Zbranek Building in Liberty to be honored with a state marker

A building known today as the Zbranek Building, 1937 Trinity St., Liberty, was previously built for Liberty County Bank.

The Liberty County Historical Commission will host a marker dedication on Saturday, May 27, 2023, at 10 a.m., honoring the historic Liberty County Bank – Zbranek Building, 1937 Trinity Street, Liberty, on the courthouse square.  The public is encouraged to attend.  The building has received a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark designation from the Texas Historical Commission.

By 1900, the town of Liberty was comprised roughly seventy houses, many of which stood alone on their respective city blocks.  Due to recent discoveries of oil, prosperous lumber business and the opening of railway travel from the east and west, Liberty was a “boom” town.

It was during this period of prosperity that George P. Zeiss of Waller, Texas, purchased land in Liberty for the establishment of a private banking institution.  The banking house would be operated by Mr. Zeiss’ sons, W. J. Zeiss and Reuben Zeiss.  A 20-foot wide by 70-foot deep lot was purchased between the Richardson Store and the post office in Lot No. 3 of Inner Block No. 19 on the north side of the courthouse where a brick building was to be constructed. 

Zeiss owned the German American Bank of Waller and spent the late spring through the summer acquiring the property in Liberty and supervising construction of the bank building.  The architect of the building is mentioned in newspaper articles of that period as Mr. Loraine. The bank was evidently ready for opening in November of 1903 to much public praise concerning the beauty of the new building.  The bank had all “modern” services including metal lock boxes.  Customers would be given a chance to place valuable papers, such as deeds, insurance policies, notes, or valuable letters in their lockbox to be kept in the bank vault.  These early “lock boxes” were the first safety deposit boxes.

According to early records, the Liberty County Bank was the first bank in Liberty soon to be followed by First State Bank which was chartered on Jan. 19, 1906.  By all accounts, both banks prospered in Liberty with the development of the surrounding oilfields at Batson and Dayton.  Records indicate that First State Bank increased its capitalization authorized by a meeting of the Shareholders and by deed dated Feb. 14, 1913, George P. Zeiss conveyed to the First State Bank of Liberty, Texas, the 20-foot X 70-foot lot with building, improvements, and all personal property of Liberty County Bank to the First State Bank for the total consideration of $4,500. 

It is unclear whether First State Bank ever used the newly acquired bank building as a “banking house” since they were located on the adjacent corner of Main and Trinity.  The minutes of the First State Bank indicate that they did not immediately sell the property but, in fact, still owned it in 1929 where there is a reference in their April 10, 1929, minutes authorizing a lease with the United States Government for the post office.  This lease seems to be a renewal of an existing lease which would indicate the post office in Liberty occupied the building for at least 10 years.

On April 1, 1930, First State Bank sold this property to Herman C. Smith.  It is unknown if Mr. Smith continued to lease the building for use as a post office or other business.  On Feb. 16, 1940, Herman C. Smith conveyed the property to local businessman, A. E. Bush.  Bush operated a title company known as Liberty County Abstract and Title Company in Liberty for many years and was later joined in the business by his sons.  The Bush family sold the property and presumably the title business Nov. 15, 1957, to S. Norris Rowland, Sr. along with the assumption of debt. However, on the Dec. 5, 1961, a Substitute Trustee’s Deed was executed on behalf of Stewart Trust Company, the legal lien holder of the aforementioned note.  That same month, Stewart Trust Company sold the business and building to K. T. Dismukes, et al. On Feb. 27, 1962, J. C. Zbranek and Harlan D. Friend purchased the building to house their law offices. By 1967, Friend and Zbranek had dissolved their partnership and J.C. Zbranek purchased his former partner’s interest in the beautiful miniature Beaux Arts building.

