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Flashback: Courthouse has seen seen better days - Odessa American: Celinda Hawkins

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Flashback: Courthouse has seen seen better days

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Posted: Sunday, November 3, 2013 6:45 am

The Ector County Courthouse has seen better days, and since it is, in my opinion, one of the homeliest courthouses in the state, we need to address the issue, one way or another.

“Much of the tragedy and comedy of a town’s life centers around the courthouse, although to most citizens, it is the story of another world,” wrote Velma Barrett and Hazel Oliver in their book “Odessa City of Dreams.”

Boy, is that ever true, especially in Odessa. As voters head to the polls Tuesday to decide whether Ector County needs to spend $95 million on a new courthouse, consider the history of the courthouse in Odessa. It is something to be written down and cherished.

The story surrounding the saga of the first courthouse in Ector County is quite colorful.  Apparently, back in 1891, a company arrived to town and built a sanitarium or the actual first hospital. But because Odessa was smack dab in the middle of the wild, wild west, they needed a courthouse more than a hospital.

“It is more than probable that in this untamed country a courthouse was more needed than a sanitarium anyway, for most of the ailments were so suddenly fatal that hospitalization was unnecessary, but a court to determine the guilt of the person causing the demise, was a very good precaution,” Hazel and Velma chronicled.

That first sanitarium/courthouse was torn down so the new one could be built.  Not only did the second courthouse provide a place to prosecute Odessans who broke the law, it was also the only public building in town. So on any given weekend you might catch the young folks dancing on Saturday night, and on Sunday, the building was cleaned up for church services. In those days, the courthouse was the heart of the community. The grounds provided a place for picnics and baptisms, which were held at the windmill tank on the northwest corner of the courthouse square.

Velma wrote that when the sale of liquor was banned, Odessa got quiet and folks started behaving. But the courthouse was the scene of riots when settlers rushed the courthouse to file claims on public lands.

The second courthouse, made from red stone, was built in 1904 just east of the first one. At that time, folks wondered if Odessa (then a town of only 400) could survive due to the drought conditions and the effect it had on livestock.

The tide turned in 1926, when the first boom hit and a third courthouse followed in the present location in 1938. The architect for the art deco style courthouse was Elmer Withers. The building was quite handsome, with horses carved into the side and even a clock adorning the top of the building. Alas, another growth spurt forced the county to ad on to the building.

The present-day Ector County courthouse is the technically the fourth courthouse. It was built in 1964 around the 1938 model. The building was designed by Peters and Fields architects and the style is “modern.” Gov. John Connally dedicated the building on April 12, 1964.

County fathers in Ector County aren’t the only ones in the state to think the façade update was a way to fix an old courthouse. Courthouses in Coleman, Scurry and Wharton counties have had similar facelifts. In fact, the Midland County Courthouse got a facelift in 1974 to update the 1930 courthouse once dubbed one of the finest and most beautiful buildings in West Texas. But like the courthouse in Ector County, the old building located on

Midland did it three years ago, purchasing a lovely 11-story building formerly known as the headquarters for Texaco for $31.7 million. And the new courthouse, which I had an occasion to be in last week, is located on North Loraine St. just a few blocks from the old courthouse, which also had a façade facelift in 1974. Although much more majestic looking than Ector County’s headquarters, the old Midland County courthouse also had fallen into disrepair and so Midland County made an offer to Texaco that it could not refuse, and in September of 2010, they moved the offices.

Unfortunately, there are no spare high-rise buildings in Odessa Ector County could occupy and county officials have said they want to keep it downtown. So the next question is, where will it go? There are plenty of dilapidated, empty structures downtown that could be demolished to make way for a courthouse.

Whatever happens, the hope is that it will be something we can all be proud of and a building that will serve the needs of this booming county.

Odessa, TX

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