New sandstone pieces arrive at the Santa Barbara Courthouse as part of the complete replacement of the current water fountain sculpture.
Paul Wellman

After years of wear, tear, and weathering, the fountain in front of the historic Santa Barbara Courthouse, “The Spirit of the Ocean,” is being replaced with an exact replica over the course of the next nine months.

The fountain, which was originally built in 1929 by Ettore Cadorin — an Italian sent by his country’s government to the U.S. as an art envoy — will be chiseled from five blocks of sandstone donated from Law and Order and Miami Vice producer Dick Wolf’s Slippery Rock Ranch in Santa Ynez. The blocks were delivered to the courthouse on Monday.

Cadorin is also responsible for the two stone sculptures of the Roman gods of Justice and Agriculture that sit atop the archways that lead to the Sunken Garden.

Robert Ooley, Santa Barbara County architect, said that after multiple attempts to refurbish the age-old sculpture over the years, the carving of a man and woman perched alongside each side of a goldfish is now beyond repair.

“You can only patch it up so many times,” Ooley said.

Sometime in the early 1960s, repairs were made to the sculpture — that represents Santa Barbara’s relationship to the ocean — in which a layer of mauve-colored pool paint was applied in an effort to block out moisture. This layer, Ooley said, did the exact opposite of what it was supposed to. By locking the moisture in, the sandstone has since crumbled off toes, ears, and the goldfish’s dorsal fin.

“The coated surface was supposed to get the water out, but that didn’t work,” Ooley said. “It’s falling apart from the inside out.”

In 1983, docents of the courthouse called for an “emergency repair,” wherein sculptors from Los Angeles were hired to patch up cracks and re-mold pieces, which have also since crumbled.

Using a laser scanning system, Ooley and his crew were able to get exact measurements of the carving and have assembled a Styrofoam replica that will serve as a guide to the new sculpture. A measuring tool called a pointing system will be used to transfer measuring points from a model to the block of stone from which the sculptor will take reference points in the work. By using these reference points, a sculpture can be measured accurately.

The project is estimated to cost $600,000; most of which came from donations and foundations.

Other improvements include restoration of the water system and laying down a sea foam green tile that will replace the blue tile in the fountain’s pool. If certain parts of the old carving can be saved, Ooley said that it will go on display somewhere else in town or “If someone wants to donate a large chunk of money, they can have it.”

Ooley and his crew of three carvers, who will be working from dawn ‘til dusk six days a week, aim to finish the sculpture the first week of August just in time for Fiesta.

Ooley would also like to get the public involved with the project by assisting with getting rid of rubble. For more information on how you can help, email Robert Ooley at or call him at (805) 452-9132.


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