As one of Worcester’s iconic downtown buildings, the old Worcester County Courthouse has proudly stood at the gateway to the city’s historic institutional district since the 19th century. The original two-story, granite building constructed in 1843, contained just one formal courtroom with a handful of ancillary spaces to support the local community’s daily judicial system. As the city grew over the next century, the building also expanded with three distinct additions built in 1878 and 1898 (Old Courthouse), and then most recently in 1955 (Annex). Each addition reflected the current design aesthetic and construction techniques of its associated era. Converting this landmark to residential use with 118 units required a thoughtful, respectful, and comprehensive vision.
In addition to the typical façade, fenestration, and roof restoration considerations that historic buildings must undergo, careful design attention was required by National Park Service and Massachusetts Historical Commission to preserve courtrooms from each era of construction, along with restoring main entry spaces, circulation corridors, stairs, ceilings, flooring, stained glass, and spatial volumes. The deep floor plate of the Old Courthouse was a direct result of the multiple additions, and left many internal spaces lacking daylight. To bring natural light back into the core of the building, as necessary to maximize residential units, the design team created two interior courtyards by opening back up previous floor infills. When the 1955 Annex addition was constructed, it infilled a third location between the 1878 and 1898 additions. This floor infill was also removed, opening the original 19th century granite facades up to the sky after being hidden for 70 years, and pouring natural light into the knuckle of the building.
One major challenge for the design team was converting the very complicated circulation path of a courthouse into meaningful and useful residential circulation while meeting present day code requirements. Some of the original 32 stairs were maintained and restored, while others were demolished and infilled to create usable square footage. Similarly, careful consideration was necessary in highly ornate retained historic spaces while installing updated mechanical and electrical systems and introducing a sprinkler system to the building for the first time in its history.
The largest retained historic courtroom and grand common spaces with ornate wood moldings and details in the Old Courthouse are converted into unique residential amenity areas, while other salvaged courtrooms are restored and converted into residential units full of character. The mid-century modern design aesthetic of the 1955 Annex is maintained through its restored blush-toned marble cladding in the hallways and new expansive low-E glass curtainwall windows of the loft units, custom designed to match the original curtainwall configuration.
A public museum space honoring cyclist Marshall ‘Major’ Taylor has been located on the first floor of the 1878 addition, directly off the Worcester’s historic Main Street. An allee of original flowering tress guides visitors from the sidewalk, to the historic building entrance and into the world of a local Worcester hero who strived to break down racial barriers at the turn of the 20th century.