A crowd of 2,000 listened as Iowa Gov. Lee Hoegh described the building behind him as "a magnificent courthouse."
"Your courthouse is a symbol to keep local government strong; the symbol of justice to all; of service by duly elected servants put into offices of public trust," he said.
The occasion was the dedication of Scott County's new courthouse on Oct. 21, 1956. As the building undergoes a $10 million renovation to expand courtroom and office space and improve security, let's go to court, historically speaking.
The $1.5 million structure at 416 W. 4th St. in downtown Davenport replaced an aging 19th century building that had stood on the same site for more than 60 years.
With more than 84,000 square feet on a basement and three floors, the new courthouse was nearly double the size of its predecessor. It also broke new ground in public building design. Sheathed in aluminum rolled at the Alcoa Davenport Works, it was the first aluminum-clad courthouse in the United States.
The building was a long time coming. As early as 1940, the need for a new courthouse had become apparent. A newspaper questioned how long the old courthouse, completed in 1889, would last as it sank under the weight of thousands of tons of masonry and steel and "termites lunched on wood." To help deal with the structural problems, the dome of the venerable structure was removed in December 1940.
In 1945, Scott County voters approved a $1.5 million bond issue to finance a new courthouse. Five years later, the board of supervisors voted to acquire a half-block area immediately west of the existing courthouse for the project. The site eventually was used for parking.
In August 1952, the county board of supervisors announced a plan to replace what a newspaper described as "the crumbling, antiquated architectural monstrosity now serving the public." Under the plan, a citizens' committee would decide on the design of the courthouse and other details.
On Dec. 1, 1954, the board called for bids for a new courthouse. The architect was Arthur H. Ebeling, of Davenport, whose works include such downtown landmarks as the Kahl Building and the Blackhawk Hotel. Preliminary plans had been prepared by the Des Moines architectural firm of Dougher, Rich & Woodburn.
Bids were opened on Jan. 20, 1955, with Priester Construction Co., of Davenport, submitting the low bid. The company launched construction after the old courthouse was demolished that March. County offices operated from other downtown buildings while the new courthouse was under construction.
It was the third courthouse to be built on the site. In addition to the 1889 courthouse, completed at a cost of $125,630, county government had operated from a courthouse built there in 1841.
More than 250 people visited the new courthouse during a public open house on Oct. 18, 1956. For two hours, visitors circulated through the building and marveled at the spacious offices, wide corridors and tasteful furnishings.
Of particular interest was the gleaming aluminum exterior, bathed in floodlights for even more drama.
Creating the nation's first aluminum-clad courthouse was a milestone for Alcoa, which had recorded the progress in a series of movies.
Alcoa had been showing off the use of aluminum in architecture, using it in such projects as the 30-story Alcoa Building in Pittsburgh. Like the Scott County Courthouse, the company's headquarters was clad in aluminum rolled in Davenport.
The aluminum added a fresh, contemporary look to Scott County's new courthouse. Equally glowing comments were heard from visitors as they attended the open house.
Ed Soenksen, mayor of DeWitt, said: "This is without doubt, one of the finest buildings I have ever visited, and the people of Scott County can be well be proud of their new courthouse."
Melvin KcKay, a former mayor of Rock Island, likewise was lavish in his praise.
"I certainly think Davenport and Scott County are to be congratulated upon the completion of such a fine courthouse. It is a credit to the entire Quad-City area, and no doubt will be the pattern for many structures of this type in the future."
(The Davenport Public Library and Alcoa provided research assistance for this story.)
John Willard can be contacted at (563) 383-2314 or email@example.com.