Bob Ray Sanders

July 8, 2014

Angels have taken their rightful place on new courts building

County officials deserve credit for saving these symbols of justice.

The other day I stood in the morning shadow of Tarrant County’s newest courthouse and pleaded guilty.

As I looked at the exterior of the still-not-completed Civil Courts Building, with the scales of justice prominently in view, I had to take responsibility for my part in what some considered a serious offense just a few years ago.

I did so without remorse. After all, I had angels looking down on me.

The new courts building, under construction at 100 N. Calhoun St., will replace the civil courts structure that was built in 1958 as an annex to the historic Tarrant County Courthouse, a project that included demolishing the west portal of the iconic 1895 building.

The old Civil Courts Building would eventually become known as the ugliest construction in town, especially after a painted mock exterior was added in the 1980s.

After passage of a bond issue to build a new campus to house civil courts, Tarrant County commissioners decided in 2007 that the old building would be razed and the beloved historic courthouse would be restored to its original design with a reconstructed west portal.

What most officials didn’t realize, or didn’t remember, at the time was that there were four giant sculptures — four-story-tall “Angels of Justice” — attached to the old building, two each on the east and west sides. Each identical figure, with wings stretched skyward, held the scales of justice.

As a child, I saw those angels as the very symbol of justice, even in a day when equal opportunity, including in the courthouse, was elusive to many residents of Tarrant County.

Once the possible destruction of these sculptures was called to the attention of county officials through this column and readers raised their concerns, there was a concerted effort to save the angels.

I insisted that they ought to be incorporated into another county facility, preferably the new Civil Courts Building.

This was not a welcome suggestion to those charged with designing and constructing the new building. Among other things, they raised doubt that the carvings, each made up of 10 2,000- to 3,000-pound panels, could be removed without severe damage. They were also concerned about the cost of dismantling and reassembly.

Then there was the question of whether the angels had any real artistic value, since they were mass-produced and there were similar copies in other places, including Los Angeles.

County Administrator G.K. Maenius quickly signed on as wanting to save the sculptures, as did County Judge Glen Whitley. At the time it was thought that it might take components from all four angels just to reconstruct one, depending on how successful the removal process was.

In 2010 the first angels were removed from the old building intact and stored in a warehouse. The architect incorporated three of the figures into the design of the new courthouse.

Those three “Angels of Justice” have now taken flight, two adorning the front (west) of the six-story, 231-934-square-foot building, and one the back (east) side.

They look magnificent, as if they naturally belonged there, had always been part of the plan and were not just an afterthought.

The cost of saving and mounting the three figures on the building (and storing the fourth), was $501,911, according to David Phillips, the county’s facilities management director. . And it’s well worth it.

The $74.2 million structure, set for completion in March, is coming in under budget, county spokesman Marc Flake said.

I can hardly wait for the dedication service.

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