Progressive experiments in Texas county courthouse design, 1910--1920




Unger, Amy E.

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Between 1910 and 1920, the Texas architectural firms of Lang and Witchell and Atlee B. Ayres designed eight county courthouses that, to varying degrees, broke from the established classical norm to express a new message of modernity. Identified primarily by increased abstraction and the incorporation of the ornamental languages developed by Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright within a framework of Beaux-Arts classicism, this group represented a new type, the Texas Progressive courthouse. At this time, both firms employed architects with direct knowledge of Chicago's progressive architecture. The presence of Charles Barglebaugh and George Willis, both trained by Wright, visibly influenced the work of their respective firms. A close analysis of the original architectural drawings, historical photographs and existing buildings clarifies the significant connection between these courthouses and the work of Sullivan and Wright, as well as the original nature of their atypical design.

As symbolic expressions of the aspirations of county officials and citizens, each courthouse reflected the unique conditions of its time and place. Situating these buildings within the historical context of the Progressive Era in Texas provides a richer understanding of the forces that encouraged their unusual qualities. Economic optimism, political idealism and a strong desire to be seen as modern encouraged new architectural expressions. In response to these conditions, the architects developed exceptional designs of lasting cultural value. The circumstances of three courthouses provide the basis for a discussion of the complex issues surrounding the preservation of historic buildings significantly modified over time.


This item is available only to currently enrolled UTSA students, faculty or staff. To download, navigate to Log In in the top right-hand corner of this screen, then select Log in with my UTSA ID.


architecture, courthouse, progressive, Sullivanesque, Texas