Renovated & Reborn

93-Year-Old Pima County Historic Courthouse Gets New Look

By Christy Krueger

After several years of planning and renovations, the Pima County Historic Courthouse in downtown Tucson has a fresh face and a new, more comprehensive purpose.

According to Pima County Facilities Director Lisa Josker, all public officials housed in the 93-year-old courthouse were moved to the nearby public services building in 2015. By early 2016, construction began on the historic building with a goal to convert it into a destination for both locals and visitors.

“It was empty, public and historic, and we wanted to use it for the public,” said Josker. “We renovated, did structural enhancements and gutted it.” That process revealed some pleasant surprises. For one, the original exterior paint color was discovered and matched. “We now have an exact replica of the original paint,” said Josker. She described it as an adobe, peach-like color, replacing the pink exterior that covered the structure for years. 

Also exposed in the rehabilitation process and retained were original concrete floors and original wood hiding behind the walls.

In January 2020, Visit Tucson, the city’s visitors bureau, became the first of the new tenants to occupy the renovated building, but after six weeks it was shut down because of COVID-19. Other tenants moved into their restored spaces in phases, and by last summer, all attractions and entities were settled in and welcoming the public.

That includes the Southern Arizona Heritage and Visitor Center, University of Arizona Alfie Norville Gem & Mineral Museum, Pima County Attractions & Tourism and the Dillinger courtroom. American gangster John Dillinger was notoriously captured in Tucson in 1934.

“We changed the courtroom back to its original look and took the story of the (John) Dillinger gang capture and made it a radio program,” Josker said. “When you come in, a motion sensor triggers the audio with talks about the capture and the Hotel Congress fire. Lights shine on a Dillinger hat, a newspaper and the court reporter’s chair. It’s like a theater.”

The Alfie Norville Gem & Mineral Museum moved from its Flandrau Planetarium location at UArizona to the courthouse in July 2021. It encompasses 21,000 square feet and is not only a tourist attraction, but also an educational and research center for UArizona students and scientists.

Attractions & Tourism is a nonprofit division of Pima County. Its event planners work with the city, county and other municipalities in the region to attract tourists, Josker said.

Tucson’s new, larger visitor center includes a gift shop, mini-theater and interactive displays with information about this region’s natural and manmade sightseeing opportunities.

Financing for the courthouse restoration project came from a multi-general fund. Visit Tucson and Alfie Norville Gem & Mineral Museum paid for their tenant improvements.

Josker is passionate about the enhancements to the historic courthouse, saying the project has been rewarding, and she’s excited about all that is now offered to the community. “I think it’s fabulous. There’s not enough to describe the blood and sweat that went into the project. Construction workers were so pleased to be in the building and to be a part of it. They are honored to help bring life back. Our part is to maintain it with respect and honor. It’s our iconic building downtown and we treat it that way.”

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