February 6, 2013

Small Gestures, Big Meaning: Show Some Love for Texas Courthouses

Jason Clement wears his heart on his sleeve. Credit: National Trust for Historic Preservation
Staffer Jason Clement wears his heart on his sleeve(s) in front of a Texas courthouse.

Everybody needs to feel loved.

It’s a basic fact of life, regardless of where you fall on the scale between overemotional ninny (where I sit) and, well, the opposite of that.

It doesn’t have to be fireworks or someone showing up outside your window, pouring their hearts out while blasting an '80s mid-tempo classic on a boombox. For me, the simple things usually get the most traction: a bit of scribbled-down sweetness left somewhere thoughtful, an unexpected-in-a-good-way phone call, a “just because” gesture that takes you by surprise -- the things that say “I’m paying attention. I care. I’m here.”

As a preservationist/marketer whose job it is to turn non-emotive structures into emotional touch points, I feel like buildings are very much in the same boat as us ninnies. Places need love too ... except they're incapable of letting us know when they need a hug.

So it’s up to us to read buildings at all stages of their preservation -- in need, in process, or 100% intact -- and recognize when some tender love and care is required. Because when we shower them with affection, we send a clear message to everyone who witnesses our gesture: “We’re paying attention. We care. We’re here.”

That’s why I’ve taken great pride in helping to launch the National Trust’s newest campaign, I Love Texas Courthouses. Working with the Texas Historical Commission and Preservation Texas, we’ve declared the month of February as the perfect time for building-huggers to proudly wear their hearts on their sleeves for the historic county courthouses of the Lone Star State.

Even if you’ve never been to Texas, I promise you these one-of-a-kind buildings -- all 235 of them -- are worthy of your love and devotion. And it wouldn’t be just sweet nothings: Through the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program, 63 courthouses have been fully restored and another 20 have been partially assisted.

Yet at least 75 are still in need. That’s why the focal point of our campaign is a love letter to the courthouses themselves -- a simple gesture for those in Texas and beyond to show that these iconic places (and the program that has helped save them) matter.

In case you need further convincing that your signature belongs on our Valentine, I’d like to share images from three counties where emotions are running high for these beautiful historic places.

Comal County Courthouse in New Braunfels, TX. Credit: National Trust for Historic Preservation
Comal County Courthouse in New Braunfels, TX.

The first stop of today’s lovefest is the quaint town of New Braunfels, where the ribbon was recently cut on the beautifully renovated Comal County Courthouse. On January 22, some 300 admirers filled the town square to celebrate the re-dedication of their 115-year-old local masterpiece, a feat made possible by more than $3.4 million in grant funds from the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program.

Businesses throughout the historic downtown marked the milestone by posting flyers and love messages in their storefronts, and as the courthouse’s bells chimed for the first time in a long time, we asked those in attendance to describe what they saw and felt that day. As you can see, we got some amazing responses. Kudos, Comal County!

Courthouse in Karnes City, TX. Credit: National Trust for Historic Preservation
Courthouse in Karnes City, TX.

Next, we’ll jump on Texas 123 South for 63 miles to Karnes City, the heart of Karnes County. Residents here also have something to celebrate -- an ambitious preservation project well under way. Completed in 1895, county officials have long fretted over the foundation and cracked walls of their Romanesque Revival courthouse, which is not currently in use.

Already, two additions from the 1920s that added stress to the building have been removed, and an emergency grant from the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program is funding the much-needed structural assessments and repairs. Hearts in hand, local courthouse admirers stand undaunted that they will soon be planning their own re-dedication ceremony.

Wilson County Courthouse in Floresville, TX. Credit: National Trust for Historic Preservation
Wilson County Courthouse in Floresville, TX.

And lastly, let’s go 24 miles northwest to Floresville, the charming center of Wilson County. Unlike Comal and Karnes Counties, local preservationists here are just now ramping up efforts to secure funding to restore and reopen their courthouse.

Built in 1884, the Italianate structure has a history of insensitive changes, including a 1950s remodeling that plastered over its original red bricks. The building was vacated by the county government in October 2011 due to structural concerns, and today, an active group of residents and officials are building a coalition to breathe new life into this 127-year-old downtown centerpiece.


If you’ve been inspired by any of these stories, the (virtual) road trip doesn’t have to end here. I invite you to join me (displaying my own Texas-sized heart at the top of the post) this month on I Love Texas Courthouses as we shine a rose-tinted spotlight on beautiful courthouses across the Lone Star State. And if all this has you feeling even just a hint of the warm fuzzies, by all means, channel those heartbeams and sign our love letter.

Sure, it’s a small gesture. But sometimes those are the most meaningful.

Jason Clement is the senior director of marketing campaigns and partnerships at the National Trust, which means he spends his days (and most nights) talking with people about how they can save the places that matter to their communities.


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