Thursday, November 10, 2016

Those Places Thursday: Corpus Christi City Hall, Then (1952, 1955, 1984) and Now (2016)

My husband and I made a couple visits to Corpus Christi, Texas, this past summer, which was our stomping grounds from 1974 to 1985 (for him) and 1979 to 1984 (for me). My husband also spent some time in his childhood in the 1940s in Corpus Christi (his parents, like us, married there), and both of us have ancestral and collateral relatives who lived here in the late 1800s and first half of the 20th century.

During the time I lived there, I didn't think to take pictures of some of the places I worked in or saw frequently. I guess I thought those buildings would always be there. Naturally, that was not the case.  Luckily, I have been able to locate other images to use.

Today's post about Corpus Christi's City Hall (the one there when we were there) falls in that category.  My husband worked in this building the entire time he lived in Corpus Christi, and I worked in the building from April 1983 through October 1984 (although I visited it many times before that).  Here is a postcard image from the library's special collections at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi (where I earned my MBA back when it was called Corpus Christi State University):

Above:  Postcard showing two sides [north and east] of City Hall on Shoreline Drive, Corpus Christi, Texas, ca. 1955, with the Utilities Building in the background on the left.  
Kilgore Picture Postcard Collection, Item 7PC-781. Special Collections and Archives, 
Mary and Jeff Bell Library, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

Below:  view of west and south sides of City Hall on Shoreline Drive, Corpus Christi, Texas.  From a National Register of Historic Places registration form available at the Texas Historical Commission.

Guidelines set out in 1949 by the Mayor’s Civic Improvement Committee suggested that City Hall should “be plain, simple, true and honest architecture without any applied bric‐a‐brac or needless ornamentation to be exposed to the erosion by weather and thus become a future maintenance problem,”according to an article in the local newspaper published the day the building was dedicated (March 23, 1952).  It went on to say,
At the outset of planning, architect’s representatives concurred with City officials to determine what was desired, what was absolutely needed, and then decided what was available within the construction fund….City Hall on Shoreline is a five-floor concrete, brick and masonry structure of  "contemporary" design.
...with a framework of reinforced concrete…it was designed to meet present day demands, and took into consideration the materials available at the time of construction.1  

This was due to a continuing postwar shortage of steel.  There was also a

recommendation that office arrangements be made as flexible as possible, because of the constantly changing needs of a City Hall....the partitions separating most offices are 2-inch wide plaster on steel mesh.  With a minimum of effort and expense, they can be removed and shifted about.1
The article further states,
The building waxes from moderate splendor …[to] simple but modern utility in design and décor.  Reddish tan brick, selected for durability and economy…is the principal material used on the exterior.  Plaster, in a varied assortment of subtle and striking colors, and varied arrangements of wood paneling form most interior walls.  Arkansas ledge stone and gray-green slate" were also used, and even the elevator doors were originally painted bright yellow.1 
According to another article in the same issue,

Architect Richard Colley placed much emphasis on lighting in designing the new City Hall….the building faces due north [even though this meant the building appeared to be slightly askew in relation to the street grid]. It was located in this manner so windows on the north side of the building extend down the face of the building to include the basement. Windows in the basement, the architect envisioned, give people working there the benefit of natural light and also presents the illusion [of] being above instead of [below the] earth.2

Having worked in an office on the north side of the daylight basement, I would agree that the natural lighting was good.  Plantings outside helped some with that "illusion" of being above the earth - but it was just an illusion.

On the south side of the building, "a giant grille-shades the windows"2 from direct sunlight and heat.  This concrete grill, visible in the black-and-white photograph above, is called a brise‐soleil, and I can attest (from my husband's prior offices on the second floor) that they worked.  Further adding to before-its-time energy savings, "there are no east or west windows except for small non-opening windows [to allow natural light] in the stair towers at either end."2

Above: 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. 

Below:  Detail from the aerial view of city looking northwest from bay, ca. 1984, of City Hall and the Utilities Building. 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.  Click on the photo to enlarge it.

So why was this award-winning building torn down in 1988?  One problem was that the construction budget was limited, and the building was too small from the outset:

It was not built with a view toward any future expansion upward or extension outward.  As for future space needs, Architect Richard Colley and his staff have in mind the addition of an entirely separate building on the City Hall site.  It could house the Public Works Department, thereby freeing the fourth floor of the present building for other offices …This additional building would harmonize with the City Exposition Hall and the proposed …Memorial Auditorium.1

Indeed, a Utilities Building was constructed just south of City Hall in 1955.  It is visible in the color photo at the beginning of this post, just past and to the left of City Hall.  It can also be seen in the 1984 aerial photo detail.

A new, larger City Hall was constructed in 1988, up on the Bluff near the 1977 Nueces County Courthouse.  Citizens (understandably) did not want a tall building so close to the waterfront.  Colley's 1952 building (along with the Utilities Building) were demolished in the summer of 1988.  Today, a park with a gazebo, a shaded picnic table, and a small playground stand on the site.  All of the parking areas that surrounded the former buildings still exist.

Above:  image from the map I bought when I moved to Corpus Christi in 1979.  The Civic Center Complex is the large green area at the bottom of the map (click on this image to enlarge it).  City Hall was located at the small red dot near the top of it, at the intersection of Shoreline Boulevard and Kinney.

Below:  1952-1988 Corpus Christi City Hall site on June 20, 2016, as viewed from Sherrill Park.

These last two pictures roughly mirror the views in the first two pictures in this post:

Above:  Looking south through Sherrill Park in Corpus Christi on June 18, 2016, towards the site of the 1952-1988 City Hall, similar to the view in the 1955 postcard.  The World War II memorial formerly on the Memorial Coliseum is the red brick structure in the foreground.

Below:  Looking north through the park on the site of the 1952-1988 City Hall on June 20, 2016, similar to the view in the 1952 black-and-white photo.

End notes:

1“Many Factors Influenced Design of New City Hall” Corpus Christi Caller‐Times, March 23, 1952, page 21.
2“Manner of Lighting Played Major Part in City Hall Plans” Corpus Christi Caller‐Times, March 23, 1952, page 22.

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

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