The 34th District Judicial Courthouse in St. Bernard Parish is an Art Deco structure designed by the architecture firm of Weiss, Dreyfous & Seiferth in 1939. The 44,000 square foot courthouse is home to the Clerk of Courts and associated staff, and has survived two hurricanes, a “flood of the century”, evacuations, and mold infestation. Fortunately, thanks to the foresight and skills of its renovation and preservation team, the St. Bernard Parish Courthouse has returned to its place as the heart and soul of the parish.
On August 29, 2005, after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and New Orleans, the courthouse – along with the rest of the parish – sat in seven feet of flood water for several weeks. Months later, the building was repaired and employees returned. But in 2010, mold was discovered, and parish employees were once again forced to vacate the building. Mold remediation teams were then brought in and operated under federally regulated Environmental Protection Agency standards alongside the Landis Construction team.
Upon completion of mold remediation, the true restoration work was ready to begin. The project was a unique historic restoration as required by the National Park Service’s Historic Landmark protocols due to its original mid-century construction era.
The design effort created a “time capsule” of the building, one intimately reflective of its original 1939 detailing. The original horsehair plaster throughout the courtroom spaces was tested in a laboratory for its chemical components in order to accurately mimic this detailing through all repair moves. Italian marble was also refinished and reconstructed as needed, and is found throughout the entire facility in flooring and even bathroom partitions. Stained glass windows, featured in the primary courtroom spaces, were also repaired, in addition to the original cast iron bars found on all ground level windows throughout.
The most difficult work came in the incorporation of modern day systems necessary to meet current code and life safety expectations. Fire alarm devices, conduit for electrical and technology wiring, and increased water flow expectations for enhanced safety purposes all required more robust systems to run throughout the structure than were present in the original construction. There was very little room to conceal these systems above the original, historical plaster ceilings or below the structure itself. The walls had to be trenched and roughed-in to create room for all these systems, then filled with the custom, crafted plaster compound to replicate the existing material.
Other restoration work included: large historic windows located in both the front of the building and main courtroom were replicated from their size and shape down to decorative mullion bars; original cast iron bars on the windows were all restored and refinished rust-free; the Marble utilized throughout was unique to the building and had to be custom-replicated for those areas damaged; the limestone and terrazzo-tiled flooring was also unique to the 1930’s time period; many of the building’s original doors were historically preserved and refinished along with their original hardware; wherever possible, original plumbing fixtures were salvaged, bathed in muriatic acid for weeks in order to bring them back to their original working order, and then reinstalled; and many of the original light fixtures were removed, restored, and reinstalled as well.