To paraphrase The Simpsons’ ridiculous Dr. Nick, “Hello Everybody!” It’s been a long time since I’ve posted here after solving the great Whitley County frame courthouse mystery with the help of some local history buffs. I’ve been so busy with school, some art commissions, and other stuff that I’ve neglected my solemn task of writing about courthouses. Well- that changes today! For the time being, at least.
On Friday, my frequent raconteur and co-conspirator Aunt Connie got ahold of me to say that the Allen County Courthouse was open for four hours on Sunday as part of a “Be a Tourist in your Hometown” initiative, and that they were affording the opportunity to go in and explore with cameras. I’d gotten busted with a camera in Greenfield last time I tried to go inside a courthouse, so I jumped at the chance to drive up, hang out, and get an opportunity to take some snapshots. I know some readers here have been clamoring for interior photos, but it’s easier said than done in these places.
We’ve talked about the Allen County Courthouse a few times here. First, we talked about the current courthouse, Citizens Square, which exists at the site of an old Wolf & Dessauer department store downtown. Read about it here. Then we talked about the old courthouse, which is still the finest example of Beaux Arts architecture around these parts, as well as the most beautiful courthouse in the state, and maybe in the whole country. You can read more about it here to brush up and get some background information if you’re unfamiliar with the structure.
First, AC and I circled the block in a vain attempt to find decent parking. The local tourism thing in town is apparently a huge deal- downtown was flooded! People were touring a series of houses on Washington Street, the cathedral, the Botanical Conservatory, the old City Hall, and everything else that was open. We finally found a spot at Citizens Square, the current courthouse. Even though I wrote a post about it, I hadn’t taken any decent photos. I utilized the opportunity to snap a couple more, which I’ve added to that entry. Crossing Berry and Clinton streets, we made our way to the courthouse.
I love these old courthouses, but I hate how incompatible their layouts are with modern security needs. More importantly, I hate how incompatible I am with modern security needs! Immediately upon entry, we were accosted by a security line that intruded in towards everything. I emptied my wallet and put it in the basket to get scanned, and AC did the same. Both our baskets had ringers- two pocket knives! I’d totally forgotten about mine, given to me as a keepsake from our annual family get-together at our family forest in Michigan. AC had one as well. We were given claim tickets and surrendered our weapons. Who knew such anarchists were in Fort Wayne’s midst?
We started on the first floor, but soon went up to the top. Here’s the best shot of the stained glass dome that hovers above the rotunda. If you look at a picture of the outside of the building, this dome sits about where the square block of masonry is- right above the pediment over the main entrance. A balcony surrounds the stained glass and is visible via the black railing. Unfortunately, that part is no longer open to the public. Nevertheless, I was fortunate to tour the courthouse back in 2001 while it was being restored. Scaffolding was set up that we were allowed on to view the rotunda’s murals at eye level and get a close look at the stained glass.
Here’s a better view of one of the murals. Strategically-placed spotlights bathe the rotunda in a rose-colored glow. The murals were painted by Charles Holloway. Holloway created murals for Chicago’s Auditorium Theater, as well as the famous “White City” Columbian Exposition. Here in Indiana, his murals can also be found at the Wells County Courthouse just south of town in Bluffton, and they were also featured at the Studebaker headquarters up in South Bend. Back in 2001 during the courthouse’s renovation, these murals alone cost $1.4 million to restore- and the process had to be done an inch at a time! The peripheral murals we’ll see in each courtroom were created by other artists.
The first courtroom we came to housed the county’s circuit court. A backlit stained-glass dome is barely visible at the top of the frame. The original murals surrounding the room were created by the Swiss artist Carl Gutherz, who is famous for his murals and frescoes at the Library of Congress. Unfortunately, the present murals are reproductions, albeit very accurate ones. I believe at one point this room featured a poorly-installed drop ceiling that damaged them beyond repair. Nevertheless, the reproductions are outstanding. The colonnades and walls illustrate the building’s scagliola, which is a type of imitation marble. Made from a gypsum compound, there are 28 colors of scagliola within the courthouse- all encompassed in 28 different patterns.