Jaromir Charles Zbranek (1930-2006) was born March 25, 1930, to Marie and Ladislav Leopold Zbranek, both immigrants to the United States from the Czech Republic.  The family moved to eastern Liberty County where they settled in a log house a short distance south of Daisetta.  Zbranek, known as “Zeke,” attended the Hull-Daisetta school system and graduated high school in 1947.  He attended the University of Texas at Austin, earning a Bachelor of Arts Degree in 1952. While at the University, he was a member of the Czech Club, MICA President, Pre-Law Society, N.R.O.T.C., Pi Sigma Alpha, Friars and Silver Spurs. 

During this period, Zbranek worked several jobs in and around campus in order to finance his education.  Later, as a law student, he served as Student Editor of the Law Review, was a member of the Rusk Literary Society, the Tejas Club and the Discipline Committee as well as Chairman of the Student Assembly.  After receiving his undergraduate degree, Zbranek served in the U.S. Navy as a Lieutenant from 1952 to 1954, during the Korean Conflict. 

After returning home, he ran for and was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1954 as a Democrat and represented Liberty and Chambers counties for the next six years.  While serving in the Legislature, he earned his law degree from the University of Texas Law School.  He began private law practice in Liberty in 1956, first in partnership with Thomas A. Wheat, then later private practice in 1959.  Zbranek purchased the historic Liberty County Bank building on the north side of the Courthouse Square and painted the building in the burnt orange and white colors of his beloved University of Texas. 

He practiced law for the next 30 years, also serving as Liberty County Democratic Party chairman and a member of the Lamar University Board of Regents.  In 1990, J. C. Zbranek was elected as 75th State District Judge in Liberty county, serving on the bench until his retirement in 2002.  J.C. “Zeke” Zbranek, married to Nelda Forshee, had three children, Felicia, Zeb and Zack Zbranek.  His son, Zeb Zbranek, now owns the building still practices law in this beautifully preserved building.

The circa 1903 Liberty County Bank – Zbranek building is a remarkable, intact historic building on the courthouse square and stands out as a rare example of period architecture.  The one-story brick commercial (bank) building was designed in the style of miniature Beaux Arts (1885-1830).  The term “Beaux Arts” (the approximate French equivalent of “Fine Arts”) is used by architectural historians in two different senses.  Some use it to describe the entire 1885-1920 period of elaborate eclectic styles because they tended to be advocated by Americans who studied at Frances’s Ecole des Beaux-Arts, the era’s premier school of architecture.  A more limited meaning, followed here, stresses only one eclectic tradition among  many that were then popular and based on Classical precedents elaborated by lavish decorative detailing and was perhaps the most typical of the many styles inspired by study at the Ecole.  More than any other style, the Beaux Arts expressed the taste and values of America’s industrial barons at the turn of the 20th century. 

In those pre-income tax days, great fortunes were proudly displayed in increasingly ornate and expensive houses and commercial buildings.  These ornate buildings were impossible to maintain in later eras of economic recession and higher taxes and most of the grandest have been destroyed with only a few being preserved as schools or museums. This lovely example of miniature Beaux Arts design exemplifies classic detailing which includes columns, capped with composite capitals, which flank double arched doors.  There are classical brackets on either side with columns supporting a cornice with frieze, bracketing and balustrade topped cornice.  The building has a hipped roof and retains its original façade and architecture and is an uncommon example of  miniature Beaux Arts style unchanged since 1903 on the courthouse square.  The building has served the downtown business community housing not only a banking house but U. S. post office, abstract company and law office.  

Because of the important history of businesses housed in this building, businessmen and women, their impact on the community and the unique architecture, the most interesting on the courthouse square in 1903 and now,  the Liberty County Bank – Zbranek Building has been honored with the Recorded Texas Historic Landmark designation from the Texas Historical Commission to properly honor this building and its early history in downtown Liberty.  It is an exquisite example of early architecture and therefore, the most striking and beautiful building in historic Liberty and the courthouse square.

For more information, email: lchc318@gmail.com or call 936-334-5813.

(Submission: Linda M. Jamison, County Chair)

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