With preservation program, court’s artwork is restored

Following a presentation Wednesday honoring the ongoing restoration of the Elm Street Superior Courthouse, Gov. John G. Rowland eyed a patch of ceiling during his tour of the 87-year-old building.

“Looks like a little Windex would help,” Rowland said.

Thanks to state and federal funding, the courthouse has been the recipient of more substantial changes in recent months.

Yesterday’s ceremony in the courthouse atrium honored the refurbishment of murals and artwork in the historic building, now listed on the State Register of Historic Places. The occasion also marked the beginning of an architectural study of the building, which will undergo full restoration after the construction of a criminal courthouse on Orange Street is completed.

About $150,000 in state money has already been spent on the paintings, and preservation officials are applying for federal funds to subsidize $4 million in exterior work.

The courthouse, modeled after St. George’s Hall in Liverpool, England, is eligible for federal funding following its designation as an American treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation Nov. 16, 2000.

“Today marks a good start to an effort that needs to continue,” Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said. “This is particularly special because it helps reinforce the New Haven Green as the center of the city.”

Rowland added that the state’s capital budget, which is used for long-term expenses such as structural improvements, allocates tens of millions of dollars to support building and restoration for similar projects. The state has also focused on the art-related projects during Rowland’s tenure as governor.

“When I took office, we were 44th in the nation in public support for the arts, and now we’re first,” Rowland said. “We’ve made a major investment in the arts.”

Court officials honored Rowland’s wife, Patricia, for her role as honorary chair of the New Haven County Courthouse Restoration Task Force. Task force chairman Robert Berdon presented her with a National Trust for Historic Preservation plaque, a sketch of the courthouse and another plaque proclaiming the building a historic New Haven landmark.

Following the ceremony, officials from the New Haven Preservation Trust gave tours to discuss the history of the building and the artwork that underwent restoration, including two murals completed in the early 20th century by Thomas Gilbert White on each side of the grand staircase in the atrium.

Also on display was a crowning achievement of the early restoration process: a full-sized portrait of General Alfred Howe Terry, an 1821 graduate of Yale, a Civil War hero and a clerk of the New Haven Superior Court. The portrait was finished in 1912 by Huc-Mazelet Luquiens, who graduated from Yale in 1902, and underwent cleaning and minor repairs for the occasion.

The governor acknowledged the importance of restoring historic landmarks statewide.

“The best and greatest thing to do in society is to polish an old gem,” Rowland said. “It’s important that we continue this project and preserve the gem that is this building.”

Efforts to restore the building began last May, when the state bonding commission voted funds for restoration to the courthouse. Berdon and a team of 18 members were named to oversee the the project, and subsequently appointed an advisory committee which has included the New Haven Preservation Trust.

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