Officials draw plans for courthouse's new stain glass skylight

The cornerstone of the Historic Napa County Courthouse -- still in its same location between Second and Third Streets -- was laid in September, 1878.

Nearly 100 years later, during a remodeling of the building, Judge Scott Snowden discovered that the grand hallway had a dome in its ceiling where a stained glass skylight once existed.

It was gone though, and the search for pictures of the skylight or accounts of what happened to it have eluded Snowden for the past 25 years.

Using a nineteenth century Napa Valley Register article that described a "flood of colors," as well as some imagination, a new design for what may become a replacement stained glass skylight was drawn. On Sunday afternoon, the new design was unveiled to the Napa County Historical Society.

"I'm hoping I can get this in by June," said Stephen Bouch, executive officer of the Napa County Superior Court. "It's such a spectacular thing and the Napa Community is wonderfully generous."

To build the 10-foot by 14-foot skylight, Bouch needs to raise about $75,000. The Gasser Foundation has already committed to match up to $50,000 in donations. But the overall cost of the project is estimated at $125,000, not including the contribution of Gordon Huether, the local glass artisan who designed the plans for the new skylight, free of charge.

The actual skylight will show less of a golden color than the drawings suggest, but the real highlight will be in the tiny green colored beads or "jewels," Bouch said.

"We don't want to have too much color," said Bouch, adding that the gold glass will look "milky," so as not to clash with the inside of the courthouse, which has a hint of sage.

Recently, Bouch helped oversee a nearly completed, $2 million renovation of the courthouse that sought to maintain the historical look and feel of the building.

Normally, he said his job running the courthouse is similar to running a $9 million business, including handling finances and labor negotiations with the 100 or so unionized employees. But with the renovation project almost finished -- only the exterior must be painted -- Bouch has been watching details like color schemes.

As Bouch spoke to the Napa County Historical Society about the renovations at the courthouse and the plans for a skylight Sunday, Snowden stayed off to the side. Although Snowden is credited as the "principal sleuth" in the search for information about the skylight, his role as a Superior Court Judge means he has to distance himself from any fundraising activities.

The Napa County Historical Society couldn't resist asking Snowden to share his knowledge about the skylight though and he consented. He explained that as the renovations to the courthouse took place in the 1970s, a false ceiling with a dome skylight was found.

"That was when the whole matter of the stained glass manifested itself," said Snowden.

Original news articles talked about a stained glass skylight, but only a plain glass window was there. No one knew anything else, he said.

His search for information became a journey that lead him down dead ends and circles that he visited, forgot about and then stumbled upon again. He researched architects Samuel and Joseph Newsom, who became famous for building flamboyant Victorian-style houses. Their records had been destroyed or lost, but a professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara had become a specialist. By the time Snowden tried to contact him, he had died.

Later, Snowden miraculously found notes from a forgotten conversation with the professor. But there were still no answers, just theories.

"I've talked to as many historically savvy people as I can come up with," said Snowden.

He added, "If you want my guess, someone's going to come up with something at some point. Somebody's got a photograph. I know when it happens it'll look easy."

600450 Officials draw plans for courthouse's new stain glass skylight
Date: 16 March 2005

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