Tarrant County Courthouse – Weatherford

163 100 E. Weatherford Street [NR/RTHL/SAL/Gov(NR)], Tarrant County Courthouse, c. 1893-95; c. early 1940s; 1945-47; 1983. Tarrant County has had three permanent courthouses since it was established in December 1849. Construction on the first building, on the site of the present courthouse, was begun after an 1860 special election designated Fort Worth as the county seat, but was only partially completed when the Civil War broke out. Completed after the war, the two-story structure served until March 29, 1876 when fire destroyed the building. Old stone blocks from the burned out courthouse were used in the construction of a new building, a cross-shaped structure with a domed central axis. With the arrival of the railroad in 1876, Fort Worth and Tarrant County experienced renewed growth and economic prosperity. By the early 1880s the courthouse was no longer large enough to house court and municipal government activities. Architect James J. Kane designed a mansard roof sheltering additional courtrooms and a clock tower to replace the old courthouse dome. This project was undertaken about 1882. Tarrant County continued to grow, and by the early 1890s the courthouse was again overcrowded. In 1893 County Commissioners voted $500,000 to construct a new building large enough to accommodate both present and future county needs. Louis Curtiss and Frederick Gunn of Kansas City (Gunn and Curtiss) were the architects selected to design the building. Their plan is a striking example of American Beaux Arts Eclecticism, a classical style drawing inspiration from buildings of the French and Italian Renaissance. The style is characterized by large structures richly detailed with paired columns, balustrades, pedimented entrances, and a variety of stone finishes. Probst Construction Co. from Chicago was the general contractor. The Tarrant County Courthouse was one of the first buildings in the southwest to use a structural steel frame. Granite from central Texas was used to face the building. The courthouse cornerstone was laid on March 17, 1894, but the expense of the building, $408,380 by final calculations, upset Tarrant County citizens. Even though the cost was under the amount allocated, all of the commissioners were voted out of office at the next election. Nonetheless, by 1895 the completed building was an impressive monument poised to serve the decades to come. As time passed, however, modern conveniences such as elevators, steam heating, and air conditioning were added to the building, changing its original configuration and appearance. Major interior changes were made during the early 1940s when two of the high-ceilinged district courtrooms were divided by the addition of mezzanine extensions to provide two courtrooms in each space. The spatial configuration of the first and second floors was also rearranged at this time. In 1945-46 more changes were made, including covering over the original rotunda opening and remodeling the basement. In 1947 the building’s original slate roof was replaced with copper, and the drainage system was updated. Through the 1950s, more incremental changes were made, including replacement of the original revolving doors, partitioning of the fourth floor to provide office space, and the addition of a 1,250pound American flag lit by electric light bulbs to the dome, which was outlined in neon. In 1958 a Civil Courts Building (CBD 76) was constructed on the west of the courthouse to relieve overcrowding. Although some believed that the courthouse was completely outmoded and should be demolished, others began to appreciate its architectural and historic significance. A sense that the building should be restored grew, and in 1980 Tarrant County citizens approved a $3 million bond package to rehabilitate the courthouse. Under the leadership of County Judge Mike Moncrief, the architectural firm of Ward Bogard and Associates/ Burson, Hendricks & Wall Architects, Inc. was selected. Walker Construction Co. was chosen as the general contractor for the project. This major rehabilitation effort blended restoration and renovation, restoring many original features while updating others to meet current demands. The rotunda was opened and the stained glass dome restored, one of the grand staircases, removed to make way for an elevator, was replicated, and details of the original courtrooms, including judges benches, were reconstructed from historic photographs. Meanwhile, the wiring, windows, plumbing, and some floor configurations were updated so that the building could meet the needs of generations to come. Built near the site of old army post on a bluff overlooking the Trinity River, the Tarrant County Courthouse remains the historic heart and visual focal point of Fort Worth. In 1969 the building was designated as a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark, and in 1970 it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The Courthouse was also designated as a State Archaeological Landmark in 1981. It is a contributor to the proposed Downtown Governmental Buildings National Register Thematic Group.

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