By Liz Carmack, Sr. Communications Specialist
Art Deco was the first widely popular architectural style that broke with the tradition of basing designs on earlier styles. It takes its name from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs and Industriels Modernes, held in Paris in 1925, a showcase for original new works during what was then the modern, machine age. It became popular in the United States during the 1930s.
Art Deco buildings are characterized by their sleek, linear appearance and stylized, often geometric ornamentation. They also often feature a stepped back main façade; a series of building setbacks that create more dimension to an otherwsie simple façade. Bas-relief panels — featuring intricate designs carved to stand out from the stone — often placed above doors, between or above windows, and along roof edges are some of the most striking features on Art Deco buildings.
Texas courthouses that reflect this style include Cottle, La Salle and Potter, all featured here. The courthouses of Houston County, Jefferson County, Kimble County, Menard County and Liberty County also exhibit Art Deco elements.
Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of photo essays highlighting architectural styles of Texas county courthouses. Photos are by Laura Skelding and text by Liz Carmack. Thanks to the Texas Historical Commission’s Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation program for its assistance with this series.
Cottle County Courthouse, 1930 – Paducah (above)
Visitors entering the Cottle County Courthouse’s south doors walk below a large, arched window flanked by stepped towers. Two stylized figures above the window represent justice and liberty. Between them, an inscription reads, “To no one will we sell, deny or delay justice.” It is one of four inspirational quotes that mark the courthouse’s entrances. Others read, “He who seeks equity must do equity,” “He who comes here must come with clean hands,” and “There is nothing as powerful as the truth.”
The brick and cast stone building, which was designed by Voelcker and Dixon and completed in 1930, features four stories in a central, rectangular mass at the core of the building from which projects a series of stepped, two- and three-story building blocks. Stylized eagles look out from the corners of the building’s central block and a decorative cast stone frieze featuring the Texas star, a sunflower, acorn and stylized leaf runs around the top of the entire building.
La Salle County Courthouse, 1931 – Cotulla
The four-story La Salle County Courthouse blends several architectural styles with a strong emphasis on Art Deco through its ornamentation. Built of rough-scored, hard-fired brick and cream-colored terra cotta, it was designed by Henry T. Phelps and completed in 1931. The gold-leaf spread eagles perched above each entrance are national symbols, representing freedom and strength. Decorative panels, between its second and first floor windows, feature stylized floral patterns in yellow and green around a shield with the letters “L” and “S.”
La Salle County rededicated its courthouse on 2013, following a four-year restoration project with the assistance of two grant awards totaling $5,750,000 from the Texas Historical Commission’s Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program. The project preserved many original historic features, such as the steel windows, terrazzo tile floors and vault doors. It also replaced old window-mounted air conditioners with a new system of energy-efficient heat pumps.
Cork and linoleum flooring matches the historic colors and patterns throughout the building. The gold and violet colors of the plaster walls and floors duplicate the architect’s original selections.
Potter County Courthouse, 1932 – Amarillo
The 1932 Potter County Courthouse is one of the state’s best-preserved and exceptional examples of Art Deco buildings in Texas, according to the Texas Historical Commission. The building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was designed by architects Townes, Lightfoot & Funk, who used a simple geometric design and stylized ornamentation.
The eight-story structure has five-story wing features in a vertical stepped design, and is constructed of cast stone and terra cotta. Decorative panels on its exterior include bas-relief artwork that speaks to the region’s history with longhorn steer heads and horns reminiscent of the longhorns of the XIT Ranch.
Three plaques appear above the three main entrance doors. The central plaque dedicates the courthouse to the “Early settlers of this county.” The plaque over the left door reads, “Their efforts were tireless.” while the one over the right says, “Their courage was undaunted.”
Many of the building’s original design elements remain intact, including the aluminum doors and hardware, light fixtures, and the sixty-nine Panhandle cattle brands (most from Potter County) that decorate its elevator doors. The county rededicated the courthouse in 2012 following a $15.5 million restoration, which included nearly $5.5 million in grants through the Texas Historical Commission’s Historic Texas Courthouse Preservation Program.