Napa County celebrated the rebirth of its cracked, Humpty Dumpty-like historic courthouse that it could and did put back together again.
The August 2014 earthquake damaged the masonry 1879 building so badly that the county jammed giant steel beams against the exterior as reinforcement. On Jan. 7, the repaired courthouse finally reopened with no beams in sight and without fanfare.
The fanfare came on Tuesday. A couple hundred people gathered at noon outside the iconic Italianate Victorian courthouse at 825 Brown St.
Assistant Presiding Napa County Superior Court Judge Mark Boessenecker stood on the granite steps outside the building and said, “I don’t know if it’s ever looked better than it does today.”
The courthouse looks as good as new – or, as good as old. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places and the goal was to retain the original flavor and atmosphere.
Once again, civil courts are in action inside the building after being temporarily relocated to such places as a jury assembly room and storage room. Superior Court Judge Diane Price once again presides in her old courtroom, just like before the earthquake.
“I’m really glad I was in time to come back and sit on the bench before I retired,” Price said as guests walked around the chamber during the open house portion of the ceremony.
It was close. Price retires on Jan. 31.
Tim Daley came to watch the ceremony. The AECOM project manager worked on a renovation that initially focused on stabilizing the building for safety and gauging the structural damage.
“Then it’s just the matter of taking the time and conscientious detail to restore it back to its historic character,” he said.
The renovation delved deep into the depths of the old courthouse, but apparently yielded no valuable historic treasures. Court Executive Officer Bob Fleshman said 1950s parking tickets were found in the attic.
During the speeches, county Board of Supervisors chairman Ryan Gregory took listeners back to 3:20 a.m. Aug. 24, 2014, when the South Napa earthquake rattled the county. He recalled standing near Brown Street at daybreak, with a car crushed by bricks from a commercial building on one side and the wounded courthouse on the other.
“You just felt hopeless,” Gregory said. “You we’re scared and shocked.”
Then the hard work of earthquake recovery began.
“We overcame, and here we are today,” Gregory said.
Retired Judge W. Scott Snowden referred to the word “Justice” emblazoned across the top of the historic courthouse. This is something you work toward one case at at time, struggling with the ambiguities of each case, he said.
“It is an inspiration to all of us,” he said.
Construction started on the historic courthouse in summer of 1878. Workers completed the job in 1879, according to contemporary newspaper accounts.
The historic courthouse is joined to the 1916 Hall of Records by an 1978 addition between the two buildings. The three sections merge into one building. Only the 1879 historic courthouse section was out of action for four years.
But now the closure is history.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the Napa historic courthouse is once again open for business,” Fleshman said to applause from the crowd.
County official said the courthouse stabilization and repair cost about $23 million. Most of the money is coming from insurance and the federal and state governments.