Maligned Civil Courts Building housed heart of Tarrant County

Posted Monday, Apr. 29, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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A Canadian friend was in town, and we were walking near the Tarrant County Courthouse when he stopped, pointed and asked, “What is that?”

That, I told him, is the Civil Courts Building.

The new-look Civil Courts Building, the one with the façade put in place years ago that was supposed to make it aesthetically blend with the commanding Tarrant County Courthouse next door.

Others have similarly responded to the building, calling it ugly, insipid.

Finally, money is available to tear it down.

Admittedly, the building would not garner architectural awards. But I look at it another way, for I have seen it from the inside out.

Like people, it is not the outside appearance that counts; it’s what’s inside.

This ugly-duckling building has an inside story to tell, one of service, evolvement and involvement.

I was in and around it for half a century, many of those years as a Star-Telegram staff member. I have seen what has gone on there, even the warts.

Warts? Tell you a story. Years ago, two county commissioners got into an argument. One finger-jabbed the other in the belly and said, “I’d like to stick a knife in you right there and walk around you!”

There were painful times, such as when the building made national headlines: A worker was cleaning windows near those follow-the-sun louvers and the sun ducked behind the clouds and the worker was caught in the louvers, injured and had to be hospitalized.

Ugly? Maybe so. But some of the governmental inner-workings have made the building an encouraging place to reflect upon.

For it was here that there was the genesis of transformation — transformation that would help take one major part of local government out of a rural county age and prepare it for a more demanding urban county time.

It was in this building that talk began of letting go of the old paper ballot form of voting and moving toward voting machines — “those damnable Yankee voting machines,” as one county commissioner called them. A commissioner was dispatched to Omaha to look at a voting machine system there. Eventually, a better voting system was put in place here.

It was here that sub-courthouses were proposed so county services would be more convenient.

It was in this building that someone suggested the county build a convention center to help keep the conventions the area already had and to attract new ones — a bold step for a county government so firmly stuck in the mud and time of chiefly building and maintaining roads and bridges.

It was in this building that there was the suggestion of creating a medical examiner’s office to make scrutiny of certain deaths scientific, more accurate and conclusive.

It was to this building that others from other buildings — some government buildings, some not — brought ideas deemed worthy of a growing, prospering county. Something called a junior college, something called a highway loop around the county, something called hospital district clinics closer to the needy. More.

They would come to this building to run those ideas up the county government flagpole, to see if those in county government saluted, signaling needed support.

All the while, those in the building went about a regular, full agenda of essential day-to-day functions.

Should such a purposeful, accommodating place be called ugly?

The inside story belies what the building’s exterior might project, for the inside story is one of an essential local government moving, adjusting, progressing, transforming from a time that was giving way to a time that was arriving.

Surely therein lies the beauty of it all.

Roger Summers of Arlington is a retired Star-Telegram staff member.

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