AKA: Los Angeles County Courthouse #3, Los Angeles, CA; Red Sandstone Courthouse, Los Angeles, CA

Structure Type: built works - public buildings - courthouses

Designers: Curlett, Eisen, and Cuthbertson, Architects (firm); Krause, Julius W., Architect (firm); William F. Curlett (architect); Walter J. Cuthbertson (architect); Theodore Augustus Eisen (architect); William Sterling Hebbard (architect); Julius W. Krause (architect)

Dates: constructed 1887-1891, demolished 1936

4 stories

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Temple Street
Civic Center, Los Angeles, CA 90012

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The Los Angeles County Courthouse occupied the south side of Temple Street between Broadway and Spring Street. It stood on the site of the current Los Angeles Civic Center

Overview

The Los Angeles County Courthouse #3 was one of the largest and most remarkable Richardsonian Romanesque buildings erected in CA during the 1890s. Massive in scale, it provided enough room in one building to unify various governmental offices scattered around Downtown Los Angeles previously. It was erected at about the same time as the Leland Stanford Junior University Quadrangle, the greatest of the state's Richardsonian examples.

Building History

A new courthouse needed to be built during the boom years of the 1880s in Los Angeles. The Clock Tower Courthouse had been used from 1861-1891, and was too antiquated to meet current needs. This red sandstone facility, located at the intersection of Temple Street and North Broadway, underscored the maturity and permanence of the new city, utilizing aspects of the Richardsonian Romanesque Style, with its thick, rusticated stone walls, wall dormers, and grand central clock tower. The architects selected for this highly visible commission were Curlett, Eisen and Cuthbertson, a leading firm in San Francisco. The San Diego architect, William S. Hebbard (1863-1930), who was working for the architecture firm of Curlett, Eisen and Cuthbertson as a draftsman, contributed to the design of this courthouse.

The influence of RIchardson's just-completed and highly influential Allegheny County Courthouse (1888) in Pittsburgh, PA, was clear on Curlett, Eisen and Cuthbertson. Architectural historian Michael Corbett has underscored the role Theodore Eisen played in designing the Los Angeles County Courthouse #3. He wrote: "Eisen, the son of a Swedish immigrant architect, was an innovator. As early as 1882, in a speech to the San Francisco chapter of the American Institute of Architects (A.I.A.), he advocated a return to a simpler expression of structure and materials in architecture, while criticizing the routinely overdecorated buildings and classical imagery of the time. Among California architects, Eisen was unusually receptive to the architecture of H.H. Richardson, which spoke to some of the same issues in a larger American context. Richardson's recently completed 1888 Allegheny County courthouse in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, served as a starting point in the design of the Los Angeles County courthouse. The composition of the facade, with its hip roof, projecting end pavilions, and tall central tower, was the same. The large, rough, red sandstone blocks that formed the exterior surfaces of the building were comparable to the grey granite walls of Allegheny County." (See Michael R. Corbett, "Continuity and Change in California Courthouse Design 1850-2000," in Ray McDevitt, ed., Courthouses of California: An Illustrated History, [San Francisco: California Hisorical Society, 2001], p. 25-26.)

Building Notes

When it was built, the Los Angeles County Courthouse #3 was an up-to-date essay in the Richardsonian Romanesque Style. It had the style's massive rusticated stone walls, high foundations, crenellations, wall dormers, arcades, clock tower, chateauesque roofs and turrets. When viewed from the front, architects Curlett, Eisen and Cuthbertson produced a formal and monumental design, split into three parts: two side pavilions set on either side of a grand central entry, set slightly back, with the main entry located directly beneath a soaring clock tower. The approach to the courthouse was grand and calculated to impress; a round driveway deposited visitors before the looming tower. One made a processional up a flight of stairs to reach an ornate and deep Romaneque portal that shrouded the main door in dark shadows. The portal had the feeling of a 11th century monastery with its multiple embedded arches and antique details.

Demolition

Differing dates have been listed for the demolition of LA County Courthouse #3. Some have indicated it was torn down in 1932, although was incorrect. Others have suggested that it was damaged in the 6.25-magnitude Long Beach Earthquake of 03/10/1933. The courthouse was damaged in the 1933 temblor, and the LA County Board of Supervisors passed a motion for demolition after a significant aftershock that occurred on 10/24/1933. (See "Board Acts to Raze Old Courthouse," Los Angeles Times, 10/26/1933, p. A1.) At this desperate time during the Depression, the Board wanted to make the demolition a county work project. According to a Times article of about a year later, 10/17/1934, the courthouse had been abandoned in preparation for demolition. Structural engineers reported new findings in 1935 that complicated the demolition process. "The building was condemned for use following the earthquake in 1933. Later, however, the Supervisors were informed that if the two top floors were removed the remainder of the building could be used. It is possible that some of the space will be used to store documents and house the drafting division of the County Mechanical Department." (See "Courthouse Demolition Work Begun," Los Angeles Times, 07/16/1935, p. A3.)

In 07/1935, only the roof, tower and two upper floors were removed. By late in 1935, however, some Supervisors viewed the building as an "objectionable eyesore" and wanted the whole thing removed. (See "Old Courthouse Razing Sought," Los Angeles Times, 12/11/1935, p. A5.) An article a few days later noted that final Federal Government approval had been obtained. "Los Angeles county's eyesore, the old red stone Courthouse at Temple Street and Broadway, which has stood for a number of months in a partly wrecked condition, is to be removed. The work is to be done as a W.P.A. project and will begin within the next ten days. Approximately two hundred men will be given employment for at least six months. The cost of the job is estimated at $80,000." (See "W.P.A. Will Take Over Razing Old Courthouse" Los Angeles Times, 01/07/1936, p. A8.) Demolition of the final 90% of the courthouse commenced in 01/1936 and concluded in 05/1936.

The State of California legislature had to approve the construction of a new courthouse, although most of the funding would come from a $4 million county bond issue (Proposition #2 in the 05/05/1936 special Los Angeles County election) and a $3.7 million grant from the Federal Government. (See "Bond Plan Explained," Los Angeles Times, 04/21/1936, p. A2.) A photo published in the Los Angeles Times of 05/08/1936 showed the building virtually leveled, save for a few remaining walls. (See "Final Scenes in Demolition of Old Courthouse," Los Angeles Times, 05/08/1936, p. A2.) The process of obtaining funding and getting approval dragged on, and was interrupted by World War II. It was not until the mid-1950s that construction would begin on the fourth LA County Courthouse.

PCAD id: 373