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County Courthouse Wants You

Become a Docent and Share the Secrets of Santa Barbara’s Most Impressive Edifice

Liz Rosedale, Docent Youth Chair at the Santa Barbara Courthouse gives a tour to students from Santa Maria's Arellanes Elementary School (Nov. 2, 2015)
Paul Wellman

Though not quite as ancient as architectural monuments from the Old World, the Santa Barbara County Courthouse is just as visually striking to passersby as the world’s most famous chapels and castles. But the nearly 90-year-old building’s real treasures require a slightly deeper look, for inside are the eclectically diverse yet classically traditional touches that make this functioning hall of justice a museum unto itself.

From the 30 copper plates on the Hall of Records door and plants from more than two dozen countries decorating the grounds to the floor mosaic of St. Barbara and the gallery-esque offerings of the Daniel Sayre Groesbeck’s Mural Room and Theodore Van Cina hallway paintings, there’s a little something to interest all types of people — art buffs to historians, palm-tree lovers to design freaks.

Paul Wellman

There’s no better way to learn all of this than by taking one of the daily tours offered by docents, which more than 6,500 people enjoyed last year out of the 125,000 people from 60 different countries that visited the courthouse. The tours happen every day at 2 p.m., as well as Monday-Friday at 10:30 a.m., and that doesn’t count the special tours of school groups and busloads of tourists.

Better yet, for those who have at least one day a month to spare, now is the chance to become a docent, which can also involve non-touring duties at the front booth. “The courthouse gets visitors from all over the world, and the docents are really just the ambassadors,” explained docent Dana Machalleck, who said the 60-or-so volunteer docents bring their own unique twist to the courthouse. “Everyone can personalize their tour, but they have to keep it to an hour. Some really like the history and give lots of dates, while others like the art and focus on that. I like the architecture myself,” she explained, while pointing to one of the many asymmetrical elements common to the Spanish Colonial Revival motif.

Paul Wellman

On top of all this, the docents have raised and spent more than $180,000 to conduct a variety of restoration projects around the courthouse, with all funds coming from the donation box as well as postcard and magnet sales. Without them, the courthouse would be a much less interesting tale.

To get involved, fill out an application at the courthouse information booth or call 967-5046. Then attend a coffee meeting for prospective docents on Thursday, November 19, at 10:30 a.m., in the Mural Room. See www.santabarbaracourthouse.org.

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