The Hunt County Courthouse is a large, imposing structure with sleek stylized surfaces common to an architectural genre known as Art Deco. Visitors and fans of the building style once popular on Main Street America in the 1930s can find many striking examples in downtown Greenville.
Courthouses in county seats such as Greenville in Hunt County, Henderson in Rusk County, Tyler in Smith County, and Cooper in Delta County feature smooth surfaces and bold ascents of the Art Deco.
The abundance of Art Deco buildings in Greenville is no coincidence, as the style’s popularity in the 1930s coincided with the discovery of oil in the area and political influences such as new construction projects funded by the Works. Progress Administration.
According to a 2019 book titled DFW Deco: Modernist Architecture of North Texas by David Bush and Jim Parsons, Art Deco arrived in the region in the 1930s when the riches of the oil boom fueled the construction of a dozen or more grand buildings, from courthouses to the Kilgore College Administration Building in passing by skyscrapers like the People’s National Bank Building in Tyler.
The genre was rooted in an art movement known as New Moderne which attempted to break away from traditional influences. It spread from European artists who introduced the style at the French Exhibition of 1920 and has been adapted to create a very decorative and decidedly modern style.
The new style broke with the past by adopting cubist styles while incorporating motifs from recent archaeological finds. The myriad of influences included archaeological finds from the early 1900s: the ancient temples of Babylon in today’s Iraq, the ancient Mayans in Mexico, and the exuberant riches unearthed from King Tutankhamun’s tomb in Egypt. .
These influences took hold in the decorative arts like the Art Nouveau movement and found expression in new construction in major American cities in the late 1920s. Two prominent examples built in 1928 were the Chrysler Building in New York and the Chicago Carbide and Carbon Building.
The new style looks to the future with bold ascending lines while incorporating symbols of antiquity and distinctive geometric shapes. The Stringer funeral building in Greenville on Stonewall Street is a striking example. The 1925 building pays homage to Egyptian archeology with King Tut gargoyles on its vertical facade.
Other important Art Deco structures in the region include theaters and performance halls erected in city centers that have served as centers for the arts. The Select Theater in Mineola and the Texan Theater in Greenville are two examples.
The genre dominated architectural styles in the United States between WWI and WWII and influenced many structures in the region. The richly eloquent patterns and ornamentation common in early Art Deco buildings gradually evolved into simplicity to reflect less excess in the late 1930s.
In the mid-1930s, Art Deco architects adopted cleaner lines and smoother surfaces, some showing even bolder geometric shapes such as the Esplanade at the Texas State Fair Grounds in Dallas, funded by the Public Works Administration.
Funding for the Greenville Municipal Building was also received from the PWA. The design of local architect William R. Ragsdale merged Art Deco and Modern styles and completed construction in 1939.
The municipal building housed the chamber of commerce, city offices, a prison, and a fire department at its lower levels. The upper levels still house the Greenville Municipal Auditorium with hundreds of seats and dozens of shows per year.
The industrial buildings of Greenville also featured the popular Art Deco style. The former Dr. Pepper Bottling Company on Washington Street (1937), the JP “Punk” McNatt used car showroom and the Kress Store building show the style emphasis on geometric shapes and movement. vertical ascending.
The Dr. Pepper Building on Washington Street is actually the headquarters of the second Dr. Pepper Bottling Company of Greenville. The first was located at the corner of Jordan and St. John streets.
Classic Art Deco features of the new building include curved corners, glass block windows, and a smooth brick exterior painted seamlessly in high contrast colors. The large front and side windows of the Washington Street building provided a view of the bottling process, but the windows are now hidden from the public as it is now a private residence owned by the Reese family.
Landon Winery now occupies the old Kress Building, also built in the 1930s. It was home to the five and ten cent department store chain during the Depression and for decades after. Art Deco features include marble ornaments on the brick facade and curved glass and marble on the first floor door.
The chic entrance to the Kress building now serves the Landon cellar. Landon’s flagship location serves as a production facility and tasting location for the Texan winemaker.
The McNatt Building is a former Cadillac showroom with clean lines, large windows and abundant curves, built in 1930 in Sleek Moderne, a subset of Art Deco that marked style and speed in the part of General Motors’ marketing strategy. Red lettering and accents add flair to the 19,500 square foot showroom now filled with vintage vehicles visible from Johnson Street.
Although Art Deco architecture began in larger metropolitan areas, the style made its way all the way to the Upper East Side of Texas and left a lasting impact on the appearance of some Main Street towns like Greenville. . For more information on Greenville attractions, visit www.ci.greenville.tx.us.