Then & Now – County Courthouse

Considered one of the finest examples of Beaux Arts Classical architecture in the nation, the Riverside County Courthouse is a gem among civic buildings.

1960s-2006 - Riverside County Courthouse

Designed by the architectural firm of Burnham and Bliesner of Los Angeles, the 1903 courthouse is patterned after the “Grand Palais” (Grand Palace) and “Petit Palais” (Little Palace) both from the 1900 Universal Exposition (World’s Fair) in Paris.

The courthouse, which originally cost a mere $160,280 to construct, was rededicated October 5, 1998 following a 3-year, $25 million renovation and seismic upgrade.

The picturesque courthouse was the indirect result of an intra-county tax dispute. San Bernardino County — of which at the time included present-day Riverside — voted to raise taxes to fund expansion of the existing county courthouse located in downtown San Bernardino. However, this new tax was not taken lightly in Riverside, wherein higher property values equated to a higher share of the overall courthouse tax. Compounded by other similar issues, this new tax spurred Riverside officials to expedite proceedings that eventually led to the May 2, 1893 establishment of Riverside County.

1900 - Grand Palais - Paris

Of course, Riverside now needed to fund and build its own county courthouse. Fortunately, the city’s continuing rise in wealth made such funding much easier. In fact, by 1895 — just 2 years following the establishment of the new county — the City of Riverside was the richest city per capita in the United States. As such, the city soon began the process of commissioning new civic buildings — including the courthouse — that reflected the city’s new wealth and stature.

2006 - Main Street Exterior

However, had the city and county gone the expected route of building a Mission Revival-styled courthouse (as backed by influential Mission Inn owner Frank Miller), the elegant courthouse we see today may not have been. Instead, county supervisors were eventually persuaded in favor of a French-inspired, Beaux-Arts design. Without a doubt, the significance of that decision could not be more important today as the unique courthouse stands out among civic buildings.

In the early 1930s, a major expansion to the courthouse by local architect G. Stanley Wilson increased courtrooms on the back, or eastern elevation (Orange St.). Designed to mimic the original Beaux Arts motif, the expansion fits in well against the original design. However, a bulky and spartan 1960 addition to the southeastern elevation (Orange/Eleventh streets) — though unique in its own way — stands out in stark contrast against the magnificently detailed facades of both the original and expansion.

Regardless, thanks to the foresight of county supervisors in 1995, the grand courthouse will stand for generations to come, reminding residents and visitors alike of both the wealth and vision of the city’s residents during the formative years.

Flash: County Courthouse: 1960s – 2006

Photo Gallery: Riverside County Courthouse


Sources: City of Riverside, Riverside Metropolitan Museum, “Colony for California” (Tom Patterson), The Press-Enterprise, WikiPedia

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