Bexar County officials gathered at the County Courthouse to celebrate the building complex’s $9.1 million restoration project Tuesday morning. The project, funded by the Texas Historical Commission, the Hidalgo Foundation of Bexar County, and other general funds, removed two additions built by architect Edward Gondeck in 1963 and 1972 and restored the courthouse’s original exterior.
The windowless addition to the backside of the Courthouse was seen as an eyesore to many. Construction began in late 2013 to remove the additions, thus unveiling the building’s original granite and red sandstone structure designed by architect James Riely Gordon. Restoration projects inside and around the building had been underway for five years, but the County was able to keep the building open for business throughout.
Commissioner Kevin Wolff (Pct. 3) said the structure, which was never intended to be permanent, reminded him of a tick on the side of a dog.
“We are standing in front windows that did not see the light of day for over 43 years,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said. “When the Gondeck addition was built of solid granite, the Gondeck family – I think knew they were doing the wrong thing – but they were contracted to do it so they didn’t tear up the building.”
Instead of tearing down the original structure to construct the addition, Gondeck left a gap between the original building and the additional structure, allowing for a relatively simple demolition.
“When we started taking it down, the building was in great shape and we just had to restore some of the windows,” Judge Wolff said.
The Gondeck addition provided courtroom and office space for decades, but in 2011 the addition was found to be structurally unsound. The Commissioners Court requested a grant from the Texas Historical Commission to restore the courthouse to its original state.
Judge Wolff said the structure could not have been removed if the Paul Elizondo Tower had not been constructed across Main Plaza from the Courthouse.
“If it had not been for (Elizondo’s) vision to build this building we would not have had anywhere to place the people in the (Gondeck) building,” Judge Wolff said.
Texas Historic Commission Chair John Nau attended the ceremony on Tuesday.
“These are really exciting times to be part of San Antonio,” Nau said, referring to the recent UNESCO World Heritage designation of the Alamo and Spanish colonial Missions and the restoration of the courthouse.
Nau said the World Heritage designation will bring international and national tourists to San Antonio.
“As they tour the community they are going to see this phenomenal restoration of your courthouse,” he said.
The Historical Commission’s Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program, which uses state grant funds to restore historic courthouses, aided in the Bexar County Courthouse restoration project.
“This restoration is the most recent example – and I would submit the most complete – of the success of the (Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program).”
Although most were all smiles on Tuesday, a small group of protestors held Confederate flags and a sign that read, “THC please help us save our Confederate history.”
Judge Wolff has called for the removal of two plaques on County property; a 1936 Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway marker at the Bexar County Courthouse and a marker across Nueva Street from the courthouse that includes Confederate flags and a statement honoring Robert E. Lee.
“We’ve been thinking about this for awhile,” Judge Wolff said last week, adding that there will also be discussion about what could replace the Confederate plaques. “We want a symbol of what we all stand for … where we come together, not what divides us.”
The Commissioner’s Court will discuss the plaques during its July 21 meeting.
“We are here asking (Judge Wolff) and the Texas Historical Commission to preserve our heritage,” said William “Bill” Smith, Commander of Hood’s Texas Brigade of the small protest. “We don’t believe that the flag represents hate, we believe it represents our heritage.”
*Featured/top image: Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff received a plaque representation from Texas Historical Commission Chair John Nau and Executive Director Mark Wolfe. Photo by Joan Vinson.