Renovating a building is expensive. It becomes even more costly, as the Connecticut judiciary is learning, if you've already thrown out some of your best original features.
Built in 1913, the neo-classical New Haven County Courthouse is now being used to adjudicate minor traffic violations and misdemeanors. To allow easier access to the building, two dozen 12-foot mahogany doors were removed several years ago and placed in the basement for storage. Following a sewer line backup in 1999, the doors got thrown out.
Recognizing their potential value, a deputy sheriff at the courthouse asked for permission to haul them off. He rented a truck and took his bounty to United House Wrecking, an antiques dealer in Stamford. "He showed me one and said there was a load of them in the dumpster, and did I want them," recalls dealer Andy Cunningham, who eventually sold a dozen of the doors for $1,250 apiece.
Several months later, the Connecticut Judicial Branch announced it would undertake a $575,000 renovation of the courthouse. When the task force charged with its restoration realized what had happened to the mahogany doors, the state police impounded the remaining 12 doors pending an investigation.
In November, state officials confirmed that the sheriff's deputy had in fact requested and received permission to take possession of the doors. So the judiciary appears to be out of luck--although it's still hoping United House Wrecking will offer a discount on the remaining doors.
"One way or the other, we'll get the doors back, I'm sure," says former Connecticut Supreme Court Justice Robert Berdon, who is heading up the restoration effort. He notes that duplicating the doors would still cost more than buying them back at full price.