The iconic Mural Room is a Courthouse highlight, reflecting Santa Barbara’s rich past and roots in Chumash, Spanish, Mexican, and immigrant cultures. Originally the County Supervisors’ Assembly Room it is now used for weddings, civic and social events.
This wall depicts Santa Barbara’s early history, starting with the Chumash, who lived in the Santa Barbara area for 12,000 years before the Spanish arrived. In the center Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo is shown coming ashore in 1542. On the right mapmaker Sebastian Vizcaino is shown arriving in 1602. Vizcaino named one of the offshore islands in honor of Saint Barbara, which later led to the name given to the city, county and channel.
Mexico’s independence from Spain brought a period of active local development and trade from 1822 to 1846, followed by United States control at the end of the Mexican-American war when the U.S. purchased a huge territory comprising California and most of seven future states for $15 million.
The oak and walnut furniture was custom-crafted in San Francisco. All the Mural Room fixtures and furnishings are original, including the carpet, except for the vinyl on the long wooden benches which were originally covered in leather.
Between the windows are depictions of the local economy – mineral wealth, ranching (‘stock’), and agriculture. Above the windows are stylized versions of major historical influences, the coat of arms of Spain, the emblem of the Order of St. Francis (founders of the California Missions), the California Bear Flag, and the coat of arms of Mexico. In the middle are elements of the Great Seal of the United States.
Santa Barbara’s original Mission, founded in 1786, was the 10th of California's 21 missions. It was destroyed by a major earthquake in 1812, and re-built as today’s two-towered 'Queen of the Missions.'
Ceilings throughout the Courthouse were painted by John B. Smeraldi. In the Mural Room, Smeraldi recalls the 12th-century Palatine Chapel and Cathedral of Monreale in Palermo, Sicily. Smeraldi used paint with a copper-zinc alloy added to simulate gold leaf. Spotlights were added in 2014 to illuminate the ceiling’s beauty.
Dan Sayre Groesbeck (1879-1950) painted the 4,200 square feet of murals in four months in 1928 with four assistants and was paid $9,000. He was a well-known set designer in the early days of Hollywood, and a favorite of director/producer Cecil B. DeMille. Groesbeck’s 1924 painting The Landing of Cabrillo, which now hangs outside the Mural Room, led to his Mural Room commission.
John B. Smeraldi (1868-1947) aka Giovanni Battista Smeraldi, painted the ceilings throughout the Courthouse, and also numerous walls. One of his wall paintings in the Law Library, shown behind his image, depicts a 17th century map of California as an island. From Palermo, Sicily, he apprenticed in Italy and emigrated in 1889. Other noted works include ceilings at the Biltmore Hotel, Los Angeles and Grand Central Station in New York.
Photo Credits - Robert Dickey and Robert Ooley except as otherwise noted.
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