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What Went Up Came Down, 1997

1960s Courthouse Demolished Sixteen Years Ago


At 7 a.m. on Feb. 23, 1997, the shell of the old Arlington County Courthouse came down in an impressive, yet controlled, implosion. Located across the street from the current courthouse and correctional center, the building was opened in 1960 with great fanfare, as it was a vast improvement over the original courthouse from 1898. However, the 1960 building had lots of asbestos and no sprinkler or fire alarm system, and a major fire in 1990 was its death knell. The county completed the current courthouse building in 1995, and the 1960 building was used by the fire department for training exercises until its demolition. The area is now a parking lot.

This series of photographs by County Photographer Deborah Ernst give a dramatic view of the implosion and the rubble it left behind.


Comments (10)

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  1. Dominique Wilkins says:

    1997 wasn’t 19 years ago.

  2. ACE says:

    I heard the explosion, saw the dust rising in the distance that morning. Sic Transit Gloria Mundi.

  3. esai D. says:

    wow as a good kid makin wrong choices i hated that building. always made me feel terrible for the situation i was in. New building woke me up, and i must say i never entered new court house …..thanks to ARLINGTON p.o. WHO CARED AND SHOWED KINDNESS TO A GOOD KID MAKING WRONG CHOICES.

  4. P. Monroe says:

    I stood right up against the safety fence, thinking, “Um, are we sure this is safe enough?” Lots of dust in the face, but worth it.

  5. The Librarians says:

    These memories are so cool to read – thank you for sharing them!

  6. g. Robertson says:

    Favorite memory of the old courthouse was election night with the large blackboard–precincts down the side and a column for each candidate/office –names across the top. The high schoolers would receive results literally thrown down by the election officials on the second floor. I kid you not. The brass railing had several cords tied to it, each cord with a spring-type clothespin firmly attached to the other end. As the precinct captains phone in the preliminary results, one of the registrar’s helpers would transcribe them to a results sheet carbon set. One copy went to the registrar, the second went to a runner–who literally ran down the hall to the railing, hauled up an empty closepin, clipped it onto the results sheet and lowered it to the highschoolers who were recording the results on the blackboard. Never were young people more important! Every politician in Arlington County had his or her eyes on those young hands entering the tallies on that board–and they took their job very seriously and constantly double checked to make sure that they wrote correctly and well. The modern computer system just doesn’t have that personal touch.

  7. David Powell says:

    This tower is not what I remember as the Courthouse,there was a more elegant lower rise building which had a nice foyer with chandelier lights hung from the ceiling.
    In the basement of the real Courthouse there used to be a snack bar. One of the employees who used to be there was blind.

    I think the tower in the picture used to be the Police Department or Jail.

    • The Virginia Room says:


      You are probably thinking of the original County Courthouse, built in 1898. It was a low-rise building as you described, with lovely interiors and fixtures but with no air conditioning and little room to grow. The 1898 courthouse was replaced in 1960 with a more modern building, and the old one was slowly razed to add on to the new courthouse.

      The county decided to build a new courthouse after the 1960 building was damaged so badly in a fire, it was cheaper to just build a new one. We have photographs of the 1898 courthouse both online and in physically in our collections if you wish to see them!

  8. jean says:

    it saddens me to see all that has changed. i had such wonderful memories the years i lived there. late 50′s as a very young girl. then early 60′s until 1971. all the remodeling has changed everything I loved. its like its took a piece of my life away. smh

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