Courthouse dome panels restored to former glory

Anyone visiting the Allen County Courthouse this week is in for a special treat as the stained-glass dome panels that were removed months ago to be restored are returned to their original glory as they are hoisted 110 feet to their original slots inside the dome.

Femenella and Associates removed the panels five months ago because the nearly century-old stained-glass panels were moving out of place, increasing the probability that they would break and fall.

Arthur Femenella, who has worked in the restoration field for 44 years, said the glass was returned to its original shape, reinforced and cleaned. “It was a health and welfare issue,” he said. “We made them sturdy.”

Ten employees worked on the project – five of them on site and five of them in the studio in Branchburg, N.J. His crew arrived here Sunday and began work Monday. Femenella said he expected work to be completed Friday.

Femenella jokingly gave this project his 100-year guarantee, but later said the panels should last at least 50 to 60 years.

Femenella said he was majoring in physics at the City College of New York when a craft fair he attended featured glass. He said he pounded on doors in New York until he got an apprenticeship. He credits his physics background in understanding the properties involved with restoration work.

“We put them back stronger than we took them apart,” he said.

Femenella’s unique understanding of the process has led to restoration work at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C.; St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, N.Y.; the Seventh Regiment Armory in New York’s Upper East Side; and the U.S. Capitol.

The larger panels, weighing 200 pounds, consist of three sections, making 20 “pie” sections. Twenty smaller panels, weighing 25 pounds, line the inner dome of the courthouse. Femenella said eight super-curved panels were restored on site.