It has been closed to the public for 60 years, home to rusting heating and air conditioning equipment, an elevator shaft, peeling paint and deteriorating plaster.
No more. Today, Mayor Jim Gray reopened the restored dome of Lexington’s Historic Courthouse. And it’s gorgeous.
“The dome tops off a courthouse that once again will be a centerpiece downtown,” Gray said. “A place that welcomes everyone with a restaurant, a bar, offices, a Visitors Center and fantastic space for all kinds of celebrations … the dome.” The entire building will open in late spring.
The work on the dome is part of a $32 million public-private project to restore Lexington’s Historic Courthouse, which has graced Main Street since it opened in 1899. The Courthouse is the fourth to stand on the block at 210 W. Main St.
A renovation project in 1960 closed the dome to make room for desperately needed space for the courts to operate in the overcrowded courthouse. Fayette County’s courts were housed in the Main Street building until 2001 when new courthouses opened on Limestone Street.
Holly Wiedemann, development agent for the restoration, said the dome is the most “historically intact” area in the building. “The plasterers took castings of intact plasterwork and made the missing ornamentation,” Wiedemann said. “Two of the paint colors are originals, as identified by a historic paint analysis. And the lights in the dome were original to the building. We simply replaced the bulbs.”
The building was one of the first electrified buildings in the area, and its innovative use of electric lights in the dome was groundbreaking when the building opened 119 years ago. “It was something you saw in Paris, France, and in Lexington, the Athens of the West,” said Wiedemann, President of AU Associates.
The dome, Limestone Hall, has been leased to LexEffect, an event management company, and the first events will be held there later this month. All of the space in the Courthouse is leased. The rent will be used to cover operating and maintenance costs.
The restoration was partially financed through historic tax credits. “We didn’t want the cost of another government building to maintain,” Gray said. “And we financed the restoration partially through historic tax credits. We involved the private sector rather than go it alone with public dollars.”
Although the dome is finished, work continues on the other floors of the Courthouse. The public will be invited to tour the building when work is complete in late spring.
Until then, citizens are encouraged to drive by and take a look at the many changes. The building is now lit at night, and most of the construction fence has been removed, making it possible to see the exterior changes.
Chief Administrative Officer Sally Hamilton and Administrative Officer Senior Jenifer Wuorenmaa managed the project for the City.