Downtown Houston has grown up around the old courthouse, a classic stone and brick structure that sits on the same piece of ground the Allen Brothers set aside as Courthouse Square back in the 1830's. The courthouse has been empty since 2006 when Harris County opened a brand new civil courthouse down the street. For the past few years, crews have been hard at work, gutting and now putting the old building back together.
"We've done a lot of renovations and remodeling of County buildings over the years, but this is the first time we've really attempted to go back and try to restore a building to its original appearance."
Dan Reissig is the project manager with Harris County. He says work inside the building includes maple wood floors, courtrooms that look that the originals and details that were wiped out during a renovation in the 1950's.
"We've already gone through and opened up all the closed atrium floors where they closed the atrium off back in the 50's. So now you can actually stand on level two, though right now we have scaffolding in there, but you could stand on level two and look all the way to the dome on the level six floor."
On the outside, workers have given the old courthouse a much-needed face lift.
"You can tell that we've gone through and cleaned all the stone and the brick, and then we're going to be adding the two original staircases on the San Jacinto side and on the Fannin street side, the original monumental staircase that was taken off in the 50's and we're building those back on. We've already completed the San Jacinto staircase and we're in the process of building the Fannin staircase right now."
The restoration isn't cheap. it's costing the County about $50 million, but Reissig says it's worth it.
"For the County, it's our most historic building and it's probably one of the few buildings in Houston that's left of this age, of this vintage. I think the commissioners felt like it is very important to save a piece of our history. It's not something you see done very often. It's complicated to do it, and of course it's not cheap to do it."
The 1st and 14th Court of Appeals will occupy the restored courthouse. The project is about 80-percent complete and should be ready for its new occupants by next August. This is Harris County Judge Ed Emmett.
"We're kind of a tear down and move on society around here and so when you do have a historic building that
is still structurally in very good shape, I think it's important to go ahead and make use of that."