Missoula, we’ve got a little autumn mystery for you. Or maybe it’s a treasure hunt.
One of two original chandeliers is missing from the main courtroom on the third floor of the 1910 Missoula County Courthouse. Has been for 50 years or more.
As the story goes, a Missoula County district judge in the early 1960s didn’t appreciate its illuminating capacity and had the ornate fixture replaced with fluorescent lights that remain to this day.
“They are horrible and will be coming down as part of the historical restoration of the courthouse,” said Andrew Czorny, the county’s chief financial officer.
Czorny emphasizes that the veracity of the story is not nailed down, but a longtime courthouse employee recalled the judge didn’t have the money to pay for the lighting changeout he commissioned. He allegedly worked out a trade with the electrician who did the work – the new lights for the old one.
The chandelier passed into mystery.
When the courtroom restoration phase begins next year, Czorny and Paul Filicetti and Jim McDonald of A&E Architects would dearly love to hang the chandelier back in its place of honor in front of the judge’s bench.
The question is, where is it?
“I can’t imagine something like this would have been sold for scrap metal,” Czorny said. “I’m guessing it’s either in someone’s home or in a barn somewhere. We would be so appreciative if someone would come forward who feels as strongly as we do that the missing light fixture belongs in its original home as part of the historic courthouse renovation.”
It could save the county a boatload of money.
Filicetti said the alternative is to go through the St. Louis Antique Lighting Co., one of the few companies around that make such things. A&E has worked with St. Louis on other projects. An exact replica, using molds of the remaining chandelier at the back of the courtroom, would cost between $20,000 and $30,000. A similar one without such detailed ornate work would cost about $12,000.
“Obviously we would take the $12,000 option, but it would be so nice to have the existing fixture matched with its long-lost partner,” said Czorny.
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The chandelier’s twin hangs in the back of the courtroom from an 8-foot stem. A large globe in the center of the fixture is set below 10 smaller globes that circle it. Each of the 10 is topped by a small gas fixture.
“Those early fixtures had both gas and electric,” said McDonald, who led the award-winning renovation of the state Capitol in Helena in the late 1990s. “Some people had gas, some people had electric so they made these fixtures for both. As they changed (power sources) they could be changed.”
Filicetti pointed out the intricate floral leaf pattern on the brass metal work of the twin chandelier. It would be very difficult to replicate, he said.
An undated photo from the University of Montana’s Mansfield Library Archives shows where the missing chandelier used to hang. You can also see a pair of desktop lights on each end of the judge’s stand. Those “torchiers” – floor lamps with bulbs inside reflecting globes that direct the light upward – are also on the lam and would be nice to have back. But to the county and its architects, the decorative chandelier would be the big prize.
• Filicetti said the chandelier measures 8 to 10 inches tall and is 40 inches in diameter. Its 10 arms are two more than a similar, less-ornate light that hangs outside the courtroom.
• There were two Missoula County district judges in the early 1960s – E. Gardner Brownlee and Emmett Glore. Both were elected to terms that began in 1959. Glore served until 1971, Brownlee through 1978. A third department was added in 1963 and Jack L. Green came on board and stayed until 1992. All three men have passed away, Brownlee most recently in 2009.
• If the electrical work was done by a local company, the unknown judge had four to choose from 50 years ago. The 1962 Polk’s Missoula City Directory lists two on the south side of the river, City Electric on West Kent Avenue and Walford Electric Co. on South Higgins Avenue. On the north side were Western Montana Electric Lighting on West Front Street and The Electrical Shop on West Railroad Street.
Czorny said he understands that if the electrical work was done in exchange for the chandelier, it was a value-for-value trade. If required, the county would be willing to negotiate a fair-market purchase price for the chandelier, dependent on its current condition. Or, better yet, it would gladly accept the lamp as a “charitable contribution” that could qualify as a tax deduction.
“We are hopeful that whoever has the fixture may be moved out of a sense of civic pride and with the knowledge that the courthouse needs the light fixture to complete the restoration of the historic courtroom and donate it back to the county,” Czorny said.