Ron and I had the pleasure of representing clients at the Santa Clara County Superior Court, at the ‘Old Courthouse’ in downtown San Jose. I like old buildings in general, but I find old courthouses mesmerizing. The ‘Old Courthouse’ in San Jose has been in operation since 1868. Even though there is now a ‘New Courthouse’ right next door, the old building remains active. In addition to San Jose, California has roughly 15 courthouses which have been named to the National Register of Historic Places. The Santa Barbara County Courthouse and the Ventura City Hall (which was originally the Ventura County Courthouse) are in this register. In case you weren’t aware, the City Council Chambers in Ventura was once the main courtroom and was no doubt frequented by Erle Stanley Gardner. Have you ever noticed the gargoyles lining the façade of the building?
For me, the Santa Barbara County Courthouse will always be my favorite. I had the privilege of working and clerking in that building while in law school. I lived nearby so I walked to work each day. I was able to examine the building from all angles and see some of its hidden treasures – for the best view of Santa Barbara, take the elevator at the courthouse to the top of the ‘El Mirador’ clock tower – it’s a special treat. If you find yourself driving up to Reno, Nevada, leave some time to stop in Auburn, California and tour the Placer County Courthouse – it’s worth your while.
Our case in San Jose got me thinking about great courthouses and how they were constructed to be civic show pieces. So many new courts are built for utility and functionality, as opposed to aesthetics. Have you even been in a Ventura County courtroom? Would it surprise you that not one of those courtrooms has a window? The judge’s chambers have windows, but these look out to a parking lot and to the east. A local attorney told me the architects were advised that if the judges’ windows looked out over the ocean, they would never get any work done. Oh, the problems of working and practicing in Ventura.