July 3, 2016

Lost History: Yavapai County Courthouse: The Need

The Old (2nd) Yavapai County Courthouse, 1878-1916

There were four reasons why Yavapai County needed a new courthouse. First, the old one had become too small. The county had grown a great deal from 1878 to 1916.

Second, the old courthouse suffered from shoddy construction in the first place and was beginning to fall apart.

The third reason was a matter of civic pride and disgust: "It is unsanitary and reeks with foul smells," a magazine complained. (*1)


The first Yavapai County Courthouse (1867-1878) was the size
and style of a typical boarding house. It also held church services
and was located where the Masonic Temple now stands.

The last reason was a matter of grave concern: "If it should catch fire," one wrote, "practically all the records would be destroyed since the building does not even approach being fireproof." (*1)

Indeed, on July 6, 1892, fire did break out in the old courthouse costing $3161.50 in damages (about $88,000 today.) It took a month for repairs to even get underway. (*2) The old courthouse survived another scare when the Great Fire of July, 1900 burned down neighboring "Whiskey Row."

The old courthouse was closed forever at 9 pm on February 26th, 1916. Someone then tacked a poignant note to the door reading: "She was a good old house in her younger days, but she's 'all in' now." (*3)

Demolition of Old Courthouse
As the old courthouse was being demolished, she did not go quietly. One man was killed and another severally injured in the basement when a wall came down on top of them. (*3)

However, the road to getting our third (and current) courthouse was both bumpy and winding.

Sticker Shock:
"Planning for the new courthouse began in earnest in 1915 when a nationwide contest brought in some 23 plans from architects in a dozen major cities." (*3) A budget was set at $250,000 for a 4-story, fire-proof, turn-key ready courthouse.

However, when bids were opened April 12th, 1916, hopes for a new structure were nearly dashed. The lowest bid for general construction alone was $217,864 by Rogers & Ashton, with erection and equipment pushing the bill to $300,000. (*4) This would not do.

As a result, "the (county) supervisors went over the specifications for the building carefully, crossed out certain materials and equipment that were not absolutely necessary and (with these subtractions,) Rogers & Ashton...agreed to do the general construction work alone for $180,000." (*5)


The colorful history of "Fort Misery". The first building in Prescott would become the oldest surviving log cabin in Arizona.


Our Courthouse Wouldn't Stand-Up In Court:
All of this whittling down of the price-tag raised legal problems, however. When the trimmed-down contract was handed over for review by the county attorney's office, they declared it to be illegal. The action was in violation of Title 40 of the civil code and this "new" bid was not taken in competition. It was insisted by the attorney's office that all bids be refused and re-advertisement be made for new bids. (*6)

However, the County Board of Supervisors completely ignored the advice and signed the contract anyway. (*6) The legal argument made by the attorney's office was clear, straight-forward and well publicized.

Yet, so universal was the desire for a larger, fire-proof, fresher-smelling courthouse, that no one ever challenged the matter in court!

Yavapai County would be getting her new courthouse after all.

The story of the slapstick construction of the "Old" (2nd) Yavapai County Courthouse. A sane man might wonder if the Three Stooges didn't paste it together just prior to landing their gig on vaudeville!


SOURCES:
(*1)Yavapai Magazine; July, 1914 pg. 8 col. 2
(*2) Sharlot Hall Museum Archives; Vertical File: "Yavapai County Courthouse"
(*3) Prescott Courier; 2/28/1975. "Westward" insert, pg. 2 ff (Pg. 11 on Google Archive)
(*4) Prescott Journal-Miner 4/13/1916 pg. 3 col. 4
(*5) IBID. 4/16/1916 Pg. 1 Col. 4
(*6) IBID. 4/21/1916 Pg. 1 col. 1

#PrescottAZHistory

Also by Drew Desmond: