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The Luzerne County Courthouse

Essay by   •  April 17, 2011  •  Essay  •  1,841 Words (8 Pages)  •  1,186 Views

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Before taking this fine arts class I never really took notice of all the wonderful pieces of architecture that surround me in my very own backyard. Since we began discussing the topics of art and architecture in class I began looking at the buildings I drive by everyday more in-depth. It didn't surprise me one bit that the first thing that came to my mind when I found out about this project was a piece of architecture in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area. That piece of architecture I have chosen to observe is the Luzerne County Courthouse. This magnificent piece of architecture that sits along the Susquehanna River and is located at 200 N River St, Wilkes-Barre, PA.I have always passed this building on my travels through Wilkes-Barre, but I have never had the opportunity to go inside or ever took the chance to take notice of how beautifully built this building is. While taking pictures of the building I had the opportunity so see just how brilliant the courthouse really is. I was a little worried however, about how tight security was there. I had no problem snapping pictures from the outside but, to take pictures on the inside was a totally different story. It consisted of waiting around for about twenty minutes, going through metal detectors and explaining myself over and over again to them why I was taking photos. Finally, they let me enter the premise with restrictions of where I could go. Once I stepped inside I realized just how amazingly built this courthouse really is. As beautiful as the exterior of the building was the inside just absolutely blew it out of the water. In this paper I will talk about the architects, the architectural style used and expand upon my own personal view of the Luzerne County Courthouse.

The first couple courthouses were built were replaced one after another through a period of about a hundred years. These courthouses were located on Public Square in Wilkes-Barre. It was back in 1892 that the grand jury voiced their opinion on the demand for a new courthouse. The courthouse then was considered to be a tinder box that was liable to be destroyed at any moment. The county was out of debt and even with a new courthouse the taxes wouldn't raise a penny. Upon the grand jury's request of 1892, the County Commissioners set out to choose an architect. This was not an easy project however it took seven years, numerous law suits, three architects and two million dollars to open up the Luzerne County Courthouse. The commissioners set out for an architect during a prospering time for architecture in this country. Wilkes-Barre was a booming city at the time thanks to the anthracite coal mines and two railroads running though it. So Wilkes-Barre was ready to keep up with the rest of the United States architectural brilliance by erecting a great building. In 1894 Elijah Myers of Detroit was paid $10,000 to make the plans for the courthouse to be built on South Main Street. The site was overruled and Myers lost the contract and ended up suing the county. After much dispute over that matter it wasn't until 1899 that an architectural competition was held. Twenty-five architects submitted their plans to the board of county commissioners. The commissioners found their winner of the contract in Fredrick J. Osterling. Osterling was an architect from Pittsburgh. He was known for designing great works of architecture like The Fort Pitt Federal Building and the Washington County Courthouse and Washington County Jail. Although he was selected as the designer there was another problem. The site conflict was still a problem and Osterling was forced to scrap the plans for Public Square. Finally in 1901 the commissioners received the permission to build on the River Common site. Osterling's plans were revamped and in 1902 after being approved by county Judges were ready to be set into action. More controversy ensued during the awarding of the building contract. Joseph Handler received it first but the contract omitted the dome from bidding and didn't include any interior finish. He refused to sign the contract and came up with the excuse of not being able to get the stone he wanted for a good price. Wilson Smith came along in 1903 and was signed on for the building contract and finally broke ground on this project. Sure enough there were more controversies following Smith's signing. Osterling attempted to have Smith fired saying that his charges for changes were too much and work on the courthouse came to a standstill. After many investigations in 1905 Osterling was dismissed as the architect. In 1906 McCormick and French were designated the open spots for architects. Shortly after they were appointed the job Smith gave up the contractor job and the Carlucci Brothers stepped in. McCormick and French were the second runners up to Kipp but he was not given the nod for the job because of a heart condition. They were young local architects that were also known for designing banks in the area and Wilkes-Barre's first skyscraper. The two came in late to the project to be involved in the design for the exterior. They were however responsible for the interior of the courthouse.

The Luzerne County Courthouse is depicted as being a Beaux Arts architecture style inside the neoclassical trend. The neoclassical architecture approach represents buildings that are inspired by the classical architecture of ancient Greece and Rome.

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