Here’s What’s Happening At the Courthouse

Improvements, Maintenence, and Upgrades Planned

Santa Barbara County residents and visitors who journey to the historic Santa Barbara County Courthouse will notice a flurry of improvement activity happening during the next few months at the beloved and popular structure.

Four projects involving restoration, accessibility, and seismic safety are currently under way, including work on the “Spirit of the Ocean” fountain near the main archway entrance; preservation and cleaning of the beautiful, historic Mural Room artwork on the second floor; non-structural seismic retrofitting of the red-clay roof tiles and interior decorative plaster ceiling fixtures and accessibility work on a ramp near the main archway.

The Spirit of the Ocean Fountain sandstone work will recreate the 1928 Ettore Cadorin sandstone Spirit of the Ocean sculpture. In the early 1970s, the sculpture was coated with a epoxy “pool” paint to stop the sandstone’s deterioration. Over time, that effort caused additional problems and the Santa Barbara Courthouse Docent Council has spent almost $50,000 to protect the fountain. The Docent Council and the County are now working with the Santa Barbara Courthouse Legacy Foundation on the $500,000 project. Stone carvers will begin work in mid-July and are expected to finish in January 2011, carving new sandstone on site, giving visitors a chance to see their work as it progresses.

The Foundation has raised $125,000, but additional donations are needed. The foundation was created in 2004 by former First District County Supervisor Naomi Schwartz, Superior Court Judge Frank Ochoa, and Robert Ooley, AIA, County Architect. More information about the foundation is available online at People interested in making donations can obtain information online or contact the Santa Barbara Courthouse Legacy Foundation, 1105 Santa Barbara Street, 2nd Floor, Santa Barbara, CA, 93101

Other artists are busy inside the Courthouse building cleaning and removing smoke damage from artwork adorning the Courthouse Mural Room’s walls. In January 2010, an electrical fire broke out in the building’s attic, creating dense black smoke that damaged the works of art in the Mural Room Lobby and inside the Mural Room.

The walls inside the Mural Room contain 4,100 square feet of muslin glued to the plaster walls that was used by artist Dan Sayer Groesbeck. Groesbeck was a leading illustrator, painter and set designer for Hollywood film studios in the early 1900s. Many of the silent films and early “talkies” have backdrop scenery painted by Groesbeck. For the Mural Room, Groesbeck was directed by the building’s architect, William Mooser III, to tell the story of Santa Barbara’s history beginning in the early 1600s—including the Native American, Spanish, Mexican and American periods, the Santa Barbara Mission era and the three main elements of economic activity, Mineral-Stock-Agriculture.

The Mural Room’s four-month conservation and cleaning project is being done by the South Coast Fine Arts Conservation Center under the direction of Patty West. The $450,000 project is critical to the survival of the painted surface because there is no protective coating over the paint. Normally, the final step in a painted mural work is a projective varnish coat. Groesbeck returned to his film career in Hollywood after painting the murals and never completed this varnish phase.

The electrical fire earlier this year produced smoke with tiny acid particles embedded in the smoke. The acid-laden smoke attached to the unprotected paint surface and has been “burning” tiny holes into the paint layer ever since. Cleaning and restoration is critical to remove this smoke layer and that requires the specialized efforts of paint conservation professionals.

Once cleaned, paint restoration will still be required. The Santa Barbara Courthouse Legacy Foundation is actively seeking contributions to complete the paint restoration efforts while the conservators are still in the room cleaning. If you are interested in contributing, please contact the Santa Barbara Courthouse Legacy Foundation, 1105 Santa Barbara Street, 2nd Floor, Santa Barbara, CA, 93101.

Outside, workers can be seen on scaffolding and on the roof top busily removing many of the Courthouse building’s red clay Spanish roof tiles as part of a FEMA-sponsored Seismic Retrofit project. The project will anchor roof tiles located above all exits of the courthouse, and, inside, will anchor the heavy plaster decorative ceiling inside the building. In addition, the project includes improving accessibility for people with disabilities in accordance with the federal American with Disabilities Act (ADA). Accessibility from the Anapamu Street Side of the Courthouse up to the Main Archway platform and from the Main Arch platform down to the Sunken Gardens lawn area.

This work is being done by Western Group, Inc., a general contractor, for a not-to-exceed contract price of $487,000.00. The project is expected to be completed by October 2010. Because the interior work will affect court operations, some of the work will be done at night when the building and courts are closed. The roofing portion of the work will require the removal of the existing red clay roof tiles, the installation of stainless steel roof anchors and the reinstallation of the existing clay roof tiles.

The interior ceiling includes the use of steel struts to stabilize the ceilings and anchor them to the concrete superstructure. All of this work will take place in the attic spaces above the court rooms, hallways and office spaces.

The County’s General Services Department is the lead County department overseeing the projects.

“This is an exciting time for the Courthouse. We’re doing a lot of work to preserve and protect this historic structure so that it can be enjoyed by future generations to come,” said Bob Nisbet, General Services Department Director.

“The Courthouse is one of the most photographed structures in the entire county and while some people might think the scaffolding and workers are in the way of a good portrait, this is also a very unique time to photographically capture a different and historic phase in the life of our beautiful Courthouse.”


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