Monday, November 22, 2010

I'm always last to notice these things. The lawyer who used to be my company's CEO, and then was... something in management for a couple of years after we merged the company with his one-man law firm, left again a few years ago to start his law firm up again, taking his secretary with him as part of a general down-sizing of our front office, which was overstaffed at the time, given the administrative needs of a small research & information technology company. Well, apparently Rod bought the old First National Bank building on the northwest corner of Bellefonte's courthouse square. I stopped by this morning on my way to pay my utilities at the borough building, and Heather gave me the five-dollar tour of their renovations.

It's a grand old building, built in the 1870s or 1880s. Tall, if narrow lobby with a vaulted ceiling; an enormous bank vault takes up the back third of the building. It's not so much a building with a vault, as a vault with a building built around it. Heather said the vault door weighs seven tons. There's a grand mural on the wall, painted during the Kennedy administration from a 1878 engraving of the view of old Bellefonte from the top of Half Moon Hill. Beautiful, although I'm told that it's made retrofitting an ADA-compliant toilet terribly difficult, because the mural stretches the whole length of the lobby, including the area where they want to put in the new bathroom. Also, the old bank president's office, located on the second floor, would apparently be in violation of modern fire codes. The basement retail space is also in violation of ADA codes. They're ripping out thirty years of catastrophic slumlord "renovations" which do things like block doorways and so forth. The upstairs bathroom had *two* layers of drop ceilings, one layer three feet from the true ceiling, and a second, newer layer another two-three feet below that.

The time capsule under the courthouse square's pavement, which is marked by a plate in the sidewalk outside the building, is apparently (if only theoretically) accessible via a bricked-up entrance in the basement. Also in the basement is the entrance to an access tunnel which I'm told the borough had forgotten existed, which almost collapsed earlier this year while they were repaving and surfacing High Street. You have to wonder how many other forgotten little subterranean architectural elements are hidden around town.

I hope Rod and Heather all the best, because the new office looks like a real challenge. It'll be pretty when they get everything nailed in place, though.

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