Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Concho County Courthouse, Paint Rock Texas

South elevation
A mid-December trip to Lubbock to attend the Texas Tech graduation ceremony provided an added bonus of travelling roads I had never travelled before. My favorite find was the Concho County Courthouse, which I later found to be one of the Second Empire Ruffini Architectual Triplets.
North door, appears to no longer be in use
The building had a familiarity to it, but I missed all the clues and had to wait until I returned home to find that it was designed and constructed using the same plans as the Sutton County Courthouse and the Old Blanco County Courthouse. All three are laid out on a cross axial plan featuring tall, narrow windows and two interior staircases; the Concho County building is considered the most elaborate in detail. Click on the link above to see pictures of each building.
Mansard roof south elevation

 Built in the Second Empire style much favored for public buildings of the period, its dominant visual feature is its characteristic Mansard roof, treated with much greater elaboration than some of its contemporaries such as F.E. Ruffini’s Blanco County Courthouse. (quoted from the National Register of Historic Places nomination, added 1977)
The design is attributed to Frederick E. (Ernst) Ruffini, but in truth the plan is an adaptation of W.W. Larmour's design for the Tom Green County 1885 Courthouse in San Angelo, Texas. Ruffini's brother, Oscar, had established a practice in San Angelo and was serving as supervising architect for the courthouse construction. He sent the plans and a photograph of the building to Ernst who modified them for the Old Blanco County Courthouse and for the Concho County Courthouse. Both brothers used the plans to design several other courthouses which have all been demolished except for the Sutton County Courthouse.  When Ernst passed away in late 1885 Oscar oversaw the completion of the Concho County Courthouse.
South elevation - when I looked through the door I could see a beautiful staircase decorated for Christmas! 
Bonds in the amount of $28,000 were issued at 8% interest to fund the project after Kane & Cormack Contractors and Builders were awarded the construction contract. Rusticated stone from a nearby quarry was used in the construction. As the project neared completion under Oscar Ruffini's supervision County Commissioners contracted with a Chicago firm to furnish the courthouse for a sum of $1,212.

North elevation
The building appears to be in excellent condition and very well preserved.  The only significant modification to the structure is the addition of a vault on the east side of the building (see the south elevation picture). Truly an architectual gem!

Just to note: I do plan to return when the building is open and see if I can make photographs and find pictures from the past on display.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Architectural Triplets

The Concho County Courthouse, the Old Blanco County Courthouse and the Sutton County Courthouse are architectual triplets.  Not identical, but still close matches (pictures below). All three are designed in the Second Empire style with the Concho courthouse being the most elaborate in detail. Each one is laid out on a cross axial plan and features tall, narrow windows and 2 interior staircases.

This design has an interesting story of its own that's worth noting here.  Oscar Ruffini was serving as the supervising architect for the Tom Green County Courthouse (San Angelo) that was designed by W.W. Larmour.  He sent the plans and a photograph of the project to his well known brother, F.E. (Ernst) Ruffini, who took them and modified them for the Old Blanco courthouse and for the courthouses in Callahan and Concho Counties.  Oscar took the plans and used them to design the Sutton and Mills County Courthouses.  I have to note that several references referred to this sharing of the original plan as "borrowing" or "used without permission"!

Concho and the Old Blanco courthouses were completed in 1886; Ernst passed away during construction and Oscar was appointed to serve as the supervising architect to complete the Concho courthouse. Sutton was completed in 1891. 

A post about the Concho County Courthouse will be up soon as well as updates to earlier posts on the Old Blanco County Courthouse and the Sutton County Courthouse. 

Concho County Courthouse

Old Blanco County Courthouse

Sutton County Courthouse

Thursday, September 28, 2017

San Pedro Park Branch Library

The San Pedro Branch Library was the first branch library built by the San Antonio Public Library System. Construction began in 1929 and the library opened its doors to the public on August 5, 1930.   The small 26,000 volume branch is located on the east side of San Pedro Springs Park and serves the surrounding community that includes San Antonio College.

The building underwent a total renovation in 2007 that restored it to much of its original appearance.  The San Antonio Conservation Society presented it with one of their coveted awards for the preservation efforts with this property.

Double archways over the entry lead into two separate wings that house the adult and juvenile collections. Architectural design was done by the prominent firm of Atlee & Robert Ayers who designed many homes and buildings in San Antonio. 

Two small rooms across the back were created when screened porches were enclosed. One serves as a cozy childrens space and the other houses the public access computers. The windows in this space give views of the large oak trees and the park. I was captivated by the older chairs for both children and adults in this area!

Yes, there are boot scrapers on either side of the door! This is Texas!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Petunia, Betty & the mini dachshund

I've ridden the McKinney Avenue Transit Authority trollies twice and will do it again when I'm in Dallas!  They are a delight to ride and their history is even more intriguing.  Since they don't fit into my criteria for this blog, but are still very historic, I wanted to let you know I have post up on my Small Simple Things of Life blog.  Click on the link below to find out about the trollies and see more pictures.
read more

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Japanese Tea Garden

There isn’t a door way to walk through for this post, just this gate created by local artist Dionicio Rodriguez in his signature faux-cement style sometime in the early 1940’s. What awaits beyond the gate is an amazing transformation of an abandoned rock quarry into a lush garden with a 60-foot waterfall, Koi ponds, and delightful foot paths. A future post will discuss the rock quarry.

