The Courthouse Legacy Foundation opened the doors of the historic Santa Barbara Courthouse during Old Spanish Days Fiesta for the second annual “Castanets and Cocktails at the Courthouse” fundraiser benefiting the preservation and restoration of the courthouse.
A delighted and intimate gathering of community supporters shared a magical evening of fine food, a private tour of the national landmark and live entertainment under the moonlight.
“This is a special event put on by the Courthouse Legacy Foundation, whose sole purpose is to raise funds for the restoration of the courthouse,” said Rodney Baker, president of the Courthouse Docent Council.
Established in 2004, the Courthouse Legacy Foundation is a nonprofit organization governed by a Board of Trustees whose mission is to conserve and restore artistic features of the courthouse.
The courthouse, designed in a Spanish-Moore style in 1929 by a father and son team of architects, William Mooser II and II, was originally constructed after the 1929 earthquake destroyed the former Greek revival courthouse as two courtrooms located in the Figueroa Wing.
The Aug. 3 soiree commenced with cocktails served to guests in the historic Mural Room, located on the second floor of the courthouse.
“This room located in the middle of the courthouse is significant because it’s a throne room in a castle,” Baker said. “This courthouse was built to resemble a castle in Spain, and this is where a king and queen would hold court or lock themselves in if there was a siege on the castle.”
Considered the jewel of the courthouse, the Mural Room was originally developed as the assembly room for the county Board of Supervisors, who gathered in the historic site for more than 30 years, until 1967, when noncourt functions of county government vacated the space and moved into a new building across the street. The courthouse was later remodeled to include courtrooms with social spaces and is now open to the public for tours, civic events, fundraising events, weddings and Fiesta.
Once inside, double doors revealed 30-foot-tall, intricately hand-stenciled gold and emerald Italian Renaissance revival paintings on wood beam ceilings designed by artist John Smeraldi. Wrought-iron chandeliers, weighing more than 1,000 pounds each, enhance the 4,200-square-foot hand-painted mural depicting the history of Santa Barbara and California in a romanticized fashion by artist Daniel Sayre Groesbeck.
The mural depicts the history of the Chumash Indians, who have lived in the area for more than 10,000 years, observing the arrival of Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. He led the first European expedition to explore what is now the West Coast of the United States, in 1542. Also included is a reference to the Count of Monterey sending Sebastian Vizcaino to the Santa Barbara Channel on Dec. 4, 1602. Vizcaino named the channel and eventually the surrounding Santa Barbara area.
Overhead, a symbolic eagle in flight marks the claiming of the area for Americans when a treaty was signed in January 1847, making California an independent republic.
“The reason why we have the Courthouse Legacy Foundation is that the county simply cannot afford the funds it takes to restore and keep this precious jewel of ours in tip-top condition,” Baker said. “The Mural Room is going to cost about $1 million to restore, and so we have to reach out to the community and do fundraising and obtain grants, and do everything we can to reach out to people and ask them for their help.”
Baker added that the Mural Room had been recently cleaned after a fire at the courthouse left smoke damage on 83-year-old paintings, the ornate ceiling furniture and velvet draperies in the room. The mission of the CLF is to restore these priceless items to their original condition.
“CLF recently raised $80,000 to obtain a Historic Structure’s Report pertaining to the courthouse, which will reveal the exact specifications of what refurbishments need to be completed on the interior and exterior of the courthouse, including how much the repairs will cost,” said Legacy Foundation chair Alice Van de Water. “The report is prepared by professional conservators and will prioritize that for us.”
After the fire, the wall painting was supposed to be repaired and sealed, but the CLF lacked the funds to complete this and the organization is working diligently to raise funds for the final restoration of the Mural Room. It will host the “Love of the Courthouse” fundraiser in February in an effort to complete the project.
Van de Water said the CLF acts as a steward for the courthouse and partners with Santa Barbara County to maintain the grounds and premises. So, a public-private collaboration exists between the two parties in order to preserve the legacy of the courthouse for future generations.
With drinks in hand, guests mingled on the Loggia Terrace adjacent to the Mural Room overlooking the courtyard and feasted on tapas, traditional Spanish soup, barbecue quail tamales and strawberries with pipettes full of champagne and Grand Marnier courtesy of Bryan Schofield, owner of Schofield Catering & Management.
Some attendees ventured into the Santa Barbara Courthouse Clock Room, up a floor from the Mural Room, and into the Bisno Schall Gallery, where inside the brightly lit and partially glass-paneled room showcased the astounding Seth Thomas Tower Clock.
The ceiling of the room is adorned with stars, planets and comets, and on the walls is a mural painted by local artist Ed Lister depicting the study of man’s keeping of time and the creation of time pieces that measure the passage of time.
The mural begins with the prehistoric monument Stonehenge located in the English countryside of Wiltshire and progresses throughout history to end with a picture of the largest four-faced chiming clock in the world — nicknamed Big Ben, at the Palace of Westminster in London.
“Big Ben portrayed in the mural is significant because the courthouse clock has a mechanism called an escapement, which is a double, three-legged gravity escapement, and our clock also has the same chimes that ring from the Westminster bell clock tower in London,” Baker said.
At sunset, guests rode the elevator to the newly completed 85-foot “El Mirador” clock tower viewing area to enjoy remarkable views of the city and watch the talented lineup of fiery Flamenco dancers, who performed under a full moon at the Las Noches de Ronda event in the Sunken Garden courtyard below.
“This is a wonderful event that gives our guests a chance to explore the courthouse and celebrate Fiesta in a special way during the evening hours,” Van de Water said. “This is a magical event because the courthouse is never open during the evening.”
Thanks to the many friends of the courthouse, the Courthouse Legacy Foundation has raised more than $1 million to refurbish and repair structures at the courthouse, including the Heraldic Paintings on the Ceiling of the Great Archway (2010), the Spirit of the Ocean Fountain (2011) and the Tower Clock (2012).
“We try to recognize our community donors and sponsors because we know that there are many wonderful nonprofits to give money to here in Santa Barbara,” Van de Water said. “But certainly we think that the courthouse is one of the best, and it is known as one of the most beautiful courthouses in all of the Untied States and we feel so grateful to have it.”
To become a Friend of the Courthouse, individual memberships start at $40 and family memberships are $75. Click here to donate a tax-exempt gift to the Courthouse Legacy Foundation.
» The Legacy Foundation would like to thank the following sponsor for their generosity and continued support: Santa Barbara Bank & Trust, Wayne and Sharol Siemens, Herb Barthels, Doug and Carol Fell, Hammock, Arnold, Smith & Company, Keith Mautino, Frank and Sheila McGinity, Santa Barbara Mailworks, T.S.G. Upholstery, Alice Van de Water and Wilson Printing.
— Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.