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Bexar Courthouse Enters Next Phase Of Restoration

Demolition of the modern-day annex to the 19th century Bexar County Courthouse is proceeding with the removal of the modern-day Gondek addition in the coming weeks. 

The restoration of the Romanesque Revival-style courthouse will run about $30 million including the demolition of the annex and restoration of the exterior, along with interior improvements.

The current part of the project will tear down the 20th century Gondek addition, which was installed in two phases -- in 1962 and 1972. 

"So, if you’d come here a year ago, this would actually have been space in use,"  said Bexar County Manager David Smith. "This was a courtroom right where we’re standing."

The demolition at this point has cleared the half-century-old offices that occupied the basement space under the addition.

"There was also an exploration of putting a fake skin on top of the Gondek to make it look more like the courthouse," Smith said, pointing to the intact exterior walls of the original courthouse revealed by the demolition of the basement structure. "But when you look at it, architecturally it just doesn’t belong here."

The Gondek addition served the district clerk’s office and the court system as the need for space grew over the last part of the 20th century. 

The county has worked on a master plan since the 1990s when the restoration of the original exterior and removal of the Gondek were first envisioned.  

"[This phase] of the project is approximately $12 million dollars total both inside and out," said Betty Bueché, the director of Bexar County Facilities and Parks, who researched the courthouse history and worked on the historic preservation master plan.

She said the construction of the original courthouse was finished in 1896, but controversies delayed formal acceptance of the project’s completion until the following year.

"There were accusations at that time that the contractor was not doing the things they should do," Bueché said. "A lot of people got arrested, they were put in jail, and in the end, after they examined all the evidence, they decided everything was perfectly fine and they all shook hands and accepted the courthouse."

The second story Gondek addition used along the west side length of the original courthouse was completed in 1962. The five-story Gondek addition, known commonly as the courthouse annex on the south end of the courthouse, was completed in 1972.

"When Gondek designed the addition, he made sure to do as little damage to the exterior of this building as he could," Smith said, pointing to the original Texas granite exterior walls now visible under the Gondek. "And because he did that, we’re in a position now to be able to just remove the addition and with some minor restoration of about $700,000 be able to put this back so it will look like nothing was ever done."

The restored courthouse will include outdoor entries and a new stairway that meets modern safety codes. Commissioners court meetings will return to a new courtroom similar to the one originally built for that purpose.

"When the double-height courtroom is finished, commissioners court will meet there. The reason is, that’s historically where they met," Bueché said.

The total $30 million price tag includes previous restorations begun in 2000, with repairs to the granite and stone exterior, a new clay tile roof, and improvements such as adding fire and security systems, restoration of four historic courtrooms, construction of five new courtrooms and a child abuse and neglect court, and corridor restoration.

Funds have come from grants from the Texas Historical Commission, the Hidalgo Foundation, the San Antonio Conservation Society, and from a special filing fee approved by the Texas Legislature and the Bexar County capital projects budget.

Eileen Pace is a veteran radio and print journalist with a long history of investigative and feature reporting in San Antonio and Houston, earning more than 50 awards for investigative reporting, documentaries, long-form series, features, sports stories, outstanding anchoring and best use of sound.