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Hue knew? Unearthed original color replacing pink shade of Old Pima County Courthouse

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Steven Spooner | The Daily Wildcat

The old Pima County Courthouse in downtown Tucson is being repainted. The current muted pink color will be replaced with an earthy tan color some time in early 2017.

The familiar pink exterior of the Old Pima County Courthouse is being replaced by a more authentic hue.

A restoration team has discovered the original color of the historic 1929 building was an earthy adobe shade.

The courthouse’s pink facade likely emerged as the original paint’s yellow and red undertones faded in the sun, said Corky Poster, architect and principal with Poster Frost Mirto, which specializes in historic preservation. The county hired the firm to oversee the restoration of the iconic courthouse.

As subsequent painters sought to match the faded color each time it was repainted, the courthouse grew pinker over time, he said.

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The original color was discovered in the building’s interior, on part of a door jamb that had been protected from sunlight for almost a century, Poster said.

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“It was a time capsule,” he said. “It’s like they put the paint color in a box and buried it. It gave us a very good notion of the color.”

The update to the paint color will be the most noticeable change to the courthouse’s exterior resulting from its restoration, said Linda Mayro, director of the Pima County Office of Sustainability and Restoration.

The restoration project will return the Spanish Revival-style courthouse to the architect’s original vision, while adhering to the U.S. secretary of the interior’s standards for restoration, she said.

“We’re trying to restore the integrity of the architect’s and county’s intent back in 1929,” she said.

Mayro presented the plans for the color change to the Tucson-Pima County Historical Commission on Jan. 11, and all members supported the new paint, she said.

The new color was developed by Dunn-Edwards Paints, which for years had manufactured paint to match the courthouse’s existing rosy tone, with a color called “Old Pima Pink.”

The updated color, which harks back to the original, will be known as “New Pima Pink,” because it still has rosy undertones, said Sam Samaniego, architectural service representative for Dunn-Edwards.

CROWNING ACHIEVEMENT

Designed by architect Roy Place, the old county courthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

The 1977 nomination form submitted to the register describes it as the “most outstanding Spanish Colonial Revival building in Arizona,” a departure from the primarily European-style county courthouses throughout the country.

The nomination describes its red-tiled roofs, the “elegant” tiled dome topped with a copper lantern, balconies with carved ornamentation and archways lining a covered walkway overlooking the courtyard.

“It’s kind of the crowning achievement of Roy Place -- probably Tucson’s best architect that most folks never heard of,” Poster said.

Place’s heyday was between 1920 and 1940, and he’s responsible for nearly all the public works buildings constructed in those years, as well as dozens of University of Arizona buildings, Poster said. Place also designed the Southern Arizona Veterans Affairs Health Care System on South Sixth Avenue and the Pioneer Hotel downtown.

On Friday afternoon, many visitors passing through El Presidio Park behind the courthouse were enthused about the new paint, which is already applied on a west-facing section of the courthouse.

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“It’s fantastic they were able to find the original color,” said Robert Muñoz, who works for Pima County financial services. “It adds to the history of the building.”

But some were disappointed to see the hallmark pink go away. Sharon Rhoy, who worked in the courthouse’s Justice Court offices before her retirement, said the new shade is “boring.”

“It’s not going to stand out. I loved the charm of the building the way it was,” she said. “I was attached to the pink because I think it complemented the architecture.”

For Rob McCright, who works in the TransAmerica building downtown, the courthouse’s new hue is an aesthetic improvement.

Currently, “there’s so much pink,” he said. “I actually think it’ll look better.” The only downside is he’ll have to change how he gives directions, he said.

“You won’t be able to say, ‘Go to the pink building and turn left,’” he said.

RENOVATION PLANS

Pima County officials are taking advantage of the vacant state of the courthouse to embark on the renovation project, Mayro said. The courthouse emptied in 2015 after the Justice Courts, treasurer, assessor and recorder’s offices moved out.

Plans are in the works to convert it to a regional visitors center, she said.

Repairs planned for the courthouse include replacing the electrical, air-conditioning and plumbing systems; fixing broken tiles and repairing leaks on the building’s turquoise dome; and redoing the roof using the historic red tiles.

The estimated cost of the exterior rehabilitation and systems upgrades is about $11 million, and additional costs of building out tenant spaces is still unknown since the designs aren’t finished, said Lisa Josker, Pima County director of facilities management.

Contractors recently discovered the courthouse’s Dillinger Courtroom -- where infamous bank robber John Dillinger and his accomplices were arraigned in 1934 -- was originally bigger than its current size, Josker said. Removing ceiling tiles in an adjacent jury room revealed the original wood trim extends from the courtroom into the jury room. The courtroom will be restored to its original size, Josker said.

The exterior renovation of the courthouse should wrap up in April or May, but completion of the more extensive interior renovations will take another 18 months or so, Poster said.

The restoration team’s initial assessment of the courthouse revealed it’s in good condition.

“It has by no means been neglected. The county has been a very good steward of the building,” he said.


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