One hundred years after a grand courthouse opened for business, a crew restoring it to its former grandeur began bringing back its granite steps.
Workers hauled the granite steps from a stash behind the state Superior Court building back to the entrance on Elm Street.
The original granite steps, still in good condition, had been removed—and preserved—while crews dismantled the rotted base and built a new one.
That’s the latest step in the long-awaited rebirth of one of New Haven’s architectural treasurers, evolving before the public’s eyes across from the Green at the corner of Elm and Church streets.
“We’re getting ready for the next pour,” John Gagnon of South Windsor-based McCarthy Concrete said during a break in the work.
“The base was falling part. All these stairs were just falling down. The treads themselves were in good condition; it was the base that was underneath. If you look underneath those columns over there (pictured), there were probably five layers of steps that were put on top of each other. All these granite steps were all sliding forward.
“We poured the walls before the wintertime, the sub-walls. We tied all the rebar. And we poured the steps. We’re about halfway so far.”
The Beaux-Arts 1914 courthouse and its trademark statues have been crumbling for years thanks to pollution, acid rain, and melting marble. Decay gutted the face of Precedence, one of the statues perched above the Greek columns. She and her divine cohorts were caged in wire mesh. The state originally planned to begin repairs in 2008; it hit a snag when hawks took up residence in the statuary above the six Ionic columns. It booted the project’s contractor six years ago. While work stalled, scaffolding became a permanent fixture at the courthouse. In 2010, a piece of wood from the scaffolding fell onto a judge’s head.
The state redesigned the exterior-rehab project, expanded it to a three-phase, $20 million job. The first $5.3 million phase has been approved. It hired Hartford- and Boston-based JCJ Architecture to design the work, which will cover both the Elm Street front entrance and the Church Street side entrance. It then hired Gar-San Corporation of Watertown as the administrator and Kronenburger and Sons Restoration of Middletown as the general contractor to perform the actual work, which began in the fall of 2012.
The state expects to complete Phase 1 by the end of the summer, according to state Department of Administrative Services spokesman Jeffrey Beckham. He said the plan calls for cleaning the exterior marble, repairing the columns, restoring windows, installing insulated glass, doing “bird control” on refurbished statues, installing a new metal roof over the entry portico ... and reconstructing the grand staircase.
Which Bob Wice of Cromwell and fellow masons from Connecticut Stone Industries of East Granby were doing, joint by joint, the other afternoon. Trowel in hand, Wice was filling the joints of the steps with cement.
“They’re the same [granite] steps,” he said. “We take and pour cement to make them solid. It’s going to be easier to walk on.”
Wice paused to point at other nearby government buildings he has worked on over the years. “We did all these,” he said. “We did the Giaimo [federal office] building. We did the other courthouse.”
Years after he has carried his joiner and trowel to other cities’ work sites, Wice takes pride in the steps he left behind, he said. “It’s nice to see [that] it looks good. People appreciate it.”