Historic county courthouse renovation honored

The Pima County Historic Courthouse renovation won a major award in June.

The courthouse project was named the 2022 Public Works Project of the Year among historical restoration projects costing $25 million to $75 million by the Arizona chapter of the American Public Works Association.

“We were very surprised,” said Lisa Josker, director of Pima County’s facilities management department and overseer of the renovation project.

“We’ve never won an award for a building,” Pima County Historic Courthouse at 115 N. Church Avenue finished renovations in 2021 after prolonged delays due to the pandemic.

Planning began in 2015, when the various tenants, including the offices for the Pima County treasurer and Pima County assessor, along with the justice courts, moved to new digs. Before the move, the courthouse was operational for 86 years.

Built in 1929, the courthouse is the third historic courthouse in Pima County. The first two courthouses were demolished. They once stood where the historic courthouse and the January 8 memorial now stand.

For 86 years, the courthouse has seen its fair share of historical figures and rabble rousers. Famously, the courthouse held bank robber John Dillinger after he was captured in 1934. He was arraigned in courtroom eight of the old courthouse. The county preserved the courtroom, and it was discovered during the project that the county had shaved off some of the original courtroom during a past renovation. The Dillinger Courtroom has been restored to its original size.

This wasn’t the only surprising discovery made during the recent renovation.

“It was interesting, because when we were demolishing walls and checking out old building systems, HVAC, electrical cabling, that’s where we saw where the ’56 addition was up against the original ’29 building,” Josker said. “That’s where we found behind walls the original color of the exterior building.”

As the county grew, the need for a bigger courthouse was apparent and a south wing was added to the building in 1956. During renovations, workers discovered that the original building color was sandy tan. History was revealed. Nicknamed “The Pink Lady,” the historic courthouse was Pepto Bismol pink color for many years.

“That was super cool, it was like being the building detectives,” Josker remarked. The building has been restored to its original sandy tan color.

The historic courthouse is now considered a community center for Southern Arizona with several tourist attractions and offices located inside its rooms. The Southern Arizona Heritage and Visitor Center, Pima County Attractions and Tourism, University of Arizona Gem and Mineral Museum, and Visit Tucson are found there, while the January 8 memorial is behind the courthouse.

“We absolutely love our offices at the Pima County Historic Courthouse, it’s wonderful to work in a building that’s steeped in history and has been restored to its former grandeur in the heart of downtown,” said Megan Evans, director of communications at Visit Tucson.

Josker said the courthouse is a community project for the public to visit.

Courthouse hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. The center closes for all holidays except Columbus Day.

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