"A Question of Great Delicacy":
The Texas Capitol Competition, 1881
WILLIAM ELTON GREEN
DESIGN COMPETITIONS IN THE UNITED STATES TO CHOOSE ARCHI-
tects for public buildings took place as early as 1792, with competi-
tions for the national Capitol and a house for the president. States and
local governments also adopted the process and often utilized design
competitions during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to
obtain designs for capitols, college and university structures, court-
houses, city halls, and other public buildings. Elected officials or ap-
pointed commissioners generally advertised for building designs and
awarded a commission to draw plans for the proposed structure to the
architect of the winning entry.'
The state of Texas held its first design competition in early 1852 to
secure plans for a new Capitol in Austin. The competition attracted
several entries, but the commissioners in charge-the governor, comp-
troller, and treasurer-allegedly "rejected all the plans submitted,
borowing (?) [sic] enough from each to enable them to draft one of their
own."' Controversies then developed over the construction of the new
Capitol, including accusations of graft in the construction and furnish-
ing of the building.' Nearly sixty years later, as Texas prepared to build
a magnificent new structure to replace the old one, state officials deter-
mined to avoid the kind of mistakes that had been made in the 185os.
The same human weaknesses still existed, however, making the Texas
design competition in 1881 "a question of great delicacy."'
*William Elton Green is the Capitol Historian for the State Preservation Board. He is the
author of The Dancing Was Lively; Fort Concho, Texas" A Soczal Hstory, 1867 to 1882 (1974) and is
currently writing a book on the Alamo, "Remembering the Alamo: The Development of a
Texas Symbol, 1836-1986."
'Willard B. Robinson, Texas Public Buildzngs of the Nineteenth Century (Austin: University of
Texas Press for Amon Carter Museum of Western Art, 1974), 203-20o6
'Texas Republican (Marshall), Apr. 17, 1852.
'Report of the Building and Furniture of the Capitol of the State of Texas (Austin: Marshall &
Oldham, State Printers, 1856).
'Report of the Capitol Building Commissioners to the Governor of Texas, Austn, January r, 1883
(Austin: E. W. Swindells, State Printer, 1883), 16.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 92, July 1988 - April, 1989. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101212/. Accessed May 5, 2015.