Santa Barbara County Courthouse

Santa Barbara County Courthouse

by Patricia Gebhard, Kathryn Masson
     
 

The Colorful Story of a Santa Barbara Landmark
The Santa Barbara County Courthouse is a widely recognized icon of the city called the “California Riviera,” and just as widely known as a historic architectural achievement. Thousands, if not millions, visit it each year—jurists and tourists alike—but although everyone appreciates its beauty,

Overview

The Colorful Story of a Santa Barbara Landmark
The Santa Barbara County Courthouse is a widely recognized icon of the city called the “California Riviera,” and just as widely known as a historic architectural achievement. Thousands, if not millions, visit it each year—jurists and tourists alike—but although everyone appreciates its beauty, few really know how it came to be. Surprisingly, in the three-quarters of a century that the building has graced its grounds, no one has undertaken to document this architectural masterpiece.

Authors Patricia Gebhard and Kathryn Masson have changed that once and for all with their book, The Santa Barbara County Courthouse. Together with photographer James Chen and book designer Eric Larson, they have created a work that is not only historically important, but nearly as beautiful as the courthouse itself.

Many people know or assume that Santa Barbara had a courthouse before the present building was erected in 1929, but almost no one knows anything about it. Gebhard and Masson begin there, with historic photos of the original, classical-style courthouse and its Queen Anne hall of records add-on. In 1919 the county, needing more room, held a design competition for a new courthouse, and the entries received, as Gebhard and Masson show us, were heavily inþuenced by the Spanish baroque style that was popularized by the 1915 Panama-California Exhibition in San Diego. None of these designs was built, however, because the county was unable to raise money to pay for construction. It wasn’t until 1925, when the old courthouse was destroyed by the earthquake that leveled much of Santa Barbara, that a new building became imperative and funds were finally secured. Construction began in 1926, with the result we see today. (The footprint of the old building is reflected in the contours of the ! sunken gardens behind the present courthouse.)

To document their story, Gebhard and Masson spent months poring over County Supervisors’ minutes, news reports in the Santa Barbara Morning Press and articles in architectural magazines, and courthouse docents’ records. They were able to identify nearly all of the architects, craftsmen, and artists who designed the building and created the exquisite tile, ironwork, furniture, murals and landscaping that grace it inside and out. Many of these individuals and companies are long gone, of course, but many are still active, and, as the authors point out, some of the courthouse’s fittings can still be ordered from their catalogs.

Chen’s 75 full-color photographs beautifully capture the courthouse’s ambiance, and Larson’s open and asymmetrical book design reþects the building’s balance between void space and intricate detail. They combine with Gebhard and Masson’s careful research to produce a definitive study and appreciation of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, one that can hope to stand as long as the building itself.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781880284452
Publisher:
Daniel, John & Company, Publishers
Publication date:
11/28/2002
Pages:
95
Product dimensions:
8.54(w) x 10.94(h) x 0.33(d)

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