Courthouse Restoration

Restoring Glory: Unwrapping
the Historic 1916 Palm Beach County Court House

1916: Palm Beach County builds a courthouse of neoclassical design, with three floors and a basement, on North Dixie Highway between Banyan and 3rd  streets, West Palm Beach. Its single courtroom handles all cases for the approximately 18,000 county residents.

1927: A sister building is added 25 feet to the east.

1969: The county wraps a modern addition around the 1916- and 1927-era buildings.

1995: A new Palm Beach County Courthouse opens across Dixie Highway.

2002: Palm Beach County Commissioners vote to restore the 1916 courthouse.

Spring 2004: Hedrick Brothers Construction Company begins to demolish the 1969 addition. The construction company painstakingly salvages limestone, granite, marble, wainscot, windows, and mosaic floor tiles from the 1927 building to use in the restoration of the 1916 courthouse.

The roofs of the 1916 building and 1927 addition can be seen jutting through the 1969 “wraparound.” Hedrick Brothers’ project manager, Robin Lunsford, says his first step was to salvage materials and gut the building’s interiors: “It was an environmental nightmare – mold, asbestos, everything else. The first thing we had to do was create a clean, safe environment for the workers.”

Fall 2004: The wraparound and the 1927 addition are completely demolished.

December 2004: Hedrick Brothers Construction stops work on the restoration for a year until an agreement can be reached on the “guaranteed maximum price” to complete the project: $18,965,019.

October 2005: The building is designated an historic site by Palm Beach County. Finding limestone and brick to match the exterior proved challenging. The limestone was found at its original quarry in Indiana. The original brick was cream-colored and made by drying the bricks in a kiln, a process that is no longer used. The construction team ends up staining 51,400 custom-made bricks. (67% of the bricks on the building are original.)

Summer 2006: The restoration begins to take shape, as the original columns and capitals from both 1916 and the 1927 addition (20 in all) had been stored at nearby Hillcrest Cemetery. In order to replace the columns, stone carvers and masons analyze the columns to see where each fits, then hoist the massive (as heavy as 3 tons) columns back into place.

Spring 2007: Detailed interior restoration of the building is underway. REG Architects creates a design for the courtroom based on a tour of other old courthouses built during the same period. Restoration includes the plaster ceilings and maple flooring.

December 2006: The original cornerstone is restored to the northwest corner and dedicated to Henry Flagler, who donated the land on which the courthouse rests to the county in 1914.

November 2007: The awnings, grass, walkway, and flagpole are finished. The courtroom restoration is complete, including the judge’s bench and jury box. Over the six years of the project, more than 400 workers are involved.

December 2007: Palm Beach County staff moves into offices in the historic courthouse. The installation process begins for the Richard and Pat Johnson Palm Beach County History Museum.

March 15, 2008: Grand opening of the Richard and Pat Johnson Palm Beach County History Museum.

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