunday, November 20, 2016

Sentimental Sunday: Nueces County Courthouses, Then (1975-77) and Now (2014-16)

Two blocks west of my original place of work with the City of Corpus Christi (222 Belden) was the 1914 Nueces County Courthouse.  During my years in the City (April 1979 through October 1984), the building was in fairly good shape.  It had suffered some damage from Hurricane Celia in 1970, which led to the County government deciding to put construction of a new courthouse on the ballot.  The bond issue was approved, and the County moved into its new courthouse up on the bluff in 1977.





According to the 1978 application for the historical marker,

The Greek neo-classical building originally was T-shaped but 1930 additions to the west have created a cruciform shape.  Rising six stories above ground, the reinforced steel building is faced in soft gray brick with white classical terracotta trim and is crowned with a red roof, originally of tile.  The building contains quantities of marble and ornate iron work....An open well soars through three floors and the double grand staircase features the marble as well as the iron work.

You can get some idea of what the interior offices of the 1914 Courthouse looked like in 1934 from the work of an itinerant photographer (all but the first two images).



Above: (Old) Nueces County Courthouse (15 July 2015) / Jimmy Emerson, DVM / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Below:  Bas relief figures at top of east wing, 20 June 2016



It's not clear to me what the four bas relief terracotta figures at the top of the main (east) entrance are supposed to represent.  One source said they are the four Cardinal Virtues, and the one on the far left is clearly Justice, with the blindfold, sword, and balance scales.  The one on the far right appears to be holding a Masonic symbol.  It's interesting that those two are depicted as angels, and the other two are not.

The south wing of the building was restored with various grant funds in 2004-2006.  Although some of the doors and windows have since been boarded up for security, the project demonstrated that restoration of the building is possible.  Otherwise, though, the County has done little to maintain or protect the building, and it has suffered from vandalism, scavenging, and neglect.  The building can't be demolished before September 1, 2027, because of a preservation easement placed on the building by the Texas Historical Commission when the county accepted the renovation grants.


Above:  Carytids at south wing entrance, 20 June 2016

Below:  Restored south wing roofline, 20 June 2016



The "new" (1977) Nueces County Courthouse is very different in style.




Above:  Nueces County Courthouse (September 1975, cropped) / Jay Phagan / CC BY 2.0





My husband particularly likes these two art pieces in the atrium of the 1977 Courthouse:



Above:  Longhorn skull and horns in atrium of 1977 Nueces County Courthouse, 17 June 2016.

Below:  Seagulls in atrium of 1977 Nueces County Courthouse, 17 June 2016.



As can be seen on the map below, what really doomed the old (1914) courthouse, in my opinion, was the construction of the Harbor Bridge (Highway 183) and extension of Interstate 37 in 1957-59.  The two major roads wrap around two sides of the building, eating away at the original courthouse block.
Various attempts have been made over the years to reuse the building, but all have fallen through.



Above:  Image from the map I bought when I moved to Corpus Christi in 1979.  The Old Nueces County Courthouse is the red cross-shaped building at the northeast corner of the intersection of Interstate 37 (which runs east from the west edge of the map) and US Hwy 181 (which runs south from the north edge of the map).  The current Nueces County Courthouse is in the orange T-shaped area in the center of the map. Click on this image to enlarge it.  

Below:  Aerial view of city [of Corpus Christi] looking northwest from [Corpus Christi] bay, ca. 1984. (Dated by construction of Corpus Christi Central Library building.)  Professional photograph by unidentified photographer furnished to KZTV-10 for use in advertising.  Kenneth L. Anthony Photographic Collection, Item 212-118. Special Collections and Archives, Mary and Jeff Bell Library, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.  Used with permission of Kenneth L. Anthony.  Click on the photo to enlarge it.


Although a bit difficult to see in the image below, the entry to the Harbor Bridge wraps around the south (facing) and west sides of the old courthouse.  There is also a pedestrian overpass with a circular ramp that's directly in front of the south wing.



Above:  Detail from above aerial photo, showing the 1914 Nueces County Courthouse. Kenneth L. Anthony Photographic Collection, Item 212-118 (detail). Special Collections and Archives, Mary and Jeff Bell Library, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.  Used with permission of Kenneth L. Anthony.

Below:  Detail from above aerial photo, showing the 1977 Nueces County Courthouse.  In the foreground are cranes working on construction of the new Corpus Christi Central Library, which helped date this photo to late 1984 or early 1985.  Kenneth L. Anthony Photographic Collection, Item 212-118 (detail). Special Collections and Archives, Mary and Jeff Bell Library, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.  Used with permission of Kenneth L. Anthony.



There are plans to construct a new bridge over the Corpus Christi Ship Channel, and remove the existing Harbor Bridge.  This could open up some options for development of the 1914 Courthouse, with one possibility being luxury apartments.  Recently the county put the courthouse on the market.  I do hope the building is purchased, restored, and put to good use.


© Amanda Pape - 2016 - click here to e-mail me.

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