Civil Courts Building – 100 N. Houston

100 N. Houston Street, Civil Courts Building, 1957-58; 1988.  Built to relieve overcrowding in the adjacent Tarrant County Courthouse (CBD 163) the Civil Courts Building, constructed in 1957-58, was a late work of the important Fort Worth architect Wyatt C. Hedrick.  Butcher & Sweeney were the contractors.  As constructed, the five-story Indiana limestone building exemplified the tenets of abstract expressionist, minimalist design popular during the 1950s.  Roof-high vertical aluminum louvers concealed the building’s windows, creating the impression of a windowless box or cube without scale, an abstract geometric form.  The only ornamentation was a series of four bas-relief limestone allegorical figures of Justice on the east and west walls of the building.  The 53-foot high figures were designed by Hedrick’s firm, Hedrick and Stanley, and executed by Ingalls Stone Co. of Bedford, Indiana.  Connected to the west side of the Tarrant County Courthouse, the Civil Courts Building’s relationship with the older structure was, at best, less than harmonious.  Former County Judge Roy English, quoted in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, likened the building to a “space-age refrigerator.”  Following the 1983 renovation of the Courthouse, interested parties suggested that the facade of the Civil Courts Building might be changed to better complement the nineteenth-century landmark Courthouse.  Richard Haas, who designed the trompe l’oeil (“fool-the-eye”) Chisholm Trail mural on the Northern Texas Traction Co. Building (CBD 116) was retained to design an illusionistic facade reminiscent of the Courthouse for the Civil Courts Building.  Funded by the Sid Richardson Foundation, work was carried out in 1988 by Ed A. Wilson, contractor and George C:r. Woo, architect. American Illusion executed Haas’ design which, through a flat painted surface, suggests the three-dimensional surface design of the Courthouse.  Pending further assessment, the building may be a contributor to the proposed Downtown Governmental Buildings National Register Thematic Group.

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