Courthouse 1929

The Courthouse is a centerpiece of Santa Barbara’s Spanish Revival style and reflects the history and cultural diversity of the people who settled the region.


Chumash Village - historical depiction,
mural in Lompoc, California

The First peoples, Chumash, lived here for thousands of years before Europeans arrived.  +

Chumash ‘tomol’- historical depiction,
mural in Lompoc, California

Chumash communities thrived in Central California for over 12,000 years, from Morro Bay to Malibu, including on the Channel Islands. People spoke variations of a similar language, mastered the use of natural resources, built advanced sewn-plank canoes to navigate and harvest the sea, and traded actively using shell currency.


Cabrillo Landing -
Courthouse Mural Room

Juan Cabrillo visited the area while exploring the coast and claimed the territory for Spain.  +

Artist Groesbeck
Courthouse Upper Lobby

Cabrillo sailed up the coast from Mexico to claim Alta California for Spain and was the first European explorer to visit the Santa Barbara Channel Islands -- fifty years after Columbus discovered the New World. Cabrillo died on the return trip months later. Spanish colonization then paused for many years.


Explorer’s ship - Courthouse Mural Room

Sebastian Vizcaíno named the region in honor of Saint Barbara.  +

Vizcaino’s map of the California Coast

Sailing for Spain, Vizcaíno explored and mapped the California coast. Navigating through the channel on December 4, which was the feast day of Saint Barbara, he was inspired to name one of the offshore islands in her honor, which later led to the name of the channel and the city.


Van Cina painting ‘Father Serra Planted the Cross for the Presidio’
Courthouse 2nd Floor Figueroa Corridor

The town of Santa Barbara was born when the Spanish built a ‘Presidio’ (military fort).  +

Spain built four military forts to control its New World California territory -- in San Diego, Monterey, San Francisco, and Santa Barbara. Part of the original and reconstructed Presidio still stands and can be visited a few blocks from the Courthouse.


Santa Barbara Mission rebuilding
Courthouse Mural Room

Mission Santa Barbara was founded soon after the Spanish Presidio, and rebuilt after an 1812 earthquake.  +

Franciscan Catholics built Missions to bring Christianity to the First peoples. Santa Barbara’s Mission was the 10th of 21 built from San Diego to San Francisco. Today’s two-towered Mission, called the 'Queen of the Missions,' is visible from the Courthouse Tower and can be visited about 1½ miles north of the Courthouse.


Mexican period
Courthouse Mural Room

Spain granted Mexico independence, including Alta (upper) California.  +

Van Cina painting ‘El Fandango’ at De La Guerra wedding
Courthouse 2nd Floor Figueroa Corridor

Mexico’s independence from Spain brought a period of active local development and trade. Santa Barbara had large ranchos with thousands of cattle sold for hides and tallow to Eastern merchant ships. Van Cina’s painting depicts a party at the wedding of a daughter of local leader Jose de la Guerra to an Eastern merchant, written about in Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana, published in 1840.


John C. Frémont
Courthouse Mural Room

Mexico and the United States fought over territory during the Mexican-American War.  +

Frémont, a noted western explorer and leader, brought U.S. forces over the San Marcos Pass to claim Santa Barbara and help end the war on the western front. As part of its peace treaty in 1848 the United States purchased a huge territory comprising California and most of seven future states for $15 million.


Kays’ adobe Courthouse

California statehood brought new laws and a courthouse for Santa Barbara County on the current location.  +

Soon after the Mexican-American War ended in 1848, the news of gold brought boom to California, and statehood in 1850, the 31st. In 1855, Santa Barbara County purchased the city block where today’s Courthouse stands. A small adobe store became the first permanent courthouse until a new one was built.


Greek Revival Courthouse
built 1872-5

Santa Barbara grew rapidly and a Greek Revival Courthouse was built on this block, and later a Richardsonian Romanesque Hall of Records, styles popular in other U.S. cities.  +

Richardsonian Romanesque Hall of Records (L)
Greek Revival Courthouse (R) ca. 1890

Wealthy Easterners brought a new look as Santa Barbara’s reputation grew for its healthy climate and natural beauty.


Panama-California Exposition
1915 Guide Book
El Paseo ca.1925
Courtesy S.B. Vintage Photo

San Diego’s international exposition inspired a Spanish Revival movement across California.  +

Lobero Theater, 1924
Spanish Colonial Revival rebuild

Local advocates Bernhard Hoffman, George Washington Smith, and others designed and built public buildings and homes in the new style, with white stucco, red tile roofs, arches, stone work, wood beams, wrought iron, and brightly painted accent tiles.


State Street building damage, 1925 earthquake

June 29, 1925, a powerful earthquake caused major damage in Santa Barbara.  +

1925 earthquake damage to
County Jail behind Courthouse

County officials met shortly after the earthquake to draft goals for a new Spanish-Andalusian Courthouse. New building codes strengthened efforts to use more Spanish renaissance architecture in rebuilding Santa Barbara.


William Mooser drawing influenced by local architect J. Wilmer Hershey

Design and construction of the new Santa Barbara County Courthouse was part of a city-wide rebuilding effort with broad community engagement.  +

New Courthouse steel framework, ca. 1926

William Mooser II and his son William III, noted San Francisco architects, designed and built the new Courthouse. Construction took 2½ years and cost $1.4 million(>$20 million today). Over 1,500 tons of steel formed the framework to resist earthquakes.


Dedication Ceremony 1929

Santa Barbara’s new Courthouse opened and quickly became a hallmark of the city's new look. 


Dance Performance at annual Old Spanish Days
Fiesta in Courthouse Sunken Garden

Santa Barbara’s Courthouse is an architectural treasure and a vibrant center of community pride: a functioning Courthouse, a National Landmark, and a place for many celebrations.

View of Courthouse across Sunken Garden

Please enjoy our informative self-guided tours while you explore the many treasures of the Courthouse.

Photo Credits: Robert Dickey, Robert Ooley, Marie Morrisroe, S.B. Historical Museum, and S.B. Public Library Edson Smith Collection except as otherwise noted.   ~

We hope you enjoyed your tour experience and we welcome your feedback. Please go to our feedback page.