Like a medieval castle out of place among the downtown high-rises, the Old Red Courthouse stands proudly overlooking the Trinity River. During the GOP Convention, she attracted the stares of Republicans and even got her picture in The New York Times. But as the Romanesque structure, which now houses the Dallas County Family Courts, approaches her 100th birthday in 1992, she’s showing signs that she might not survive as a functional building much longer.
The past 40 years have been hard on Old Red. During the Fifties, she was nearly a victim of the “if-it’s-old-tear-it-down-and-replace-it” syndrome, which was common in Dallas at the time. But she escaped the wrecking ball and in 1967 got a face-lift. Her beautifully crafted interior finishings were covered with plastic laminate, vinyl, low plaster ceilings and fluorescent light fixtures. Since then, she’s been a victim of poor maintenance.
After tiles started falling from her ceilings last year, the Dallas County Historical Commission hired a group of experts to assess Old Red’s condition. The experts’ report found four crucial areas of concern: “deterioration of exterior stone surfaces; water penetration into the building; intrusions into the integrity of the structure; and lack of a consistent maintenance program.”
Using the report, the Historical Commission formulated a $13.9 million bond proposal and submitted it this past spring to the County Commissioners Court. According to Shirley Caldwell, chairman of the Historical Commission, the court was in favor of restoring Old Red, but not for that amount of money. The Historical Commission is now submitting to the court a revised bond proposal of about $3 million, which will primarily cover structural repairs. The public will make its decision on the proposal in December.
Since the county nance a full restoration, the Historical Commission has begun to ask for help from the private sector. Caldwell sent notes to community leaders, asking them to join “Friends of Old Red” by donating a minimum of $100. Already there is a long list of “Friends,” including businessmen Ross Perot and John Stemmons.
Caldwell says the commission would like to collect $7 million from Dallas County citizens to help pay for the restoration. If the court agrees to pay for most of the structural repairs, the private money will be used to refurbish the forgotten wainscoting, marble and stained-glass details. “If this community can build gorgeous art museums, we can restore our old courthouse,” she says.