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Texas | Architecture | Courthouses

NUECES COUNTY COURTHOUSE
County Seat - Corpus Christi, Texas

by Terry Jeanson
According to Corpus Christi historian Murphy Givens, Nueces County has had four courthouses: 1853, 1875, 1914 and 1977.

The Texas Historical Commission lists five: 184?, 1856, 1877, 1914 and 1977.

History: See The Courthouses of Nueces County


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TX Nueces County 1977 Courthouse
The east side entrance to the 1977 Nueces County courthouse. The surrounding base of the building contains the county offices while the tower houses the county and district courtrooms.
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, May 2012

The Present Nueces County courthouse

Date - 1977
Architect - A JOINT VENTURE: Smyth & Smyth, Kipp & Winston, Wisznia & Petersen, Bennett, Martin & Solka
Style - Modern
Material - Concrete and steel
More 1977 courthouse images
TX Nueces County 1977 Courthouse
West side view of the 1977 Nueces County courthouse.
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, May 2012

Nueces County Courthouse History

Corpus Christi, Texas - Nueces County Courthouses and old jail
The 1892 jail (left), 1853 courthouse (middle)
and the 1875 courthouse (right.)
1905 postcard courtesy of THC

THE COURTHOUSES OF NUECES COUNTY

When Nueces County was officially organized in 1846, cut from San Patricio County, it stretched south of Bexar County, west to the Rio Grande and east to the Gulf of Mexico. The county seat of Corpus Christi was founded by Henry Lawrence Kinney (namesake of Kinney County) when he established a trading post in the area in 1839. County officials had been meeting in each others homes until the first courthouse was planned in 1852.* A 2-story building of shellcrete, a cross between adobe and concrete, was designed by surveyor Felix von Blucher. Construction began in 1853 under contractor J. B. McGowan on three lots sold to the county by Henry Kinney. Construction progressed slowly and the contractor was replaced by James McMartin in 1854. The building was completed in 1856 and cost the county $4,000. By 1875, the county had outgrown this courthouse and a second one was constructed on the north side of the first one. The 1875 courthouse was two stories and built in a Greek Revival & Italianate style with concrete blocks and a wooden portico and staircase at a cost of $15,000. This courthouse was referred to as the “Hollub Courthouse” after the engineer who designed it. The first courthouse continued to be used as office space for county officials and as a jury room. In 1892, a two-story brick jail, designed by J. Riely Gordon and Laub, was built to the south of the 1853 and 1875 courthouses.

The county’s continued growth led to the building of a third courthouse to be built on the same lots as the earlier courthouses and 1892 jail, which were demolished. Completed in 1914 at a cost of $250,000, the third Nueces County courthouse was designed by Harvey L. Page, a Washington, D.C. born architect who relocated to San Antonio around 1900. The Classical Revival style T-shaped structure has a six story projecting entrance on the east side with four story wings on the north and south sides. It was built of stone with a brick veneer and originally had a red tile roof. The courthouse also contains terra cotta trim and statuary. The top two stories of the central section contained the county jail which was used until 1977. A six story addition built in the early 1930s, extending from the west side, was built with the same materials and gave the building a cruciform shape. A 1960s addition on the northeast corner and later additions in the 1970s have since been demolished. In 1972, plans were being made to construct a new courthouse and jail in the downtown area southwest of the 1914 courthouse. Groundbreaking began in 1974 and the fourth courthouse was completed in 1977. The 1914 courthouse was abandoned at that time and has sat vacant since then. A grant from the Texas Historical Commission in 2003 enabled the county to restore the exterior of the south wing of the 1914 courthouse, which was completed in 2006, but the rest of the building remains in a deteriorated state.

According to an article from the Corpus Christi Caller-Times dated August 23, 2011, an engineering study found the 1914 courthouse to be “structurally unsound and in danger of collapse.” This led the Corpus Christi city council to pass a resolution to demolish the building. When the county accepted grant money from the Texas Historical Commission for restoration, it agreed to protect the building from demolition until at least 2027, but the city council is now trying to have that agreement with the Texas Historical Commission rescinded so it can proceed with the demolition of the building.

