“It’s amazing to see how well it was built. It was a thing of beauty then, and it will be a showpiece for generations to come.”
– Joel Rodriguez, La Salle County Judge
The courthouse is sited at the center and highest point of Cotulla facing a city park or public square. The courthouse is a four story, concrete frame “fireproof” building constructed of tan brick with terra cotta decorative elements, a 150’ by 52’ footprint. Stylistically, it reflects a transition from the more ornate Art Deco to the Moderne style favored in the 1930s. The top floor housed a jail. No major changes to the design and layout of the building occurred except that air conditioning was provided to the courtroom and offices via window units in the 1960s.
The La Salle County Courthouse is the fourth courthouse built on this courthouse square since the county was created in 1858. The population of Cotulla doubled between 1920 and 1930 in conjunction with the construction of the Pan American Highway and led to great optimism about the future of the county. A bond election passed for $150,000 and Henry Phelps of San Antonio was commissioned in 1930 to design a building “of modern architecture”, it was completed in November 1931. It contained the county’s first elevator.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007. Designated a State Antiquities Landmarks in 2010 and a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark in 2010.
- Henry Truman Phelps (1871-1944) designed the lackluster and structurally poor 1905 La Salle County Courthouse. In contrast, the present 1931 courthouse was his last, most ambitious and imaginative courthouse design.
- The building was originally planned to have a garage underneath. It is unknown if the cost or excavation difficulty caused it to be eliminated. Several other features were cut from the project including the clocks.
- In a Guide to the Lone Star State, an account described Cotulla in the 1800s as a town “so tough that railroad conductors announced it… “Cotulla! Get your guns ready.” And a “community where gunplay was frequent and killings more or less commonplace”.
- The spread eagle seen above each entrance, is a national symbol, indicating freedom and strength. Arrows in the claws of the eagle symbolize the readiness to protect and defend.
- In 1970, La Raza Unida successfully registered 2000 voters in La Salle County and brought greater economic, social and political determination to Mexican-Americans. The county’s first Hispanic judge was elected in 1983.
The recently completed project preserved and repaired original historic features such as the steel frame windows, brick and terra cotta masonry, terrazzo floors and vault doors. All of the district courtroom furnishings and many of the olive green steel office units, are original. New cork and linoleum flooring matches the historic colors and patterns. The Art Deco design of the entrance doors duplicated the appearance of the original doors from an old photograph. A new system of energy efficient heat pumps located underground replace the former window mounted air conditioners. Security and communication systems will be significantly upgraded. The only major design change is the enlargement of the original elevator shaft and new restrooms on the third floor where the space had been unfinished previously. The project architect was Killis Almond; the general contractor was JC Stoddard, both of San Antonio.
State grant program participation Through the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program administered by the Texas Historical Commission, La Salle County received a grant of $2,250,000 in 2008 for the exterior phase of the restoration and a second grant of $3,500, 000 in 2010 for the interior phase.
County Preservation Leadership
Under County Judge Jimmy Patterson, La Salle County received a $10,000 “Smart Start” grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation toward the preparation of a preservation master plan. In 2004 County Judge Joel Rodriguez engaged their architect to prepare the construction plans. The project was successfully completed in 2012 with a strong county leadership and a significant local match.
A rededication ceremony was held in the City Park facing the courthouse on January 26, 2013. The day included speeches from public elected officials and a mariachi band.
Selected Newspaper Articles
Frio Nueces News November 22, 2001, December 30, 2010 and October 2010.
Nearby Places of Historical Interest:
- The Brush Country Museum, established in 1984, is located at 201 South Stewart Street.
- The Cotulla City Park was established in 1883 by Joseph Cotulla and is a center of community life.
- The historic Welhausen School closed in the 1980s. Located at 204 NE Lane Street, it is now county-owned. Twenty-year-old Lyndon B. Johnson served as teacher and principal at the school in 1928-29. RTHL.
- Stop by Ben’s Hat Museum, 109 North Front Street to hear a story about some very old cowboy hats.
- Cotulla was designated an official Main Street City in 2006, the office is located at 117 Front Street, 830/879-4166. See cotullamainstreet.org.
- Downtown Cotulla has been nominated for listing on the National Register of Historic Places (pending 2012). The downtown historic district reaches from the La Salle County Courthouse to the Keck & Sons lumber yard on the other side of the railroad tracks and includes sections of Center, Kerr, Stewart, Main, Tilden, Front, Carrizo, Market and Neal streets.
- There are 11 historic cemeteries located throughout the county. See THC’s Historic Sites Atlas for info.
- For more information about historic places and events in this region, visit the Texas Tropical Trail Region.
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