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.
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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.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Goddess and the Lady

(Due to my oversight this was posted on in error.  I've copied it here and will soon have a post up on the Texas State Capitol.  Read and enjoy!)
What do the Goddess of Liberty and Lady Justice have in common other than they each overlook their respective kingdoms?  Well, they share many common things with one exception. Let me introduce you to these two lovely ladies.
The Goddess of Liberty sits high atop the Texas State Capitol surveying the busy city of Austin while inside the Capitol every 2 years the legislature oversees the government of the state.  Designed by architect Elijah E. Myers in 1881 and placed on the Capitol dome in 1888 the Goddess was constructed of zinc, cast in 4 parts, hoisted to the dome and assembled with large screws, and took her place standing tall at her height of 16 feet.
The Goddess received a coat of white paint in 1915 and then several years later was given black hair, pink skin and a blue robe by an unidentified painter.  In 1939, fortunately she was restored to her all white color scheme and has remained as such ever since.
Lady Justice sits atop the pediment of the Navarro County Courthouse and surveys the city of Corsicana.  She was probably put in place when the Courthouse was constructed in 1905 and remained there until 1941 when County Commissioners agreed that she needed to be painted and restored. She was removed, but never heard from again.  Her whereabouts remain unknown even today despite much searching.
The Goddess had a little happier experience, thus the difference in the stories of the two statues. In 1983 it was determined that time and the elements had taken their toll on her, so in 1985 she was removed by a Texas National Guard helicopter and lowered onto the lawn for a while until she was whisked away for some much needed attention.  However, she would not be returning to the top of the dome.  After restoration she is now on display in the Bullock State History Museum near the Capitol.  She is however, somewhat disjointed as her hand and star were not restored and are displayed at the Capitol Museum.  Interestingly, it was discovered in 1994 that the star was actually a time capsule!
The Goddess’ accurate replacement was cast of a high-strength, corrosion-resistant aluminum alloy that was donated by Aluminum Company of America. She still stands 16 feet tall, but the replica Goddess weighs about 9,000 pounds less due the use of the lighter material. She did encounter a bit of a problem in reaching her resting place due to high winds and the limited vision of the pilot in the Chinook helicopter.  The Mississippi National Guard brought over one of their CH-54A “skycrane” helicopters on June 14, 1986. This time the flag draped Goddess was dropped right in place and secured by the waiting crew. A large crowd of spectators reacted with much cheering!  click here to watch the video of the Goddess being lowered to the Capitol
But poor Lady Justice! Residents of Navarro County felt that something was missing without the Lady gracing the pediment. When the current Courthouse restoration began the Lady was included in the plans.  Heather and Little worked along with the Texas Historical Commission and ARCHITEXAS to carefully replicate the Lady.  They relied on old photographs and similar statues to produce the copper statue that was reinstalled in June 2015. click here to visit Heather & Little’s web site, scroll down to watch the video of the re-installation and see close up photographs.
Today both replicas grace their respective buildings, stern faced with their solemn task. When I recently visited both sites I had no idea of the interesting stories behind the statues so I didn’t bother to make specific pictures.  On future visits I will definitely be zooming in!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña

Mission Concepcion was established on this site in 1731 when Mission Nuestra Senora de la Purisima Concepcion de los Hainais was relocated here from East Texas after struggling to survive since its founding in 1716. In this location the renamed mission was successful in spite of the harshness of the land, Comanche raids, and deadly epidemics that periodically depleted the Indian population.

The stone for the church and mission buildings was quarried from a nearby quarry which is still visible today although it resembles only a shallow, grassy pit on the edge of the mission grounds.  

The style is considered to be Spanish Colonial, but information in the mission referred to the style as Spanish Baroque with Moorish elements in the arches and windows. 

The most striking features are the original Native Indian paintings that survive on the interior walls of the convento.  Time had taken its toll on the frescoes, obliterating them with dirt and salt deposits from the limestone wall. In 1988 an international team of experts cleaned the frescoes and stabilized the walls.

Prior to the restoration only one eye was visible on this fresco that was referred to as the "Eye of God". Peeling away the layers of grime revealed this delightful mestizo face surrounded by a sunlike halo. 

The church was used for many purposes after secularization was completed in 1824. From 1855 to 1911 there were several efforts to re-establish the church. In 1913 the refurbished church re-opened and continues today to serve the community.

Mission Concepcion and the other 4 San Antonio Missions are administered by the National Park Service as part of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.  However, the Catholic Church owns and maintains the parish churches as part of the agreement reached in 1978 to avoid conflicts of church and state.

In 2015 the 5 missions were named World Heritage sites.

The interior of the church is quite dramatic (even if there is a guy on a ladder changing light bulbs). 

Concepcion is the best preserved of the Texas missions.  Most of what is visible today is original; the church is thought to be the nation's oldest unreconstructed Spanish church. Preservation efforts included re-routing a road around the original mission walls to open up the space around the mission.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Blanco County Courthouse

The Blanco County Courthouse in Johnson City, Texas has been serving the citizens of Blanco County since its construction in 1916. It was the first permanent courthouse built after the seat of government moved from Blanco to Johnson City in 1890 following a series of elections.  Earlier posts covered the Old Blanco County Courthouse and its interior.

Henry T. Phelps (Alamo Stadium and Atascosa County Courthouse) was the architect.  Interestingly this is the plainest and most non-descript of the many buildings he designed.  James Waterson, a Scottish stonemason who had also worked on the Texas State Capitol, served as the contractor for the limestone building.

During the Christmas the Courthouse, like many courthouses, is draped in lights and illuminated each night.  Johnson City incorporates the Courthouse lighting ceremony into their Christmas celebrations.

The Courthouse was built of native limestone using a traditional cross-axis layout plan.  The Classical Revival style building appears to have had no serious exterior modifications since its construction although sources indicate repairs to the cupola and roof were undertaken in the late 1990's. Each side of the building features Doric columns and an arched entrance topped with a keystone brick design.   The pediments and other features are said to give it the appearance of having Greek porticos.  

The Courthouse was designated a Texas Historic Landmark in 1983. A Texas Centennial marker denoting the history of Blanco County is installed on the north lawn.