Temples of Justice Introduction

Introduction by Mrs. Barbara George, Chair of the Supreme Court Art Selection Committee

The great British Prime Minister Winston Churchill observed that "We shape our buildings, and afterwards, our buildings shape us." So it is with the historic courthouses of California.

Inspired by the visits of my husband to all of California's 58 counties during his first year as Chief Justice, this exhibit includes a photograph of a courthouse in each county, and each tells a small part of the state's history. In the stories of these buildings we see the evolution from Spanish colonialism to pioneer society to statehood and to the realization of a culture unlike any that had come before.

The buildings in this exhibit are monuments to the way the people of California saw themselves at an earlier time, when the state was young and the ideals of the democratic society were not only embraced, but also enshrined in what was often the grandest building in town. "It is our temple of justice," said Judge J. E. Prewett at the dedication of the Placer County Courthouse on Independence Day 1898. "It is the repository of our titles, the fortress of our personal and property rights, the fountainhead of our school system, the registry of our births, marriages and deaths, and its inmates stand guard by day and night over the peace and good order of our communities."

Of the 60 courthouses in this exhibit, just 32 remain standing, the others victims of earthquake, fire, neglect, and modernism. Of the buildings that remain, 21 are designated National Historic Places and 22 are still used as courthouses. The Mariposa County Courthouse, a Greek Revival treasure built in 1854 by those who had come in search of gold ore, has the honor of being the oldest courthouse in continuous use in the state.

All these buildings are remarkable for the places they hold in the short history of California, and all are reminders of the ideals of generations past.

It is not possible to thank all those individuals throughout the state who assisted in this project. We are especially indebted to Michael Ginsborg and Gale Tunnell of the Supreme Court staff and to James Carroll of the Administrative Office of the Courts for their diligent work.

View the slideshow.