October 9, 2016

The Terrible, Shoddy Construction of the Old Courthouse

The construction of the "Old" (2nd) Yavapai County Courthouse was so terrible, so shoddy--even slapstick--that a sane man might wonder if the Three Stooges didn't paste it together just prior to landing their gig on vaudeville!

Here now are seven cases in point:

Case 1: The Wear-a-way Stairway:
For the front stairway, a beautiful sandstone was chosen, but unfortunately, the stone chosen was terribly weak. After a mere seventeen years of scuffing shoes and occasional rains, the stairway had crumbled into a rocky, sandy, slippery mess. It had become the perfect tool for rupturing a kidney, or breaking a hip.

A grand jury recommended removal and that "some new plan of entrance should be adapted" in 1895. (*1)

Case 2: The Convertible Top:
"A force of carpenters added a number of braces to the courthouse tower," the newspaper reported, "(as it) showed considerable weakness during the recent heavy winds. (In fact,) it was so badly out of plumb that the fire bells toll regularly during wind storms." (*2)

In other words, if it weren't for the weight of the bell itself hanging in bell tower, it probably would have blown clean-off the roof and tumbled into Granite Creek!

Case 3: The Skedaddling Addition:
As Yavapai county grew, various additions were made to the courthouse. However, the old building never had "the bones" to support them. As soon as it was married to the old building, one new addition seemed to demand an immediate annulment:

"The occupants of the new addition to the courthouse, which was built a short time (ago) at an expense of about $6,000 to the county, are becoming alarmed for their safety and Judge Hawkins has already ordered his office moved back into the old portion of the building. The entire new addition is becoming detached from the old building, there being a crack in the judge's chambers, extending from the ceiling to the floor a quarter of an inch wide." (*3)

It was Morris Goldwater and his oversight of the early development of Prescott that turned the back-water mining town into a civilized city.

Case 4: The Fun-House Floor:
The headline was stark:

Upper Story of Court House is Said To be in a Dangerous Condition

"The vibration in the clerk of the court's office is as distinct a reality as if some force was rolling the building whenever a person ascends or descends the long stairway," the paper reported. (*4)

"Yesterday afternoon when several were in the clerk's quarters the light footsteps of a person going down caused the floor and the walls to move to and fro, and at the same time, the use of pen and ink was suspended by (the clerk) until the oscillation ceased. This condition has been noticeable for months, and seems to be increasing rather than abating. That the walls are settling is another fact established from the leaky condition of the ceiling." (*4)

Case 5: Speaking of Leaks...
In editorializing for a new courthouse in 1914, Yavapai Magazine publicized this odious observation of the old courthouse: "It is unsanitary and reeks with foul smells!" (*5)

Case 6: The Precarious Flue:

Wide Crevice in Brick Structure Plainly Discernible From Ground to the Eaves of Roof

"It was built several years ago to afford an outlet for the steam heating plant in the basement of the building and, as constructed, was pinned to the brick walls on the outside. It is beginning to open up and a crevice now is plainly in evidence from the ground to the eaves of the roof; the top of it being over an inch in width." (*6)

This picture of the Old Courthouse shows the added brick flue.
"(Those) experienced in architecture (are) stating that pedestrians should avoid passing that locality as danger is imminent. The crevice is plainly to be seen for a height of at least fifty feet, and it would appear as if the entire flue is out of plumb from its original moorings. The vibrations of the clock tower from heavy winds are given as the cause for the displacement, and that it is dangerous is admitted by all who have made an investigation of the premises." (*6)

Prescottonians were beginning to have enough. "The entire building from cellar to garret should be razed to the ground, and the flue incident is but one of many grievances that are being unjustly tolerated," the paper complained. (*6)

Case 7: Deathtrap!
In the 19th century, architects paid little to no attention when it came to escaping fires. This lead to some horrific death tolls in theater and factory fires back east. Suddenly, everyone was putting these older buildings under the microscope when it came to fire safety, and the Old Courthouse utterly failed the test.

"There are but few people familiar with the court house building who have ever stopped to consider what would happen if a fire started in the cellar while the court room was thronged. The loss of life would probably be enormous," the newspaper averred. "Yesterday, several men inspected the furnace and traced the probable draft should a fire originate in the cellar, directly to the hallway and up the rickety flight of wooden stairs...Practically no exit for escape (exists) except by jumping from the top story windows to the ground, forty feet below." (*7)

This was the final nail in the coffin for the Old Courthouse. In four years time, Yavapai county would have a new (present day) courthouse, although it would prove to be a bumpy road in getting there.

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(*1) Arizona Weekly Journal-Miner 1/16/1895 Pg. 3 Col. 2
(*2) Arizona Journal-Miner 6/4/1908 Pg. 1 col. 4 (bottom)
(*3) Arizona Weekly Journal-Miner 2/21/1894 Pg. 3 col. 1
(*4) Prescott Journal-Miner 4/20/1913 Pg. 4 col. 4
(*5) Yavapai Magazine; July, 1914 pg. 8 col. 2
(*6) Prescott Journal-Miner 11/6/1913 Pg. 5 col. 1
(*7) Prescott Journal-Miner 10/9/1913 Pg. 1 col. 5 (top)


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