Gargoyles in Texas

You know, we talk about interesting tidbits that have crossed our paths while doing research and it’s hard to explain exactly what rabbit trail we were following when we came upon a topic that made me think, “Hey this would make a good Petticoats and Pistols topic!”
Such is the topic I’ve picked for today.
Do you ever see a gargoyle on some building and just shake your head and wonder, “What in the world were they thinking?”
Well, I saw a gargoyle the other day. In Texas of all places. (Not sure why but everytime I think, “Gargoyles in Texas” the song “Werewolves in London” starts running through my head).
So I went to a book event in Texas and while we were walking around looking for food, we walked past this unbelievable stone building. An old courthouse they call Old Red. It was possibly the most beautiful I’ve ever seen….keeping in mind I don’t get out much.
Knowing it was built in 1890 makes it even more stunning.

And while I was staring at this beautiful building I noticed the gargoyle. So, of course, being of a twisted nature, I immediately thought of y’all here, our beloved readers of P & P. Rather than write a lovely blog about turn of the LAST century construction methods or American Ingenuity or even TEXAS…how obvious is THAT???….I stared at that weird gargoyle and a topic came to mind.
What was he DOING up there? What were the Texans THINKING? Sure we expect gargoyles in Paris…theyre FRENCH they’re always doing something like that. But this is DALLAS. Come on!
So I researched gargoyles and found to my surprise there is a point to it all.
A gargoyle is a carved stone figure with a spout designed to convey water from a roof and away from the side of a building.
The term means “throat” or “gullet.”
That’s right, a gargoyle isn’t just cool or weird or artistic. It’s not a figure meant to drive away evil spirits (that was my first guess). It has an architectural purpose, to catch water and make it pour off, away from the building to protect the foundation. It’s the 1600th century answer to rain gutters.
I found comfort in that.
Gargoyles had a purpose.
No explaining why they had to be ugly though.
Why not a spout or a … a … pitcher…or a maiden with a tipped water bucket.
And of course I soon found out too, that after they first used gargoyles for practical (if ugly) reasons, they soon began just slapping ugly creatures up on their building for ‘artistic’ purposes. I can hear the architect now, whining, “Why does the cathedral at Notre Dame get a gargoyle and I don’t.”

“The building’s foundation was at risk and in France, to no one’s surprise, there was a sale on the really UGLY water spouts so they bought them.”
“I’m holding my breath until you give me a gargoyle.” Architect drops to the ground and begins turning blue while kicking his feet.
So enter the era of the chimera or grotesque figure, (no, the term grotesque figure has nothing to do with the failure of my latest attempt at dieting, shut up)

A chimera is a sculpture that does not work as a waterspout and serves only an ornamental or artistic function. These are also usually called gargoyles by average folks but architects know the difference.
So there you have it. No idea if the gargoyle up on the top of Old Red spouts water but I doubt it because it’s not on the edge of the building. So, shame on Texas for perching a gargoyle up on top of Old Red and not having a practical explanation for why, why, why they thought it was a good idea. They could at least have put a Stetson on his head.
So, ever seen a gargoyle? My kids watched the cartoon. What do you think? Admit it. You want one. Good bye gutters and downspouts, every one here is going to put a gargoyle on their house just as soon as they can afford some daffy French architect to slap one up there.
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Author of Romantic Comedy...with Cowboys including the bestselling Kincaid Brides Series

43 thoughts on “Gargoyles in Texas”

  1. A gargoyle in a Stetson! Mary, I just choked on my coffee!

    I’ve always wondered about gargoyles. Who would want something so ugly and bizarre on a building? I had no idea they served a practical purpose. Thanks for the insight!

  2. Good morning, Mary! I’m amazed you spotted that gargoyle tucked away on that roof.

    They’re scary. Downright spooky and ugly. I never knew they were used for water spouts, either, so at least they have a purpose. Otherwise, they look like they’re going to burst to life and steal children or something.

    Fun post!

  3. Thanks for the info. I learned something new today. I’ll never look at gargoyles the same again. Have a great day.

  4. Yeah, Nise’ you are sooooooooooo ready if gargoyles comes up in a conversation. Good luck waiting for THAT to happen. 🙂

    The Texas gargoyle is a LION that’s at least not freaky ugly, Victoria, just weird. that last picture above, with the hunched back creature, it looks like it came out of a journal someone was keeping at drug rehab.

  5. Roberta, do you look at a lot of gargoyles now? Where did you say you lived? Because where I live, it’s pretty much all gone to seamless rain gutters.

    Hi, Sue. I guess ‘so ugly they’re cute’ is fair. But it sounds like someone’s cruel assessment of an unlucky new baby!!!!???

  6. Well, now I know what you’ll be thinking if you come to my house and find the gargoyle sitting on the doorstep. LOL. He’s little, but he’s got a face only a mother gargoyle could love.

  7. That’s right, Charlene, on top of the building, Signourney Weaver turns into a big ??? weird ??? cat of some sort then Bill Murray has to chip her out of that styrofoam stoney stuff at the end.

  8. Mary DeSive, A face only a mother gargoyle could love? LOL

    Okay, all the writer’s on this site, I challenge you ALL to work that line into your next book. Let’s see if we can get Mary’s line published a few dozen times. It’s hilarious.

  9. Hi Mary, what a great post. I love gargoyles, dunno why. I always want to get some for Halloween. I don’t know if I dreamed this but something lingers from Art History classes that they were ugly to stave off evil spirits?

    There are some at the college my kids went to on the PE building but they’re more lion-y than scary-ugly.