Superior Court 3 was the next room we visited. The guide visible at the center of the photo told us that it was the most sedate of the four courtrooms, yet it too features a stained glass ceiling, as well as all kinds of pink and cream scagliola, along with bas reliefs depicting the Indian chief Little Turtle. An artist named M.J. Doner from Chicago was responsible for the bas reliefs.
Gold and black scagliola defines Superior Court 2 at the courthouse, which also features a stained-glass ceiling (are you starting to notice a pattern?) Right above the judge’s chair is a painted version of the seal of Indiana. The murals, also recreations of the originals, depict the Battle of Fallen Timbers, where General Anthony Wayne defeated the Indians once and for all, forcing Great Britain to withdraw from the area. William Barth and Robert Staak created the bas reliefs around the room.
Finally, we made it to Superior Court 1, my favorite room. Bas reliefs that ring the building’s ceiling depict allegorical images that represent the government, industry, arts, and sciences. One directly opposite the focus of this photo shows a Ferris wheel as an amazing contemporary technological achievement. Barth and Staak, itinerant woodworkers, created the bas reliefs here as well. All of the mahogany in the room is original, aside from the counsel tables.
All of these courtrooms feature stained glass domes of various shapes and sizes. Originally, they were truly skylit via openings in the roof. However, the arrangements were notorious for leaking, and have long since been covered over. The courthouse restoration twenty years ago cleaned all of the glass and installed lighting above the domes to consistently illuminate them.
Having been through every open room in the third floor, we made our way downstairs. Here’s one of the side staircases leading to the second story. Gold scagliola is quite apparent in the columns, but the silver staircases were made of real Italian marble. If you stood at my vantage point and turned 190 degrees.
After taking some photos of each other in front of my great-grandma’s old office (now an auxiliary courtroom that was closed to the public), we went back to the ground level- but not before snapping this photo of the rotunda floor. Encaustic tiles were used to create this Native American-themed decoration. The inlays were assembled using a brand new processed developed by two inventors named Herman Mueller and Karl Langenbeck. The black panel to the right of the photo was the carpet into the building where we both surrendered our inadvertent weapons.
Overall, I took about sixty photos throughout this incredible building. Here are a few more, presented without commentary, of various spots within the courthouse.
I have been very fortunate throughout my life to have family that’s encouraged and supported my love of architecture from an extremely young age. I was so glad to get a chance to hang out with my Aunt Connie and tour the Allen County Courthouse as an adult, after several times as a kid. Major props to her for realizing that it was open today- I’d hate to have had to wait until next year.
When I was a kid, I did nothing but draw all the awesome buildings I’d remembered from various car trips. One day, when I was five or six, I’d been gifted an enormous drawing pad- maybe two by three feet across. AC found out somehow and immediately went downtown to take photos of this very building for me in order to provide some new material. On one of those photos, she stuck a silver sticker of a star right outside the window. That’s where her mom worked in the auditor’s office, and that’s the room I stood in front of today- right in front of the staircase I showed with the Italian marble. Her father-in-law, my great-great grandpa, was the Huntington County auditor in the 20s, and you can be that courthouse, which still features his portrait hanging up, is on my list to hit with Aunt Connie next time I can get away from work.
What a great day today was! It was truly awe-inspiring to go in and finally get a chance to document the building, and afterwards I even got a medium-rare flat iron, baked potato, and lettuce wedge at Longhorn, as is custom. Through the efforts of the Allen County Courthouse Preservation Trust, this absolutely unparalleled courthouse will almost certainly stand to see another 115 years. And largely through the efforts of my Aunt Connie while I was growing up, my infatuation with these grand buildings will continue for as long as I’m around, too. Here’s to many more years of both.