Welcome to the Santa Barbara County Courthouse. This dramatic structure is the centerpiece of Santa Barbara’s Spanish-Revival style. Designed in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, construction started in 1926 during the period when this style was popular.
It took just short of three years to build; being finished in 1929; it was dedicated during Fiesta that year. In 1982 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places; later in the same year the site and building were designated city landmark. In March 2004 it became a State Historic Landmark and in May 2005 it became a National Historic Landmark. With its clay tiled roof, white stucco walls and many different window shapes and balconies, it could be a castle in Andalusia, Spain. While it may look like a castle or a cathedral, it is a fully functional California Superior Courthouse. Wandering through the interior galleries, you will see a variety of arches, decorative tiles, wrought iron gates and window grilles and other Spanish-Moorish elements. While still a great sum of money, in all, the project cost $1,368.000; in today’s dollar, that sum would be just short of $20,000,000 (20 Million Dollars!)
Kayes Adobe from SB Library Collection Edson Smith
To find out how this Spanish-Andalusia courthouse came about we need to go back to 1850 when California became the thirty-first state admitted to the Union. Santa Barbara became the county seat and courts and county offices were needed. In 1855 the county purchased the adobe mercantile store of John Kayes and made it the first county courthouse on this site. County officials over the years became displeased with this undistinguished adobe building which symbolized the frontier, the building was also becoming too small for the fledgling county government. The Civil Grand Jury in its 1870 report considered it a disgrace. Americans who had come west were used to monumental courthouses symbolizing law and government.
By 1873 Santa Barbara had a new county courthouse built in the Greek Revival style. The entrance fašade facing Figueroa Street featured columns, a pediment and was raised above the surrounding ground five or six feet. A dome covered the central space. A stone jail was built alongside the courthouse and by 1891 the courthouse building became too small so a new Hall of Records in the Queen Anne style was built next to the courthouse. With the growth of the population came the growth of county government to serve the people and by the early 20th Century these buildings had become inadequate in size. What was also happening in the early 1900’s was the continued loss of Santa Barbara’s Spanish heritage. Few Spanish-Mexican period adobe structures remained and those that did were in desperate need of help. However there was a renewed interest in Spanish-Colonial architecture from San Francisco to San Diego. This renewed interest was sparked by the 1915 Pan-Pacific Exposition that took on the Spanish-Colonial revival style for the buildings constructed for the Exposition. What remains of the buildings can be found in San Francisco’s Exposition Park and San Diego’s Balboa Park. Here in Santa Barbara, the 1923 El Paseo in its Andalusia style adjoining the de la Guerra house created much interest in the Spanish-Colonial revival style. A style not from invention where nothing has existed but an effort not to lose what still remained. CONTINUED