  10. HAH! Someone finally came out and admitted they wanted a gargoyle.
    Very courageous, Tanya, remember, admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery. (I know, you don’t want to get well–that’s always the way). 😀
    I will add here that the Texas Courthouse…really look at that picture, those huge blocks and three stories high, the towers higher, think about this for a minute…how did they build that in 1890? No cranes, no motorized machines to bear weight. Well, maybe there were cranes, horse-powered maybe? Man-powered?
    Still, what an accomplishment for that time.
    For that matter, look at the Notre Dame Cathedral picture. That thing was build in 1160.
    Can you imagine? Of course they had horse power and man power in 1160, right? Still, an amazing accomplishment.
    Has anyone ever read Pillars of the Earth, it’s about a lot of stuff, but included is the ‘invention’ of flying buttresses. Notre DAme has a scad of them. Look at the picture again. On the far right, those arched support thing-ys are flying buttresses and they are solely to keep the building standing while still trying to be beautiful.
    How weird that flying buttresses are significant.

  11. Love the post, Mary. Isn’t that an amazing courthouse. There used to be a bell tower on top of Old Red. The four gargoyles–which are actually Wyverns, legendary winged reptilian creatures, normally shown as dragons with two legs and two wings–are all that remain. They used to sit at the four corners of the bell tower. Still don’t know why they put them there, though.

    Tracy G. – former resident of Dallas

  12. Many many years ago, there was a movie about a gargoyle that came to life and kidnapped a girl and took her into his cavern. Wonder why he had a cavern? I loved the movie – it was a gargoyle romance. Boy was he ugly. I don’t even think his mama loved him.

  13. Love the topic, Mary! What great photos. That is one stunning building, I can see why you were drawn to it. I’ve never seen a gargoyle but I’d like to. 🙂 And LOL on the gargoyle romance–that’s one I’ve missed so far. It must rival the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

  14. Too funny, Mary. I’m disappointed that I missed seeing that cool building in all my trips to Dallas. I’ll have to look it up next time.

    I don’t care for gargoyles. They’re creepy. Kind of remind me of that little, weird creature in Lord of the Rings, that said, “My precious.”

  15. the building is called Old Red and it’s a museum now but, though what was there, was interesting, it’s not finished at all. The third floor is still closed off and forget about the towers. I wanted to go up there and try to lower my hair for the prince to climb up. But nooooooooooooooooo

    And it’s all Dallas history, which sure fine, go for it. But it’s not Texas history or American history so veeeeeery specific. You really need to be into Dallas. And judging by the museum somebody is. 😀

  16. Go up to JenT’s comment with the link in it. That is a beautiful gargoyle and it really looks like a water spout too, the lady must be facing straight down and the water runs along her back. That’s nice of them to take the time to make a water spout so pretty.

    Look at the spouts above the woman gargoyle, do you suppose those… pour into the ones below, then pour in to the ones below AGAIN.


  17. Mary,

    There is a gargoyle-adorned historical marker which can be seen in downtown Houston’s Market Square. The block on which the Square is located goes back to 1836 when the city was known as Harrisburg and was the first Capital of the Republic of Texas. There are gargoyles to be found all over the state on older hotels and courthouses. Gargoyles adorn our main Courthouse downtown and the old Rice Hotel, which was built on the site of the first capitol building in the state.

    Pat Cochran

  18. Great blog, Mary. When I was in Dallas for RWA a couple of years ago, I went for a walk and saw that building–very striking. But I didn’t notice the gargoyle. Maybe he was put up there to scare away evil spirits????
    Don’t think I’d go for a gargoyle on my house, but I have a daughter who’d probably love one on her condo!

  19. Well, I just got back from getting our daughter’s wedding invitations ordered so stopped by again. I have Pillars of the Earth on my TBR list and it’s next up after Angels and Demons. Also World Without End. They are longies…I gotta up my time on the exer-cycle LOL.

    We should all definitely take a gargoyle census and report back!

  20. Cool post Mary! I love old courthouses!! (Being an attorney I guess I feel a kinship.:)) Some of the newer buildings are really ugly! I like LuAnn’s idea for watering plants… They have cute little animals that do that but gargoyles would be neat. I think some are scary as well as ugly. I used to watch the cartoon with my son about 15 years ago! Those gargoyles were nice characters!

  21. Am “reading” Pillars of The Earth right now (it is a book on CD – 32 long. Have World Without End also – 38 CDs). Excellent, I love books with wonderful tidbits of history and everyday life in the past. Have seen a few of gargoyles. When we travel, old churches are a favorite. I work in a 1925 train station. It is now the county library. We have two iron lights on the wall outside the main doors. The base of each light is a chimera. Down the street are the offices of a Swiss business. They converted an old EMT station and have put gargoyle statues on the roof and around the front. One day we’ll get to Europe to see the old cathedrals and some great examples of gargoyles, etc.

  22. Pillars of the Earth is my big sisters favorite book every written. I wouldn’t go that far, but really interesting. So weird that flying buttresses could be that interesting.
    I remember reading a book by Victoria Alexander once all about carberators. Seriously.
    Well there was a love story. But the invention of the carbeurator was central to the plot. I found that fascinating.
    What could I write about that hasn’t been fully explored I wonder.
    The flashlight, who came up with that?
    Barbed wire fence might make a good backdrop for a story, I can see that…no, not putting it up and stopping a cattle drive from passing through, totally been done. I mean inventing the sharp little thing. Hmmmmmmmmmmm

  23. Loved your post, Mary. You taught me something I didn’t know. I like gargoyles. Far more attractive than some of the lawn ornaments I’ve seen.


  24. Wow! I did not know this either! I wonder if the Gargoyles from the cartoon were Chimera? I definitely did not see any spouting….

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