Photos show damage to the exterior of Santa Barbara County Courthouse. (Santa Barbara Courthouse Legacy Foundation)

The Santa Barbara Courthouse Legacy Foundation has announced the start of a critical conservation project for the Great Arch of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse.

For a number of years, portions of the Great Arch of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, which spans the passageway between Anacapa Street and the Sunken Gardens and connects the main courthouse building to the Hall of Records, has been visibly deteriorating. In particular, the sandstone and sculpture work are eroding, and the mortar joints are failing.

To prevent further damage, the Courthouse Legacy Foundation engaged conservation experts to carry out a multi-phase effort to preserve the sandstone masonry consistent with the standards set for national historic landmarks.

One area of concern is the presence of a blanched coating visible on the side of the arch facing Anacapa Street. The coating was applied decades ago in what was presumably an attempt to preserve the stone. Not only did this result in an undesirable appearance, but the coating has trapped moisture in the stone and is believed to be accelerating the deterioration of the sandstone.

“The Great Arch of our beautiful courthouse is deteriorating from the inside,” said Renee Fairbanks, board president of the Santa Barbara Courthouse Legacy Foundation. “We are thrilled that work has started to address this critical issue now before a major architectural component of our important historic landmark building is compromised.”

Conservation experts will selectively remove the blanched coating without harming the sandstone. Conservators will also use water and gentle cleaners to remove other surface deposits, including dirt, bird guano, and biological films such as mold and algae. The work is scheduled to be completed by Oct. 2.

Once the coating is removed, the Courthouse Legacy Foundation has plans to repair and restore the deterioration on the face of the sandstone blocks, architraves and sculptures, repoint the failed mortar joints, and install a protective drip edge on the top of the arch to prevent future damage.
The Courthouse Legacy Foundation must raise an additional $220,000 to complete this work. 
“Removing the blanched coating is only the beginning of the work needed to conserve the Great Arch,” Fairbanks said. “We must repair the damage caused by trapped moisture so that this magnificent building can be enjoyed by generations to come.”

The county is responsible for the general maintenance of the courthouse, but does not have the artistic resources or funds to authentically restore this historic structure. The Courthouse Legacy Foundation is seeking the community’s help to achieve its remaining fundraising goal to complete the conservation of the Great Arch.

Gifts to the Courthouse Legacy Foundation are tax-deductible and can be made on the website or mailed to SBCLF PO Box 91459 Santa Barbara, CA 93190.

The organization thanks the following groups that have made the current work possible: Outhwaite Foundation, Pearl Chase Society, Santa Barbara Foundation, county of Santa Barbara, Docent Council, National Trust for Historic Preservation, and community donors.

The Santa Barbara Courthouse Legacy Foundation is the only 501c(3) nonprofit whose sole purpose is to provide the historic preservation, conservation and restoration of the Santa Barbara Courthouse, consistent with the status as a historic landmark property.

The courthouse was designated a Santa Barbara City Landmark in 1981, a California State Historic Landmark in 2003 and a National Historic Landmark in 2005. For more, visit