In 2007, Harris County officials slated the Family Law Center and the old district attorney’s building for razing.
But today, some county officials hold different views of the two buildings and believe that maybe the county can breathe new life into them.
Commissioners Court has authorized the county to negotiate contracts with architectural firms that would develop plans to renovate the buildings and suggest which county departments could be housed there.
Last year, the remaining family courts moved from the Family Law Center into the Civil Courthouse, where they will be located permanently. Only the IV-D, child support courts now use the Family Law Center.
District Clerk Chris Daniel said, “The District Clerk’s Office will be giving the county input as it moves forward at looking at the futures of these two buildings. The DCO will push for a strategy that would not disrupt my office’s operations or cut down on its ability to efficiently deliver services. Having DCO supervisors and administrative offices in close proximity to the courts they oversee lends itself to efficient operations. So we’ll be monitoring very closely the plan that county comes up with.”
The county vacated nearly all of the building because the City of Houston demanded that the county install sprinklers. In addition, the elevators need to be repaired or replaced and the building is in need of many other major repairs.
The county wants to know how much it would cost to renovate the building. It has no plans to return the building to use as a courthouse. If the building is renovated, offices and departments that serve the courts and play a role in the judicial process could be housed in the Family Law Center and the district attorney’s building.
The county has not made much use of the district attorney’s building since the Harris County District Attorney’s Office moved into the Criminal Justice Center.
As far back as a decade ago, then-Commissioner Jerry Eversole considered the Family Law Center an eyesore that needed to be razed. Other officials shared his view – and some continue to share that view — of the building.
Voters in 2007 approved a bond referendum to build a new, $75 million Family Law Center. As part of that plan, the current Family Law Center and district attorney’s building were to be razed.
As unattractive as some find the Family Law Center, some architects and preservationists strongly opposed the county’s plans to demolish it and the district attorney’s building.
A pre-cast concrete and glass building that opened in 1969, the Family Law Center has its admirers. The seven-story building is considered a distinguished example of a type of late 1960s modernist architecture.
These admirers say that the building is notable for its airy main floor that features floor-to-ceiling glass and its sun screens – recessed windows that can prevent the sun from shining directly in a room.
The Family Law Center won a design award from the Texas Society of Architects after it opened. “It is the most distinguished work of architecture in the county complex,” Stephen Fox, an architectural historian and lecturer in Rice University’s architecture department, told the media in 2007.
The 10-story, L-shaped district attorney’s building, notable for its art deco style, opened in 1938. It wasn’t a county building then. The federal government built it and operated a post office out of it.
The county bought and renovated the building in 1978 and re-opened it the next year as the district attorney’s building.
The architectural firms negotiating contracts with the county likely would report back with the estimated costs of renovating the buildings in five to seven months.