Everyone's courthouse: A historic renovation deserves community support
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Allegheny County's historic courthouse will be getting just what it needs for its 125th birthday -- the start of an overdue, top-to-bottom restoration.
County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced that welcome news last week, the beginning of what promises to be an important, long-term project.
The courthouse and its companion jail building, designed by famed architect Henry Hobson Richardson, are on the National Register of Historic Places and were influential architecturally throughout North America.
But just because the courthouse is held in high regard does not mean it always has been appropriately maintained. There is water damage above the immense murals in its arched lobby, the windows are drafty, lighting dim and too many interior offices have been marred by the installation of drab, drop ceilings and other features that detract from its charms.
The county wisely will be seeking both advice and donations from the private sector for this project, which is expected to include the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation. The foundation already has been instrumental in quality restoration work at the courthouse -- in 1976, helping to transform its interior courtyard from a parking lot to a park; in 1988, in honor of the courthouse's 100th anniversary, restoring a courtroom to historical accuracy and, in 1997, renovating the adjoining judge's chamber. It also has replaced a mishmash of chairs in its hallways with wooden benches designed in original style.
A courthouse renovation must be guided by attention to historical accuracy, with the goal of making improvements that guarantee the building will remain useful and beautiful for decades to come. It will be expensive.
Mr. Fitzgerald recognizes that this must be a civic project, not something county government can accomplish on its own. Pittsburgh is fortunate to have a strong foundation community with leaders who recognize the value of preservation. They surely will agree that this project is worthy of the significant resources it will demand.
First Published January 29, 2013 12:00 am