California County Courthouses

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Completed 1875. Alameda's Victorian courthouse was built on Oakland's Washington Square after the county seat was moved from Alvarado (part of present-day Union City) to San Leandro and finally to Oakland. The ornate brick building had fallen into disrepair by the mid-1920s (judges called it a "vermin-infested menace to health and records"). During heavy winter rains in its final years, bailiffs held umbrellas over the bench to shield judges from leaks. In 1936, a new county center on Lake Merritt replaced the old courthouse, which county supervisors voted to demolish in 1949. Courtesy Oakland Public Library
Completed 1875. Originally part of the Territory of Utah and then the Territory of Nevada, Alpine was recognized as part of California following an 1863 survey of state boundaries. Alpine's first county seat, Silver Mountain City, was abandoned in 1873 after the demonetization of silver, and the county government moved to Markleeville. This building, originally the Odd Fellows Hall, was used as the courthouse until 1928, when the courts moved to a more modern facility. Courtesy California State Museum
Completed 1864. After an 1862 fire destroyed the county's first courthouse as well as many of the buildings in downtown Jackson, a stone-and-brick courthouse was constructed on the original site. In 1893, a building similar in size and design was constructed next to the courthouse for use as the Hall of Records. An alley separated the two buildings until 1939, when both buildings were enclosed in an art deco exterior. The combined building is still in use as Amador's courthouse. Courtesy Amador County Archives
Completed 1856. The courts occupied this brick building in downtown Oroville for the duration of the “Courthouse Wars”–a century-old contest between Oroville and Chico for the county seat. It was here in 1911 that Ishi, regarded as the last member of the Yahi tribe, stayed before traveling to San Francisco, where for several years he lived on the campus of the University of California. The courts moved to a new county center in 1965, and the original court building was demolished after it sustained damage in a 1975 earthquake. Courtesy Department of Special Collections, University of California Library, Davis
Completed 1850. Local history has it that the county seat was "captured" from Double Springs, a cattle ranch-cum-mining town, when residents of nearby Jackson invited county officials for a few rounds of drinks and then made off with the county records. The remains of this building, made of camphor panels shipped from China, can still be seen in Double Springs, making it one of the oldest surviving structures once used as a courthouse in California. Courtesy Calaveras County Historical Society
Completed 1867. In 1866, after the government was finally moved to San Andreas, Calaveras's fifth and current county seat, officials designated a local theater for use as the first courthouse. This two-story brick building was used as the center of county government for nearly 100 years, and it was here in 1883 that Judge C. V. Gottschalk tried and sentenced the notorious highwayman Black Bart. In 1966, the courthouse was replaced by a more modern facility and turned over to the Calaveras County Historical Society. The old courthouse, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is still used occasionally for overflow cases and visiting judges. Courtesy Calaveras County Historical Society
Completed 1861. Colusa's courthouse has served continuously as the seat of justice and government in the county since 1861 and is one of California's oldest working courthouses. Five of the six lots for the courthouse site were donated by Colonel Charles D. Semple, who erroneously expected that county supervisors would forgive his tax bill in exchange for the gift. In the entrance hall of the Classical Revival building stands a statue of George Washington, a gift to the county recognizing the donations of local citizens to the construction fund for the Washington Monument in the nation's capital. Courtesy Meriam Library, California State University, Chico, and Thelma White
Completed 1931. Built in part by inmate chain gangs from 1901 to 1903 and now a National Historic Site, the old Contra Costa County Courthouse (left) remains in use as the county's Finance Building. The cupola, used as a watchtower during blackouts in World War II, was removed in 1957 for reasons of earthquake safety. In 1966, most of the courts' offices moved into the Hall of Records (right), which was completed in 1933 and continues to serve as the county's courthouse. Both buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Courtesy Superior Court of California, County of Contra Costa
Completed 1885. Crescent City was named the county seat when Del Norte was created from the now-defunct Klamath County in 1857. Years later, in the 1883 election, residents approved bonds for a courthouse in a vote of 176 for, 84 against. Local historians say that it was here in the 1930s and 1940s that the unsuccessful movement to create the State of Jefferson, with a local judge as its first governor, was organized. The courthouse was destroyed by fire in 1948, and a new courthouse was built across the street from the original location. Courtesy Del Norte County Historical Society
Completed 1861. After several unsuccessful electoral efforts to move the county seat from Coloma to their town, citizens of Placerville in 1857 successfully lobbied the state Legislature to order the move. This two-story building was constructed in Placerville, which prior to 1853 was known as Hangtown because of its reputation for lynchings. The building and its additions burned in 1910, and a new concrete-and-steel courthouse was built on the site. Courtesy El Dorado County Museum
Completed 1875. Hailed at a cornerstone ceremony as "the grandest and noblest edifice that has ever been planned and contemplated in this valley," Fresno's courthouse could barely keep up with the county's booming population. By the turn of the century, the relatively modest brick building with its slender cupola had been expanded to an imposing structure with several wings, granite steps, and an enormous dome. A structural survey conducted in 1961 reported the many weaknesses of the old building, which was demolished following the construction of a new courthouse in 1966. Courtesy Superior Court of California, County of Fresno
Completed 1894. Unhappy with their allotment of tax dollars, citizens in northern Colusa were successful in 1891 in their effort to establish Glenn County, named for Dr. Hugh Glenn, its largest landowner. The new county made Willows the county seat and began construction of a courthouse and jail. When it was rumored that the contractor would go bankrupt before the buildings were completed, supervisors ordered the addition of a dome on the courthouse to keep the contractor solvent. The building, minus the dome, which was removed for safety reasons in 1951, remains in use. Courtesy Meriam Collection, California State University, Chico, and Willows Museum
Completed 1889. Thirteen zinc statues adorned the perimeter of the roof and the tower of this grand Italianate building in Eureka. Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, was placed at the top of the tower, surrounded by four statues of Justice and others representing Flora, Ceres, Fortuna, and Juno. Minerva tilted in the 1906 earthquake, after which the statues were removed. The courthouse survived a fire in 1924, but another quake in 1954 cracked the building and the courthouse was vacated. In 1956, the condemned courthouse was demolished to make room for a more modern facility. Courtesy Humboldt County Historical Society
Completed 1924. Formed in 1907 from the eastern part of San Diego County, Imperial is the youngest of California's 58 counties. Despite claims by government surveyors that the surrounding desert "was so desolate, barren, and hot that human habitation would never be possible within its confines," Imperial County residents in the 1920s pressed on in establishing a county government. The courts occupied these offices on the second floor of a bank building until 1924, when the county built a new courthouse on donated land in El Centro. The county, which has since grown into one of the state's richest agricultural regions, still occupies the El Centro building. Courtesy California State Library
Completed 1921. After three previous courthouses were lost to earthquake and fire, Inyo's fourth and current courthouse was built to resist both. The region's only example of monumental Neoclassical Revival public architecture, this courthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998 in recognition of its "integrity of feeling and association." It was here in Independence that 24 members of the Manson Family were jailed in 1969 for possession of stolen vehicles and property. Within days of his preliminary hearing, Charles Manson was indicted in the Tate murders and transferred to Los Angeles. Courtesy Eastern California Museum