In 1917 City Parks Commissioner Ray Lambert found himself facing a challenge of what to do with the city owned abandoned rock quarry adjacent to the newly developed Brackenridge Park.  As with most of his projects there was very little funding available, but he had the vision of creating a lily pond in this space and in the southern portion of the quarry pit he would construct a garden (originally referred to as the Texas Star Garden and now the Sunken Garden Theater).

Using the plans of his park engineer and prison labor he was able to construct the new garden. Local residents donated bulbs, plants came from the City nursery, and lighting provided by the local power company. When the Japanese style garden opened in 1918 he had spent only $7,000. 

In 1926 a local Japanese-American artist, Kimi Eizo Jungu, was hired by the City to open a small restaurant serving light lunches and tea.  When he died in 1930 his family continued to live here and operate the restaurant known as the Jingu House.  They would be evicted in 1942 due to anti-Japanese sentiment during World War II.  The garden was re-named as the Chinese Tea Garden and a Chinese-American was hired to continue to run the facility until the early 1960's. In 1984 the garden was returned to its original name of the Japanese Tea Garden with a ceremony attended by the Jingu family and representatives of the Japanese government.

Following years of decline the Garden underwent a major renovation and was re-dedicated on March 8, 2008 with descendants of Ray Lambert and one of the Jingu children who had been born in the house attending the grand celebration.

The Jingu House still offers light lunches and teas and is available for private events. 

 Some tips for visiting:
  • The Garden is open dawn to dusk 365 days a year
  • The Garden is only handicap accessible as far as the Jingu House restaurant and pavillion area.
  • Wear sturdy shoes and be prepared for steep steps in places
  • Visit early in the day as the "pit" gets very hot.  Take water!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

John B. Ragland Mercantile Building

201 E Kleberg Avenue, Kingsville Texas
From 1950 until 1989 this corner door and tiled entry was covered over in the name of modernization. During that period what is described as "the preeminent department store south of San Antonio" operated in this location. Today this beautifully restored building, owned by King Ranch, Inc., is home to the King Ranch Saddle Shop and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Kingsville had been created in 1903 in anticipation of the coming of the St. Louis, Brownsville, and Mexico railroad.  John B. Ragland secured lots in the new town and opened his mercantile at this corner in October 1904.

Shortly before his death in 1908 he sold the lots and store to the newly created John B. Mercantile Company. This entity commissioned Victoria architect Jules Carl Leffland to design this 2-story building that opened in 1909. Mainly Italianate in style it also reflects Gothic Revival and Mission Revival influences. The structure is considered to be transitional as it features both late 19th century and early 20th century architectural elements.

This small building (architect and builder is unknown) of similar style was added in 1910 and operated as a grocery store until the 1920's when it was converted into the men's section of the store and internal access was created.

Raglands, as it was known, became the leading mercantile in Kingsville and opened another store in McAllen.  The first floor operated as a store selling dry goods, millinery, clothing, and shoes while the second floors contained office space and community rooms. In 1950 ownership was transferred to King Ranch, Inc. and an extensive modernization transformed the building inside and out. Much of the original facade was obscured and the interior completely gutted.

Raglands would continue to prosper until the late 1970's when the downtown district suffered from economic decline caused by new malls and franchises operating elsewhere in town. An extensive restoration began in 1989 and today the store closely resembles its original exterior appearance. Due to the unavailability of certain materials and structural changes that prevented restoration slight changes were necessary, but the building retains its original character.
The King Ranch Saddle shop calls this lovely building home today.  It's a fun place to browse and to sometimes watch craftsmen working on saddles (yes, they do repairs here!). Not an old time mercantile, but its charm and coziness make you want to linger here!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Texas State Capitol

South entrance of Texas State Capitol as seen from the former Texas General Land Office building
The story of the Texas State Capitol in Austin, Texas is far too lengthy to tell in one blog post.  Its history is as big as the State of Texas!

Elijah E. Myers of Detroit was already working on plans for a new State Capitol in 1881 when the 1853 Capitol burned to the ground.  A new building was constructed nearby to serve as a temporary Capitol.  When the new Capitol was dedicated in May 1888 the steps from the burned Capitol were still on the Capitol lawn.
Original plans called for the Capitol to be constructed from native limestone hauled in from Oatmanville on a railroad constructed specifically for transporting the 25 ton blocks.  However, in March 1884, just a month after the railroad was completed, it was determined that the limestone was unsuitable for building with after the first load arrived in Austin.  After much negotiating and political wrangling and modification to the original plans it was agreed that red granite from Granite Mountain in Burnet County would be used to construct the Capitol.  The date was July 21, 1885. Government moved slowly even then! It would take 6 years and 10 months to complete the Capitol.

  • The 1990-1995 Texas Capitol Preservation and Extension Project returned the building to its 1888-1915 appearance and modernized mechanical and safety features.  
  • A 2010 project painted and refurbished the dome and cupolas. 
  • A 2-year project completed in 2016 repaired and stabilized more than 700 wooden window frames and their plate glass; many are original to the building (note the scaffolding in some of these pictures made in 2016).  In addition, the entire exterior was cleaned, inspected and repaired as needed. 

The Texas State Preservation Board oversees the preservation and maintenance of the Capitol and other buildings, including the Governor's Mansion.

At the dedication ceremony in May 1888 Senator Temple Houston, youngest son of Sam Houston, delivered an eloquent address that praised the "noble edifice" and further proclaimed, "The architecture of a civilization is its most enduring feature, and by this structure shall Texas transmit herself to posterity, for here science has done her utmost..."

To be continued.