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We'll look up, and remember Conrad


They are finally getting around to the business of honoring the man most responsible for the saving of the Hudson County Justice William J. Brennan Court House at Newark and Baldwin avenues in Jersey City.

Tomorrow at 7 p.m., the public is invited to honor one of the city's greatest figures, Theodore Conrad, by naming the courthouse's rotunda after the man who saved the magnificent Beaux Arts structure from demolition.

A graduate of Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, Conrad pioneered the use of Plexiglas and metal for models, rather than the traditional wood and cardboard. Modeling was the form used by architects before computers provided pre-construction designs. He was tops in his field, having modeled New York City's Chase Manhattan, Metropolitan Life buildings and even the Air Force Academy in Colorado. It has been often reported how Conrad's model gave Jacqueline Kennedy her first view of what her husband's grave would look like at Arlington National Cemetery.

The father of Hudson County preservation defended historic architecture, spending much of his time fighting to preserve landmarks, many of which can be found on state and national landmark registers. Among his greatest accomplishments was preserving the imposing county courthouse.

Hugh Roberts, a Jersey City architect, designed the lavish courthouse. It cost $3.3 million to construct, a sum considered outrageous by many at the time. What would such a building cost today?

Built with granite from Maine, the building has Corinthian pillars, ornate interior balconies, carved ornamental scrolls. It opened for justice on Sept. 20, 1910, and was in use until 1966, when the courts and offices were moved to the adjacent Hudson County Administration Building.

In the late 1960s, Conrad headed a citizens committee to save the courthouse. In 1970, the group managed to get the building listed in the National Register of Historic Places and by the 1980s the building was again in use.

Naming the rotunda for the Jersey City native seems appropriate. Enter the courthouse and look upward in the rotunda and you will see paintings of zodiac figures around the glass dome, representing the passage of a year. Thanks to Conrad's efforts, the county's most impressive landmark has been in existence for nearly 100 years.