With three months to go before its 100th anniversary in November, the Old County Courthouse in Santa Ana--the county's historic jewel--is getting the finishing touches on its make-over, with a new roof, sidewalk repairs and cosmetic fixes.
For weeks, roofers have been walking gingerly along catwalks high above Santa Ana Boulevard, pulling off 100-year-old roofing tiles that have survived Southern California's intense heat, smog and rain.
"You wouldn't believe this, but these tiles are galvanized metal, and although they were manufactured in the late 1800s, there's no rust on them. It's a testament to how they made things in the old days," said Rob Selway, the county's historical facilities chief.
While the courthouse's anniversary is being noted all year, the celebrations will culminate with the state Supreme Court holding a rare hearing there Oct. 4, and a major recognition by the city of Santa Ana on Nov. 14.
In historical circles, renovations are not taken lightly. The roof alone is a $200,000 project, a renovation that Selway said was achieved after months of meetings on design and replacement and advice from historical experts.
"When you have a historical building, preservation theorists tell you [that] you can't replace anything with new materials," Selway said.
For example, when the courthouse porches needed repair, Selway didn't know what to do about the dozens of round, prismatic lenses that had turned a shade of lavender with age. Experts said he could replace them with new, clear glass lenses, provided the ratio of old lenses to new didn't violate a 70-to-30 standard.
"They said, 'Don't worry. The new glass will change color over the years,' " he said.
Though the roof's tiles were in good shape, the valleys and flat areas that had been renovated years ago had cracked and leaked, keeping county crews busy dumping buckets and trash cans of water that had collected in the attic.
But how do you fix a leaky roof, keeping as much of the original materials as possible and costs down?
"To replace the entire roof would have cost way over $1 million," said Marshall Duell, courthouse curator, who looked over records about the courthouse contractor, Chris McNeill, in hopes of unearthing details about the original construction. McNeill once billed the courthouse as "the county's tallest building."
Instead of replacement, Torrance-based Best Roofing and Waterproofing painstakingly removed each 2-by-3-foot metal tile for reuse. Beneath the tiles they found 2-by-4 redwood studs, laid horizontally and still in good condition.
"We believe the tiles were manufactured by hand, so we knew we'd better not break the tiles because they're difficult to replace," said Gordon Crawght, Best's director of marketing.
Dealing with the roof's steepness, which Crawght said varied from 30 degrees to as much as a 45-degree angle, was another matter. Workers have had to use a restraint system to prevent falls, and at times relied on a buddy system as an extra precaution.
Typically, such steep pitches are found on structures in the East to keep snow from accumulating or for specific design functions, such as on a mock Victorian home, Crawght said.
Another problem focused on what color of paint to use for the roof tiles. A staff member searched the county archives in the courthouse basement and found the minutes to a Board of Supervisors meeting in the late 1890s. "We learned that it's Spanish tile red," Selway said.
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Contractors are busy completing a $200,000 renovation of the Old County Courthouse roof. What's being done: