About the Courthouse

The Santa Barbara County Courthouse is located on an entire city block, in downtown Santa Barbara, California. Bounded by Anacapa, Anapamu, Figueroa and Santa Barbara Streets. The Spanish Colonial Revival style building was designed by the William Mooser Company of San Francisco and completed in 1929 and is a prime example of Santa Barbara's adoption of Spanish Colonial Revival as its civic style. The building replaced a smaller Greek Revival courthouse built at the same location in 1872–88 which was badly damaged in an earthquake on June 29, 1925.

The architecture of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse is a point of local pride and national acclaim, and efforts to acknowledge its historic significance were successful less than 55 years after its completion. The Courthouse was designated a City of Santa Barbara Landmark on July 13, 1982. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on January 1, 1981, and on August 18, 2003 it was declared a California State Historical Landmark. The National Register Nomination recognizes key figures in the Courthouse design, including architects William Mooser Ill and J. Wilmer Hershey as well as sculptor Ettore Cadorin, metalsmith Albert Yann, painter Giovanni Battista (John B) Smeraldi , and muralist Dan Sayre Groesbeck. The Santa Barbara County Courthouse was designated a National Historic Landmark on April 5, 2005.  The State and National Historic Landmark designations were led by Santa Barbara County Architect and co-founder of the Courthouse Legacy Foundation, Robert Ooley, FAIA.

The courthouse is composed of four buildings, totaling 150,000 square feet (14,000 m).  Many walls within the courthouse are two to three feet thick giving the building a stance of substance. The ground floor Anacapa Galley is described as the “belly of the whale” with its bold arches forming the ribs of the whale. The complex serves to this day as an active, working courthouse, housing courtrooms, jury rooms, a law library, Public Records and various County offices. Visitors may walk up the stairs or take an elevator to the summit of the 88 ft (27 m) "El Mirador" clock tower. 

The courthouse grounds contain a collection of palms and specimen trees from more than 25 countries. Despite the draw of lush gardens and stunning architecture, the interior of the building houses one of its most fascinating attractions, what is known as the "Mural Room". Here, enormous paintings depicting Santa Barbara's early history adorn the walls, painted by California muralist Dan Sayre Groesbeck (1878-1950). The colorful Mudéjar ceiling in the Mural Room was painted by master artist John B.Smeraldi (1867 - 1947), who also painted the ceilings in the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles and that of Grand Central Station in New York City.

In addition to the magnificent Mural Room, the Courthouse also houses the Bisno Schall Clock Gallery.  Behind the four faces of the tower clock resides a weight-driven Seth Thomas tower clock. Installed in 1929, and fully restored in 2012, it ticks away in its original site and condition while releasing the hammers to the bells on the quarter hour. Surrounding the clock are marvelous murals painted by local artist Ed Lister, depicting the chronicle of mankind's landmarks in timekeeping since ancient times, while above shine the exact constellations in the sky when Santa Barbara obtained its name on Dec 4, 1602, the feast day of Saint Barbara. Sebastian Vizcaino had sailed into the Channel with a contingent of three ships on that cold December day with a ragging winter storm; praying to Saint Barbara for safe passage—he then named the Channel and area Santa Barbara.

Did You Know...

The reason the Hall of Records has few exterior windows is because there is a 50-foot diameter skylight illuminating the interior.