Original features ‘add to’ old Justice Court’s value|[1/9/06]

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 9, 2006

More than a few architectural aspects of the old justice court building could qualify it as a Mississippi Landmark, an official with the Mississippi Department of Archives & History has decided.

The Italianate townhouse styling, door bracketing, 1870s-era transoms inside, original mantles and decorative yellow corners above the building’s support structures appear to be original, Todd Sanders said during a tour of the building Friday. His findings may save the building from destruction.

&#8220The way the staircase inside is still intact is quite impressive,” Sanders said.

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The architectural historian and local government assistance coordinator with MDAH toured the more-than-a-century-old structure with Nancy Bell, president of the Vicksburg Foundation for Historic Preservation.

Bell asked Sanders to tour the site in an effort to begin the process of having the building declared a Mississippi Landmark. It is already a historic structure.

&#8220It could continue to be used and it should be used,” Bell said.

The red-brick and yellow-trimmed building at 1019 Adams St. was built as a residence and served as the law office of the late John Prewitt before he became a circuit judge.

Supervisors bought the building in the early 1980s and it was headquarters for the county’s three justice court judges until they moved in 2002 to a building at 921 Farmer St., also purchased by the county.

Since then, it and the county-owned property next door have become a subject of controversy with the city’s Board of Architectural Review, which in the last 19 months has issued three 180-day stays of demolition in anticipation of a plan of action by the Board of Supervisors.

The last of those stays expired Nov. 6, according to board records cited by the city planning department.

Members of the urban planning body have said it is important to the street’s cityscape and houses such as it are as important as the city’s historic mansions.

The Board of Supervisors has not tackled the issue since the last stay expired, but District 4 Supervisor and Board President Carl Flanders said the county’s facility-use and zoning plan being produced by Central Mississippi Planning Development District will include the building.

That study is not expected to be completed for at least 18 months.

While still serving as board president last month, District 1 Supervisor David McDonald said the immediate plan for the property remains, which is to demolish it and use it for extra parking space for a courthouse annex, which along with a new jail is seen as the county’s most pressing infrastructure needs.

Sanders said the next step would entail presenting his initial findings to the Permit Committee of the Board of Trustees of the Department of Archives and History to be considered eligible for consideration. Sanders added there is no specific timetable to all potential landmarks’ inquiries.

The Mississippi Landmark designation is the highest form of recognition bestowed on properties by the state of Mississippi and offers the fullest protection against changes that might alter a property’s historic character. Publicly owned properties that are determined to be historically or architecturally significant may be considered for designation.

After a property is deemed eligible for consideration, the property owner is notified and given a chance to respond. Public comment is solicited through advertisement. If there are no comments or there is no opposition, formal action is then taken to designate the property as a Mississippi Landmark.