Art and history lovers flock to Luzerne County Courthouse for rotunda reopening

i May 3rd 2018

By Jennifer Learn-Andes, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader

Wilkes-Barre resident Teresa Jemio has marveled at the historic Luzerne County Courthouse during periodic visits for jury duty and holiday tree lightings over the years, so she jumped at the public invitation to Thursday’s restored rotunda grand reopening.

“I’ve always loved the courthouse. I wish I worked here to see the beauty of it every day,” she said.

The results of the $2.13 million restoration project didn’t disappoint. Connecticut-based John Canning Co. cleaned, repaired and conserved art, stained glass, marble and other finishes throughout the rotunda and south lobby.

Jemio urged more residents to enjoy the aesthetics of the public structure funded with their tax dollars.

“It’s really stunning,” she said.

Peter Restaino, of Kingston Township, brought binoculars to view details of the rotunda artwork above.

“It’s pretty impressive, especially given what it looked like before,” said Restaino, who attended the ceremony with his wife and two neighbors.

Restaino has been in the building many times for jury duty, business involving real estate and tree lightings, but this time he came as an art lover.

“This building contains a great collage of the history of our area,” he said, suggesting county officials hold regular public events to attract residents to the structure. “The art really is exceptional.”

Wyoming resident Marianne Haggerty, of Wyoming, peered into a third-floor courtroom to check out one of the murals described earlier by Court of Common Pleas President Judge Richard Hughes, saying she came to admire the art and history.

“You have to preserve it. You can’t let it go because you can’t build something like this today,” Haggerty said.

Her husband, Jim, nodded in agreement. He said he noticed the water damage when he was in the building in recent years.

Matt and Tracey Bakale, of Plymouth, attended to watch their daughter, 14-year-old Mackenzie, perform with the Wyoming Valley West Middle School Spartan Singers, but they appreciated the restored artwork above.

Many audience members craned their necks to glimpse the artwork around them, with some snapping photographs on their cell phones.

“It’s amazing actually,” Tracy said.

Ashley resident Jay Krakowski was at the building for the first time in 30 years and admired the restored version. However, he and several family members were primarily there to applaud his brother, building and grounds maintenance worker Mark Krakowski, who received a proclamation, accolades and a standing ovation.

A 44-year county employee, Krakowski knows every nook and cranny of the structure and is an “encyclopedia of information” about its history, Council Chairman Tim McGinley told the audience.

Krakowski also decorates the holiday tree and tends to the flowers and other landscaping.

County Engineer William McIntosh, who designed an LED lighting system that will illuminate the dome for 20 to 30 years without harming the finishes, was itching to turn it on as the ceremony got underway, describing it as the “big reveal.”

The illuminating moment arrived when county Manager C. David Pedri stood at the podium to welcome visitors, reminding them the rotunda they were viewing was once darkened by netting installed to catch falling plaster caused by water damage.

John Canning’s restoration experts, among the best in the nation, used microscopes to pinpoint paint colors gracing the building when it opened in 1909 and syringes to gently glue detached canvas back in place, he said.

“The brightness of this rotunda reflects the brightness of the future of Luzerne County,” Pedri said, comparing removal of the dark netting to lifting of the “dark cloud that’s presided over” the county.


U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Moosic, said the structure leaves visitors with a feeling they are “part of something” and challenges area residents to remember the county’s “place in history.”

The region was an industrial hub, bustling commerce center and anthracite coal mecca when the grand courthouse was constructed, Cartwright said. The structure “sitting proudly on the banks of the Susquehanna River” was funded by that prosperity.

“This courthouse has stood as a steadfast symbol of Luzerne County and its contributions,” said the congressman.

State Sen. John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, told the audience the project preserves an “iconic piece of architecture” that represents the county’s “collective story.”

”We have persevered because we respect and honor our heritage,” he said.