The historic Santa Barbara County Courthouse and the annual Old Spanish Days celebration combined to provide a dramatic setting for a Courthouse Legacy Foundation fundraiser benefiting the preservation and restoration of the Santa Barbara landmark.
Now in its eighth year, the party attracted donors, historians, locals and out-of-towners to the newly restored Mural Room on the courthouse’s second-floor Loggia to experience Las Noches de Ronda on the stage below.
The sold-out event kicked off with a lively cocktail reception, during which 125 guests mingled in the Mural Room, enjoying the grandeur and artistry of its 83-year-old historic paintings. The artwork depicts a timeline of Santa Barbara’s history on the ornate walls and ceiling of the iconic room.
Supporters arrived sporting Fiesta and western attire to join in an intimate gathering of fine food with the flavors of margaritas, cocktails and Mexican cuisine.
During the festivities, guests mingled and lounged on the benches in the historic mural room, local musician Chris Fossek, sat center stage strumming Spanish flamenco guitar, played songs from his new album, Camino Cielo, which was released in April. Fossek described his style as a sensical blend of motifs inspired by classical music, flamenco and eastern European music.
“This is a very special occasion, performing inside the courthouse in this amazing room filled with so much history and culture that is restored and preserved by the Courthouse Legacy Foundation,” said Fossek. “And in honor of the Fiesta, I’m playing a few of my favorite flamenco songs. On the album those pieces are my buleria called ‘Drunken Horse’, my solea called Camino Cielo, and my Rumba called ‘Olympic.’”
The exclusive party also provided a private tour of the national landmark with bird’s-eye views of Las Noches de Ronda entertainment — song, folklorica and flamenco dancing — in the Sunken Garden below.
The renowned building receives critical funding from the nonprofit Courthouse Legacy Foundation, which was established in 2004 and governed by a Board of Trustees whose mission is to conserve and restore artistic features of the courthouse.
Santa Barbara County cannot afford the funds it takes to restore and maintain the facility, so the special Fiesta event — and other events throughout the year — are put on by the foundation with the sole purpose of raising restoration funds.
Considered the jewel of the courthouse, the Mural Room was originally used as the assembly room for the county Board of Supervisors, which met there 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, of course, Fiesta.
The mural depicts the history of the Chumash, who have lived in the area for more than 10,000 years, and 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 Sebastián Vizcaíno to the Santa Barbara Channel on Dec. 4, 1602. Vizcaíno named the channel and eventually the surrounding Santa Barbara area.
Remarkable vistas of the city and the talented lineup of Fiesta performers below also were observed by guests, who rode an elevator to the 85-foot “El Mirador” clock tower viewing area to soak in the sights around and below.
Designed in a Spanish-Moorish style in 1929 by architects William Mooser and son William Mooser Jr., the courthouse originally was built after the 1925 earthquake destroyed the former Greek revival courthouse as two courtrooms located in the Figueroa Wing.
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).
The foundation’s next project is restoration of the Great Arch on Anacapa Street. As with the Spirit of the Ocean Fountain, a white coating was applied to the sandstone years ago, causing the stone to retain moisture and deteriorate from the inside.
“We have been working with Evergreen Architectural Arts (the company that did the restoration in the Mural Room) to find the best and safest way to remove the white coating while maintaining the integrity of the sandstone,” CLF board member Jan Ferrell said.
“After a scientific analysis, it was determined that the best way to do this will be by laser ablation. Now it is our job to raise the necessary funds to assist in this endeavor.”
In late fall, the foundation is planning a fundraising dinner in the Mural Room, with an elegant evening designed to attract new members to the growing circle of contributors.
“My hope is that others will understand the importance of restoration and conservation that is necessary to allow our courthouse to be enjoyed by current and future generations,” Ferrell told Noozhawk.
— 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.