The Old Courthouse: Restoring and Improving Accessibility to the Bedrock of St. Louis’ Storied History

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The Old Courthouse at Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis holds so much more than the brick and mortar that bind it together. Initially constructed in the 1800s, it houses the story of the city known as the Gateway to the West and for the role it has played in shaping the nation.

While Trivers designers help preserve historic buildings throughout the country, their work renovating the Old Courthouse is a bit more personal. For Trivers Principal Amy Gilbertson, FAIA, LEED Green Associate, the project is a labor of love.

“There is such a feeling of hometown pride associated with the honor of being selected by the Gateway Arch Park Foundation and the National Park Service to work on the building’s first major renovation since the mid-1900s,” Gilbertson said.

Describing the design approach as a holistic improvement to the entire building, Gilbertson stresses that accessibility to the landmark structure is a foremost consideration.

“Historically, accessibility at the Old Courthouse has been limited,” she said. “This renovation will enable people of all physical abilities to get to the second floor for the first time, where they will be able to experience exhibits and reenactments under the famed rotunda as well as view the historic east courtroom.”

Trivers Team site visit of the Old Courthouse

The Old Courthouse has long been a popular field trip destination for schools in and around St. Louis.

“My kids came here and have been so proud to tell their friends that their mom is working on the renovation,” Gilbertson said. “That alone makes this project extra special for me.”

As the lead architect for the project, Trivers is enhancing the building’s functionality and overall visitor experience, paying special attention to the exhibit galleries, which are being designed by Haley Sharpe Design.

“Specifically, we’re incorporating Universal Design accessibility improvements by doing things like installing the building’s first elevator, providing accessible family restrooms and improving wayfinding throughout the museum,” Gilbertson said. “A lot of attention has been given to primary circulation paths and making navigating the building easier for everyone.”

Gilbertson said projects often must find a compromise between form and function, but this one is a marriage of the two.

“We’re also making the building more comfortable for visitors and Park staff by replacing heating and cooling systems, which has the added benefit of making the building’s exterior more aesthetically pleasing, as the window units you could see on the outside for years are no longer necessary.”

Trivers and their engineering partner, IMEG, have also designed new fire suppression systems, which are especially important for historic buildings since wood was a major component of their original structures. The Old Courthouse’s interior dome is still made of wood, so the new sprinkler system will ensure it is protected.

“Because of the building’s historical importance, we analyzed every single detail down to every single hole that needs to be drilled,” Gilbertson said. “We pored over and explored every decision at length with our design partners and the client team.”

That meticulous attention to detail is a Trivers hallmark and will ensure the overarching goals of the Old Courthouse renovation are met: maintaining the building’s historic integrity while improving the visitor experience for all.

The project is currently on track for completion by  the Spring or Summer of 2025.