Restoration of the 1916 County Court House
The 1916 County Court House located at 300 N. Dixie Highway in West Palm Beach was destined to be destroyed when the new courthouse across the street opened in 1995. Due to an increase in enthusiasm for preserving Palm Beach County’s history, the Board of County Commissioners voted to restore the courthouse in April 2002, and they allocated funding.
The restoration process began in January 2004 with the demolition of a wraparound structure that was added in 1970. Shortly after, the 1927 annex and 1955 addition were removed. The building was designated a historic site by Palm Beach County on September 27, 2005, and the project was completed in November 2007.
Hedrick Brothers Construction worked with REG Architects on the project. The restoration included preserving all original materials found in the 1916 building, reusing original materials found in the annex and addition, reconstructing areas that were lost or destroyed over the years and locating original items that had been stored off-site for several years. Much of the building was preserved during the renovation. The salvaged materials included limestone, granite, exterior windows, marble wainscot, mosaic floor tiles, wood flooring, doors, trim and hardware.
When it was built, the Court House held all County government records and offices, including the jail. Today, it houses the Richard and Pat Johnson Palm Beach County History Museum, the renovated courtroom and some offices for the County’s Public Affairs Department and County Attorney’s Office.
The following are some interesting facts, figures and photos documenting the complex process that has brought the building back to its former grandeur.
(Note: Nowadays, the term "courthouse" is one word. In 1916, it was two words.)
- After all salvageable items were identified, the wraparound was removed from the original structure in 2004, and the restoration process began. It was completed in November 2007.
- Sixty-seven percent of the exterior brick is original. At the north corner of the east elevation, a small section of original brick was saved to contrast with the new brick.
- Throughout the restoration process, less than one percent of the existing windows were damaged. Seventy-six of the original windows were found to be in good enough shape to keep in place. If you look closely, you will find wavy panes of glass in original windows throughout the north, south and west elevations. The windows on the east elevation were removed in previous renovations and were replaced with ones that meet modern storm specifications. Thirty-seven new impact windows were custom designed to match.
- The exterior limestone that was needed for repairs was purchased from the same quarry in Indiana as the original limestone.
- The cornerstones were found and placed back in their original locations on the exterior portion of the northwest corner of the building.
- All of the exterior columns and capitals are originals from the 1916 building and the 1927 addition. The weight of a column including its plinth block is 30,600 pounds. The columns had to be installed with great precision as they actually support the weight of the portico roof above them.
- The base stone around the building and stairs is granite. A nationwide search was conducted to locate matching materials to replace missing pieces.
- No original close-up photos of the eagle crest were found. It was meticulously designed using other similar eagle crests from the time and hand carved from five pieces of limestone. It weighs 16,000 pounds.
- Ninety-five percent of the mosaic floor tiling in the main halls and near the staircases is original. A total of 215 square feet of matching mosaic tiles was salvaged from the 1927 addition and used for patches and repairs in the 1916 building.
- Nineteen wood doors were salvaged. They were reinstalled on the second floor west foyer, third floor corridors and courtroom, and the fourth floor balcony.
- Twenty-eight sets of original doorknob hardware were salvaged and installed on original and new doors of the courtroom and main restored corridors.
- Approximately 260 linear feet of matching marble wainscoting were salvaged for the staircase and corridor walls. Eighty-two percent of the installed wainscoting is original. The remaining required marble was purchased from the original quarry.
- The original 1916 vaults were kept and sealed shut.
- Decorative railings were crafted in an early 1900’s style, and modern railings were added in compliance with today’s standards.
- The courtroom only retained its initial design for 10 years, and no original construction documents or photographs were located to help with its restoration.
- Layers of paint were carefully removed to find original colors to ensure accuracy.
- More than 1,000 square feet of original maple wood flooring were found in the courtroom. This original flooring was removed, reinstalled in the east end of the courtroom (near the judge’s bench) and refinished. Matching maple wood flooring was installed to complete the restoration of the courtroom floor.
- Only about half of the original courtroom ceiling was found in tact. In order to match what was saved, the plasterer restored the ceiling molding using the same method that was used in 1916.
- Lighting for the courtroom ceiling was fabricated to replicate the original sky lights and period hanging lamps.