Phase one: 1916 Duval County Courthouse will start emergency repairs for historic restoration

Robin Bradshaw
Alice Echo News Journal

SAN DIEGO - Emergency renovations will soon begin at the Duval County Courthouse. An effort that the late County Judge Gilbert Saenz felt strong about; with the help of the Duval County Historical Commission, the team made strong strides for the preservation of the 1916 historical landmark. The 1916 courthouse serves as the seat of government for the county and is located in the City of San Diego. 

In 2020, Duval County was the recipient of Round XI of Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program awards totaling close to a million dollars. These emergency grant funds will be utilized for critically needed repairs of our historic courthouse structure. 

"The Duval County Courthouse is for the people, by the people and of the people," Saenz said in an interview last month before his unexpected death. 

(L-R) Duval County Historical Commission Chairman, Graciela Trevino Gonzales, Interim County Judge Edmundo B. "EB" Garcia and Vice-Chair of the Historical Commission Savannah Smith.

Historic Commission Chairman Graciela Trevino Gonzales and Vice-Chairman Savannah Smith, widow of the late Judge Saenz, have been in support with efforts of the preservation for the historical site throughout the process.  

"This process will take years," said Gonzales. "The first phase will be solely for the emergency needs of the courthouse."

During Judge Saenz's term, the historical commission had the opportunity to contribute some funding for use in securing an update for the "Courthouse Master Plan for Preservation". Part of that funding and masterplan process included hiring an architecture firm that specializes in historic preservation named Architexas out of Austin.  

"Hiring Arcitexas for the masterplan projects at the courthouse will help the county with future funding and grant efforts as we move forward," Smith explained. "Arcitexas has an extensive portfolio of restoration projects throughout Texas and is reputable with the Texas Historical Commission. Their master restoration plan will help the county better the chances of receiving grant funds for future projects." 

For phase one of the emergency projects, the awarded funds will directly support safety and hazard concerns at the courthouse. 

Windows in need of repair at the Duval County Courthouse.

Several of the items that are most serious involve the exterior drainage around the base of the building where much water is going into the basement level," said Stanley Graves from Arcitexas. "There are a lot of structural issues relating to openings that have steel lintels that have rusted. The rusted lintels have expanded and cracked the brick in numerous places allowing additional water to enter into the walls of the building."  

"There are some major cracks through these walls, particularly on the east end of the courthouse," he explained. "A serious need for attention right now is the electrical condition of the building. The wiring has been haphazardly added on to over many years and is not up to code or in a safe condition throughout the building."

The brick deteriorating  at the Duval County Courthouse.

"In October 2016, the courthouse celebrated the  centennial of the Classic Revival red brick Courthouse designed by Sanguinet  and Staats from Fort Worth," Gonzales added. "At that time, the county leaders and historical commission were made aware of the urgent need for repair and restoration of the structure, which was named one of Texas Most Endangered Places by Preservation Texas in 2011, the same year it was designated as a Texas Historic Landmark and continued through 2016 urgent attention."

Work at the courthouse was to start this month but due Saenz's sudden passing, delays have happened. Interim County Judge Edmundo B. "EB" Garcia has been in contact with Arcitexas to move efforts forward.

"This landmark is about community and our culture," Gonzales said. "The historical commission will do everything (we) can to continue the efforts for restoration and grant funding- it's definitely a big job and will take some time but it's important to preserve this site. It is considered a historical landmark not only for the county and state but also in the nation."