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Jury Is In and Judges Are Out

June 15, 1987|JOHN SPANO | Times Staff Writer

Thanks to 19-Century architecture and the 20th-Century litigation explosion, state appellate justices will not be among the tenants of the historic Old County Courthouse when its renovation is complete.

A state official has decided that changes in the building sought by the justices would "irrevocably destroy the historic fabric" and "the architectural integrity" of the structure.

And, according to Presiding Justice John K. Trotter Jr., there isn't enough space in the courthouse for the rapidly growing appellate court division without those changes, which would have converted the top floor of the three-story facility to offices.

Project Began in 1983

The renovation began in 1983, after legislation was passed creating the Santa Ana division of the 4th District Court of Appeal. That legislation specified that the court eventually would be located in the Old County Courthouse in Santa Ana.

But Kathryn Gualtieri, head of the Office of Historic Preservation in Sacramento, informed the appellate justices earlier this year that the changes they requested on the third floor of the old courthouse would not be allowed.

And on June 3 in Sacramento, the Assembly passed a bill allowing the court to go elsewhere in Santa Ana--though it doesn't say where. The measure says the court's needs "can no longer be adequately satisfied by space inside the Old Courthouse."

"We'll go where we're told to go," said Trotter, who heads the Santa Ana appellate court division. "It would have been wonderful to have been in that delightful old building, but if it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out."

The Final Chapter?

This apparently is the final chapter in a long-running feud between the justices and the Orange County Historical Commission.

The 1982 legislation creating the Santa Ana appellate court division envisioned that the court would share the old building with a museum of county history. The museum, to be operated by the county Historical Commission, was planned for part of the third floor.

Last year, however, citing a rapid expansion in cases, the justices disclosed that they needed space on the third floor for offices, but the Historical Commission--long a moving force in the courthouse renovation--did not want to to give the space up.

The county has spent more than $3 million on the renovation project. But because of $317,000 in restoration grants from Gualtieri's office, she has the power to veto substantial structural changes in the building.

While some observers saw the decision to prohibit the third-floor remodeling as a victory for the influential county Historical Commission in fierce political infighting with Trotter, state preservationists do not.

A Case of 'Two Goods'

"It isn't good vs. evil here; it was two goods," said Marion Mitchell-Wilson, an aide to Gualtieri. "There are two pieces of legislation, each created for a good purpose, that came into conflict. The Court of Appeal is trying to meet its obligations, and the Office of Historic Preservation is trying to meet its obligations."

The incompatibility of historic uses in renovated buildings has become "a fairly common preservation issue," she said. Renovating a building and then putting it to the original use has long been considered the best solution, Mitchell-Wilson said.

"What we are finding is that the demands of 20th-Century use for the same activity have increased so that they don't fit in the facility for which they were originally designed," Mitchell-Wilson said.

It has not been determined who will occupy the Old Courthouse now that the appellate court is out, according to Evan Krewson, project manager for the renovation. Orange County Superior Court officials, who also are looking for expansion room, have expressed an interest, along with the county Harbor, Beaches and Parks District, which owns the courthouse, Krewson said.

An expanded museum "is not contemplated," said Robert R. Selway, chief of historic and cultural programs for the county Environmental Management Agency.

"The tenant does not matter to me, or to the county," Selway said. "We want a viable use that's consistent with the historical integrity of the structure."

The decision to block the appellate court's third-floor renovation plans was applauded by Jane Gerber, head of the county Historical Commission.

"The historical integrity of the building has to be saved," Gerber said. "I'm sure that the commission and the county feel that any usage of the building should be in keeping with that. The court needs more space (than is available)."

For the court, state officials are looking into leasing space in the Park Towers buildings across the street from the Old Courthouse.

The change in tenants will not affect the scheduled September opening of public areas on the middle floor of the courthouse, Krewson said, adding that the museum may be finished by November, when a grand opening is planned.

A New Color

Restoration of the roof is to be completed by next April, and cleaning of the exterior stonework is expected to be finished by Christmas.

The familiar red courthouse will take on a new hue when the work is complete. The Arizona sandstone is red because of oxidation of its iron content. "The original color of the stone was pink," Krewson said.

Scott Morgan, an assistant to Supervisor Roger R. Stanton, said the county is pleased that restoration is nearing completion. He saw no difficulty in finding another tenant.

"The county would be just delighted if we could put some other county use in the Old Courthouse."

"It could be a functioning government building with an economic usefulness, as well as a beautiful reminder of our early days as a county," Morgan declared.

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