The Jazz Age of the 1920s ushered in a new era of energetic dancing, bobbed hair, short skirts, and fast cars. New architectural designs likewise expressed the changing times. Through the bold use of metalwork, stylized sculpture, and angular patterns, Art Deco architecture embodied the climate of a bold new world. The style took its name from the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes held in Paris, France. The trend went well beyond architecture to influence many aspects of fashion through the early 1940s, including furniture, art, and clothing. With its emphasis on modernity and industry, Art Deco must have seemed like the perfect style when architect Oscar F. Cook designed the Howard County Courthouse.
In the 1930s Howard County welcomed an era of prosperity as new advances in automotive technology brought the Delco Radio Division of General Motors, and the Chrysler Corporation to Kokomo. County Commissioners acknowledged the need for their government to keep up with the county’s growth by constructing a new courthouse. Since the demolition of the old 1868 courthouse in 1927, county offices had been scattered throughout downtown Kokomo.
In 1935 County Commissioners requested a grant from the PWA for courthouse construction. Due to delays caused by federal bureaucracy, the commissioners decided to move ahead without federal assistance. Since the county had been without a courthouse for nearly ten years, the public rallied behind a local bond issue for $353,000.1 The PWA eventually provided $29,000 for basement construction.
Orators from throughout Indiana gathered on October 20, 1937 to dedicate the new building. The modern building features a stylized limestone entry flanked by two bronze lamps. Inside curving stainless steel handrails and polished marble flooring and paneling continue the Art Deco motif. The handrails were manufactured in Kokomo by the Haynes Company. Company founder Elwood Haynes was the inventor of stainless steel.
Like so many Indiana towns, Kokomo’s courthouse square is designed in a Shelbyville Plan. Walnut, Main, Sycamore and Buckeye streets border the square.
1 John Marshall and Clifford Lineback, A Brief History of Howard County and the Howard County Courthouse (Humphrey Printing Co., c1954), p.7