Santa Barbara Courthouse tours




Civic officials visualized a new county courthouse in a Spanish style on the same site. In 1919 the county sponsored an architectural competition for the design of a new courthouse. Four entries were selected as finalists but financially the county was not ready to build a new courthouse. Things changed dramatically after the June 29, 1925 earthquake which badly damaged the 1875 courthouse, the jail, the hall of records and many buildings downtown.


Four days after the earthquake the county Board of Supervisors hired the San Francisco architectural firm of William Mooser Company, which had been a finalist in the 1919 competition, to plan and build the new courthouse. The firm had designed and built many commercial and public buildings in California. The Board of Supervisors specified that the style of the building be Spanish Andalusian. William Mooser II was the head of the firm and his son William Mooser III who was also an architect was in charge of the supervision of the project. He had studied at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris and had lived in Italy and Spain for several years.

However; by September 1925, the Architectural Advisory Committee and Architectural Board of review were at odds with the submitted Mooser plan and its adherence to the requested style. J. Wilmer Hershey, a member of the Community Drafting Room, was asked to make drawings for a modified design. Hershey’s quick sketches became the basis of the new and accepted courthouse design. Although Mooser is listed as the principal architect, he credited Hershey for his design contribution in an article he wrote about the courthouse for the Santa Barbara Morning Press.

Unfortunately, J. Wilmer Hershey, who was also commissioned to design the planned community of San Clemente, CA, was struck down by bacterial endocarditis in the prime of his career and died on August 29, 1926 at the age of 32. Never living to see the results of his sketches.


In June, 1926 a $700,000 bond issue was passed by the voters towards the building of a new courthouse estimated to cost $900,000. Construction began in October of 1926. A San Francisco Company supplied the steel framing. The courthouse was finished in March of 1929 and was dedicated on August 14, 1929, two months before the stock market crash. The final cost of the building was $1,368,000. It was fortunate for the county of Santa Barbara oil was struck in 1928 at Ellwood, a few miles west of Santa Barbara. An oil tax revenue paid for the difference between the $900,000 original estimated cost of the building and its actual cost upon completion. Mooser chose to use white plastered walls, local sandstone, decorative tiles and iron gates. Being Andalusian in style, these materials were also less costly. This county courthouse was called the grandest Spanish Colonial Revival building anywhere by famed architect Charles W. Moore.