Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"Most Beautiful Government Building"

"The most beautiful government building in America"--the title given the Spanish-Moorish style Santa Barbara County (CA) Courthouse.

Our Road Scholar group of 35 (see yesterday's entry) arrived at the entrance to the Courthouse--obviously a bit late. Joy, our docent, was motioning to us to walk a little faster--much like an elementary school teacher calling her dawdling students in from recess.

(If you ever plan to visit the Courthouse, call ahead to schedule your tour with Joy as your guide.)

But back to our tour.

As we gathered around the main staircase and its beautiful tile work (photo #1), Joy introduced herself in a voice similar to that of a drill sargeant addressing new recruits. She instructed that we were expected to ask questions, and those who failed to ask questions would be dealt with.

Our attention was directed to the decorative Tunisian tiles in the bench (right). Throughout the large L-shaped building, beautiful tiles could also be found in the floor.

In this small alcove beneath a curved stairway leading to the second floor was a medallion (right and below) reading "Native Sons of the Golden West, dedicated August 14, 1929," the date of the building's dedication. On that day, the Supervisors mixed the ingredients of water from each of the California missions with sand and gravel from each of the counties in California on the main stage with a packed crowd of residents and visitors looking on.

Although I was lagging behind taking photos, when I caught up with the group, I thought I heard Joy saying, "You may have someone telling you that these are Chumash (Indians of the Santa Ynez Valley) designs (on the stairway wall leading to the second floor), but they sure don't look like Chumash designs to me. Believe what you want."

On a wall of the law library is this mural of an early map of California. At the time of the map's production, this area was believed to be an island.

The curved ceiling in the law library was quite elaborate, architecturally and artistically.

The Mural Room, the jewel of the Courthouse, has murals depicting scenes from California's history from the native Indians to the construction of the Mission. The canvas was glued to the walls, then painted. The final touch was to apply a finish coat or sealant to the paint.

The room was originally designed as the assembly room for the County Board of Supervisors. The room is 40' wide by 70' long with a ceiling height of 25' to 30'.

Giovanni Smeraldi painted the ceiling in the Mural Room using the paint technique referred to as "Dutch-Metal," which means he mixed zinc and copper to get that "gold" effect.

The following photos show architec-tural features or lighting fixtures in the Courthouse.

During our tour, our docent, Joy, was heared to mutter something about the "dismal group" when questions were not forthcoming.

However, she found it difficult to keep up the brusque exterior, often showing she was enjoying the group.

The light from this chandelier cast a shadow that duplicated the form of the frames of the glass panels.

At the conclusion of the tour, Joy received the most enthusiastic round of applause and positive comments that any tour leader I have met has ever received.

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