Historic court house gets tricky facelift
Boston — Built in 1922, the West Roxbury District Court House is located on the city’s Arborway, the terminus of Frederick Law Olmstead’s famed Emerald Necklace. Designed in a classic Greek Revival style and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the court house presented peculiar challenges to the architects charged with its renovation.
First, the court house is set on a small, triangular urban plot, and there were strong community sentiments about its parking, lighting and exterior appearance.
Second, a major addition was necessary, one that had to be sited on a tight spot of land without overwhelming or detracting from the original court house.
Third, the interior had to be redesigned to improve circulation flow and building security without affecting the facility’s two original court rooms, which were being restored.
“We were dealing with a very strong neighborhood association,” says David Manfredi, whose firm, Boston-based Manfredi/Elkus, handled the renovation. “There were some concerns about whether the courthouse should be expanded.”
The fact that Presiding Judge Paul Murphy is a passionate advocate of neighborhood courthouses and that the courthouse had always been perceived as a “good neighbor” helped convince the neighborhood residents to support the project.
However, they worked closely with the architects to express their concerns about everything from potential disruption during renovation to curb cuts to the color of brick used.
“We all felt the original building was very handsome,” Manfredi says. “We didn’t want to lose that in the new construction.” The additions of two new court rooms, one for arraignments and one for juvenile cases, doubled the size of the existing facility to 43,000 square feet.
Previously, there had been no separation between the public and the restricted areas of the courthouse, and the public, judges and detainees moved in the same corridors.
Now, there are three completely separate layers that enhance security without detracting from the building’s function.