Historic Oregon Courthouse to Undergo Two-Year Renovation

By Lisa Kopochinski

SALEM, Ore.—The Oregon Supreme Court is being emptied this month while a 51 million renovation—including earthquake reinforcements and safety upgrades—takes place over the next two years.

Services at the century-old court building, which includes the Oregon Supreme Court and the Oregon Court of Appeals courtroom, the State of Oregon Law Library, the Oregon Judicial Department and Appellate Court Records, will be spread to different locations throughout Salem.

“This has been the seat of the Supreme Court and the home of the judicial branch in Oregon for over 100 years,” said Oregon Supreme Court Justice Thomas Balmer in a statement.

“With these upgrades, we can ensure that it will be our home and the locus for the Supreme Court and focal point of the entire courts system for another 100 years.”

The original three-story building was completed in 1914. It was built in the Beaux Arts-style, with white, glazed terracotta tiles, flat roof, Ionic columns and ornamental architecture reminiscent of the former Capitol building that burned down in 1935.

The first floor houses the Appellate Court Records, while the law library in located on the second floor. The Supreme and Appeals courts share a courtroom on the third floor, where justices’ chambers are also located.

According to the Oregon Historical Society’s Oregon Encyclopedia, the smallest chamber, known as “the broom closet,” is traditionally assigned to the newest justice.

Beginning in November, the building will undergo renovations to preserve and protect the historic structure and improve safety, function, efficiency, and access. The project will include earthquake reinforcement and upgrades to heating, cooling, electrical, technology, and plumbing systems to meet modern standards.

“It needs a seismic upgrade,” Balmer told the Salem Statesman Journal. “If, when we have the big earthquake, the current building would not survive.”

The plumbing—some of which is original—will be replaced. Balmer said staff typically don’t drink the water as a safety precaution due to possible lead.

He said it is time to bring those parts of this historical building up the 21st-century level and help make it last into the 22nd century.

“When I think of the men and women who have served as judges and come and gone…it is just a critical part of this branch of government. This is its home. This is where people will keep doing the work of the courts and applying the law for another 100 years in this building.”