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