*Note - According the Texas Historical Commission’s County Atlas, a courthouse was built sometime in the 1840s with the following courthouses constructed in 1856, 1877, 1914 & 1977.

Sources:
Historical and biographical information from The Handbook of Texas Online. Courthouse history from the Texas Historical Commission County Atlas at http://atlas.thc.state.tx.us/shell-desig.htm and The Corpus Christi Caller-Times, “Corpus Christi History by Murphy Givens,” April 4, 2001
Jail information from “Wanted: Historic County Jails of Texas” by Edward A. Blackburn, Jr., 2006.

The 1914 Nueces County Courthouse

 Corpus Christi TX - 1914 Nueces County Courthouse
The 1914 Nueces County Courthouse as it appeared in 1939
Photo courtesy TXDoT
Historical marker:

THE NUECES COUNTY COURTHOUSE OF 1914

In 1853 lawlessness in Nueces County, which covered most of the area from Corpus Christi to the Mexican border, prompted the construction of the first county courthouse on this block. Three lots were purchased for $300 from Corpus Christi founder, Henry Lawrence Kinney (1814-1865). A second courthouse was built in the mid-1870's beside the first.

Under the administration of county Judge Walter F. Timon (1872-1952), this neo-classical structure was completed in 1914 at a cost of $250,000. The architect, Harvey L. Page (1859-1934) of Washington, D.C., designed the International and Great Northern Railroad station in San Antonio and Laguna Gloria in Austin, home of former Corpus Christi resident Clara Driscoll.

Additions were made to the buildings in the 1930's and 1960's. Courtrooms and offices were on the first four floors. The top two floors, separated from the rest of the building by an air space to eliminate noise, served as the jail. In addition to government offices, apartments were provided until the 1950's for the jailer and other county officials. During storms which almost leveled the city, hundreds of refugees sought shelter here. In 1977 county offices moved to a new courthouse building.

Recorded Texas Historic Landmark - 1978

TX - Nueces County 1914 Courthouse Historical Marker
The 1914 Nueces County courthouse
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, May 2012
TX - Nueces County 1914 Courthouse
Photo of the 1914 Nueces County courthouse from a nearby parking garage. The restored south side wing is on the left side of the picture.
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, May 2012
TX - Nueces County 1914 Courthouse
East side entrance to the courthouse.
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, May 2012
TX - Nueces County 1914 Courthouse
East side entrance seen from a park across Mesquite Street.
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, May 2012
TX - Nueces County 1914 Courthouse
Northeast corner of the building. The 1960s addition to the northeast corner has since been removed.
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, May 2012
TX - Nueces County 1914 Courthouse
The east side projecting entrance.
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, May 2012
TX - Nueces County 1914 Courthouse sculptures
Carved figures at the roofline of the east side projecting entrance. They represent the four virtues: Courage, Temperance, Wisdom and Justice. The figure on the bottom left is missing a hand and the face has crumbled away.
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, May 2012
TX - Nueces County 1914 Courthouse caryatids
South side entrance portico with caryatids.
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, May 2012
TX - Nueces County 1914 Courthouse caryatids
Detail of one of the caryatids at the south side entrance.
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, May 2012
The 1914 Nueces County Courthouse, Corpus Christi, Texas
Another view of the 1914 Nueces County Courthouse
1925 postcard courtesy of THC
TX Nueces County first two courthouses
Picture of the first two Nueces County courthouses from a display case in the current courthouse.
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, May 2012
TX Nueces County 1892 Jail
Picture of the 1892 Nueces County jail from a display case in the current courthouse.
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, May 2012
1977 Nueces County Courthouse , Corpus Christi Texas
1977 Nueces County courthouse
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, August 2006
Dedication plaque for the current 1977 Nueces County courthouse.
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, May 2012
Nueces County Courthouse today
The 1914 Nueces County Courthouse today

(Below Left) Courthouse left side
(Below Right) Courthouse north side

TE photos, 2001
Nueces County Courthouse today
Nueces County Courthouse today
Nueces County Courthouse  detail
The 1914 Nueces County Courthouse detail

TE photos, 2001
See Corpus Christi
Nueces County
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