The Tower Stairwell and Lobbies illustrate how the use of ceramic tiles and skilled artistry created what some call “The Most Beautiful Courthouse in America.” As you climb the steps, admire the many beautiful tiles on the lower floors and stop by the amazing Clock Gallery just below the viewing tower at the top.
Use for pop-ups with more detail below.

This image of a mosque is one of many features of the stairwell and upper lobby that reflects the three major religions of the Andalusian region of Spain: Islam, Judaism and Christianity.
The tile pictures of women on the left and right of the stairway are typical of Spanish art, in contrast to the geometric designs more common in Moorish art.
The vases are from Italy and original to the Courthouse. They are over ninety years old.

Climb the richly decorated staircase lined with tiles from the first floor lobby to the second floor and the Mural Room. Then continue up to the viewing deck at the top of the Tower (elevator available from all floors). Although some of the tiles are Spanish, most are from French Tunisia, with distinctive Moorish-Islamic geometric patterns.

Photo by Alan Boling
Courtesy Courthouse Legacy Foundation
The painting on the wall is "The Spanish Horseman" by Alan Gilbert Cram. It was commissioned by Santa Barbaran Max Fleischman (of Fleischman's Yeast) to honor another Santa Barbaran of the 1920s, philanthropist Dwight Murphy, who is also credited with saving the Palomino horse from extinction.
The beautiful jeweled ornament hanging from the bottom of the lantern has twenty-six points.
The balcony is accessed by this small door, which in turn, is only accessed via an outside ladder.
The crowns on the top of the lanterns were in tribute to the ruling monarchs.
The walls are adorned by a stylized frieze, painted in the style of mosaic friezes found in Italy and elsewhere. They appear to be dresses but actually represent palm trees.

This large lantern was inspired by the lanterns aboard old Spanish galleons. Called "faroles,” the lanterns were traditionally donated to churches following a successful voyage to the "New World.” The Courthouse lantern, which is more than ten feet tall, has a mechanism in the attic to lower it for maintenance. This is the largest of many custom lanterns throughout the Courthouse.

The arches you see are known as “blind arches." They were built with solid infill as intentional stylistic elements.

The ceiling, painted by artist John Smeraldi, is a fine example of Mudejar (moo-DAY-har) style, identified by its geometric designs. The ceiling was inspired by a 14th Century synagogue in Toledo, Spain, and is made of wood planks suspended by cables from the concrete roof above. The eight-pointed star appears in spiritual traditions from many different cultures. It began to appear in Islamic art in the Middle ages, referred to as the “seal of the prophets.”

Another example of the blending of diverse cultures is the Tree of Life. Trees of life, which had their origin in religious symbolism, are recounted in folklore, culture and fiction, often relating to immortality or fertility.
Magnificent stenciling of bird and tree patterns surrounds the upper area.

The Romanesque Rose Window resembles those found in many European Christian churches.

This large portrait of Cabrillo's landing painted by Daniel Groesbeck in 1924 inspired architect Mooser to hire him to create the murals that adorn the Mural Room.
The off-centered small arch within the larger arch provides an example of asymmetry, a prominent feature of Moorish architecture.
Smeraldi's Angels in Flight.
These sturdy-looking columns are not load-bearing. They are actually hollow.
Look closely at the floor tiles. You will see rectangular patterns that simulate rugs.

Asymmetry is a prominent feature of Moorish architecture. These arches are an iconic example. Artist Smeraldi painted the angels in flight above the main arch to resemble Byzantine angels - another example representing the major monotheistic religions of the Andalusian area in early Spain.

Go to the fourth floor via the elevator or stairs, which continue in basic metal form on the next floor. There you will find the fascinating Bisno-Schall Clock Gallery. You will stand among the inner workings of the Tower Clock, and enjoy the in-house self-guided tour of its history and operation. For more information about the Clock Gallery, visit their detailed website.

Courtesy Noozhawk

Continue on the metal stairs, or take the elevator to the rooftop. You will find a 360° view of Santa Barbara, with explanation signs in each direction.

Tile artist: Jacob Chemla

Jacob Chemla (1858-1938) was a Tunisian Jewish ceramic artist, author, journalist and translator in Judeo-Tunisian Arabic. Sons Victor (1892-1954), Albert (1894-1963) and Moïse (Mouche) (1897-1977) were also in the family business. After Victor's death and Albert's departure for Algeria in the 1930s, Moise succeeded his father and renamed the business Les fils de J. Chemla (Sons of Jacob Chemla), which operated as a family business until 1966. In the 1960s, President of Tunisia Habib Bourguiba contracted the company to install ceramic panels at Carthage Palace.

Ceiling artist: John B. Smeraldi
Background: Courthouse Law Library mural

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, Bill Espinosa, Marie Morrisroe except as otherwise noted. We hope you enjoyed your tour experience and we welcome your feedback. Please go to our feedback page.