U.S. Courthouse, El Paso, TX

The United States Courthouse is a rectilinear Neo-Classical Revival composition with Art Deco influences. The plan is rectangular and biaxially symmetrical with respect to the exterior facades, except for a service door on the west side. Rooms are for the most part arranged on either side of an interior corridor around two Light Courts. The elevations are composed of a flat fossilized limestone base, repetitive limestone pilasters separated by windows and a windowless limestone architrave with terra cotta ornament and coping concealing a the fifth floor and a flat roof. The finished stone base extends from grade to the first floor window sill height, where tall casement windows are spanned with limestone panels. The second, third and fourth floor double hung windows are treated as a continuous vertical element between pilasters separated by cast aluminum spandrels. The windowless fifth floor was designed and built with skylights which have now been abandoned. On the facades outside this level the stone architrave is set off with a repeating stylized eagle terra cotta frieze. The fluted pilasters run between the base and architrave, and have no base or capital of their own. The exterior of the building has been largely unaltered with the exception of a limestone faced ramp added for the handicapped. This ramp is compatible with the original building, if less well detailed. Inside the Courthouse additions and alterations have been generally less sensitive. The East Light Court has been enclosed at the first level to accommodate a new courtroom. A second large courtroom was added on the second floor at the west end, two floors below one of the two original courts. These spaces have no historical significance but are adequate and appropriate for their new use. Three other courts have been added to the building, which are of insufficient size and deficient shape for their purpose. Except for the Clerk's Office, functions not directly tied to the Courtrooms have been relocated to renovated spaces, lessening the logic and integrity of the building. Much of the usable basement level has been sacrificed to accommodate hvac ductwork, while the remainder is in original condition. The first floor has been altered to an extent but retains much of its original details and finishes. Almost all of the wood and glass partitions that defined interior spaces and determined their character have been replaced by gypsum board walls. The main public spaces have been best preserved on this level, including the south lobby with its large, important mural across the north wall. The second and third floors retain little of their original character, but the fourth floor retains in largely unaltered form its two courtrooms and its public spaces. The fifth floor was originally toplit and used for storage and a laboratory. With the skylights closed off, it is now dark and confining, housing two Immigration Courts and their related functions. Throughout the building most of the terrazzo flooring, Art Deco hardware, paneled doors with transoms and period light fixtures are still in place.

The U.S. Courthouse gives the Federal Government a strong, tangible presence in downtown El Paso, Texas. Designed and built in the mid-1930's the building is similar in size, style and construction to government buildings of this era across the country. The Neo-Classical Revival facades and durable materials of the blocklike exterior communicate the importance of the functions housed therein to the citizens of the community.

The basic plan layout is also fairly typical for buildings of this size and era, with spaces configured between and around two large interior courtyards. This arrangement provides light and air to interior rooms, in a way appropriate to the hot, dry climate of Southwest Texas. Originally designed to house two Courts along with offices for related branches of government, growth of the Courts has generated most of the plan changes over time. There are now seven courtrooms in the U.S. Courthouse, with an eighth in the planning stage.

This building makes an important contribution at a local level.

Description Architect
1936 Original Construction. Mcgee/Frazer/Lippincott
1974 New solar film on windows.
1974 Alteration of space for Congressman Coleman.
1974 Roof repairs under cooling towers.
1976 Painting of storage space at 5th floor.
1976 Exterior painting of wood & metal surfaces.
1978 New rest rooms at Grand Jury Room.
1978 Alteration of toilets for handicapped access.
1978 Removal of vinyl asbestos tile in offices.
1978 Cleaning & waterproofing of exterior stone.
1979 Modify existing air conditioning system.
1979 Additional interior painting.
1979 New wheelchair accessible drinking fountains.
1980 Alterations for HC access at 4th floor rest rooms.
1980 New light fixtures at 4th flr. Judges' chambers.
1981 Replace original passenger elevators.
1981 Remodel FBI space.
1981 Re-work of entrance platform for HC access.
1982 Prepare 4th floor space for bankruptcy court.
1982 Alterations for 1st floor court interpreters.
1982 Prepare partitioned space for Pan-American Health.
1982 Replace boiler tubes.
1982 Non-slip rubber risers and treads at stairs.
1982 New HC water coolers on all floors.
1983 Handicapped doors at rest rooms.
1983 Alteration of space for Congressman Coleman.
1983 Partial roof replacement.
1983 Roof replacement.
1984 Encapsulate asbestos ducts at basement hallways.
1984 Replace door assemblies at stairs.
1984 Replace solar film on all windows.
1985 Filtration system for chiller by-pass.
1985 Replace drinking fountains.
1985 New fixtures at 2nd, 3rd & 4th floor restrooms.
1986 New exits at basement.
1986 Plumbing repairs.
1986 Modify basement AHU's.
1987 Lea mural conservation.
1988 Alteration for pretrial svcs agency at 2nd floor.
1988 New fire doors at rear stairwell.
1988 Repair existing terrazzo floors.
1988 Roof repairs.
1989 Alteration at pretrial services.
1989 Alterations at Customs area.
1989 Sprinkler system.
1989 Replace main elec. circuit breakers.
1989 Replace chiller.
1990 Relocation of Marshals to 3rd floor.
1990 3rd floor asbestos abatement.
1990 Remove vinyl asbestos tile at US Attorney.
1990 Alteration for Naval Inv. Service offices.
1992 New lawn sprinkler, trees & ground cover.
1992 Replace 2x4 fixtures w/ spec. reflectors.
1993 New carpet.
1993 Secondary elec. wiring replacement.
1993 Replace sidewalks at north & southeast sides.
1993 Retrofit cooling tower & replace catwalks.
1993 Asbestos abatement at basement and 5th floor hvac.
1994 Alterations at 1st flr court & 3rd flr clerk of ct
1995 Replace rear elevator with new cab and controls.
1996 Replace basement switch-gear panels.
Last Reviewed: 2018-08-20