Tag Archives: alameda county courthouse

WPA Murals at the Courthouse

So remember a few months ago (actually, January… yikes!) when I went to The Alameda County Courthouse?  I mentioned a couple of imposing marble mosaic murals that somehow, despite their large size (15 feet tall) and proximity to the main entrance of the building, I missed.

Well, I was back at the Courthouse last Friday and can happily say, I’ve seen them now and am bringing them to you a mere 6 months later.  Phew.

First an explanation…  The main entrance and lobby which feature the lovely artworks, are no longer the main entrance and lobby.  The entire area has been cordoned off, and signs warn visitors that venturing beyond the ropes will set off the alarm system.  Did I listen? Of course not.

I wasn’t going to try to exit that part of the building which has now, sadly, been designated an emergency exit only.  But I was going to sneak closer to get a few better shots of these beauties…

The alarms signaled immediately. That’s it, I thought.  I’m done for. They’re coming for me.  But I might as well get the shots!

I probably set that damn alarm off five times before a security guard came and said, “Hey, you’re setting the alarm off.”  But I just want to take a picture of the pretty artwork sir. “OK.”  And then he left.  Nice security.

marble mosaic murals, terrazo floors, alameda county courthouse

Here are the two murals, mosaics created out of colored marble with backing of silver and gold leaf… created through the WPA (Works Progress Administration), a federal funding program that was established in 1935 to “provide economic relief to the citizens of the United States who were suffering through the Great Depression.” Think stimulus funds, but 75 years ago. Amazingly, a significant chunk of this money went to fund art projects. (wpamurals.com)

The murals, designed by Marian Simpson and sculpted by Gaetano Duccini were completed in 1938.  The first depicts Native American and Hispanic history of Alameda County, while the second portrays the settlement of the area by frontier settlers.

marble mosaic mural, marian simpson marble mural, alameda county courthouse

marble mosaic murals, WPA murals, courthouse murals, marian simpson marble murals

I’m in awe of the fact that these are constructed out of colored stone…. it’s some incredible craftsmanship. It’s too bad we can’t readily view them as they were intended to be viewed.

Rather you must now enter the courthouse through a side door to pass through “airport security” before entering the building.  And should you want to sneak a peak, you can do so only while sirens wail as you wait for the man in the uniform to come for you.

The Alameda County Courthouse

So today I had to run a quick errand to the Courthouse… yea right!

All I can say is the entire experience was an incredible exercise in patience (I am not a patient person).

I like to consider myself a bit of a task-master (capable, efficient, etc.) I did my research. I knew where I needed to go. The document I downloaded from the internet directed me to my local courthouse – Wiley W. Manuel in West Oakland. I went there, waited in line, partially undressed to go through the metal detector and security screening, made my way to the second floor where I was supposed to find the Court Self-Help Center. Instead, I found a locked door with a PDF taped to the window stating that the self-help center had been moved. Mind you… this was the same PDF I had located on the internet and printed out, however the information here was different. Apparently no one bothered to update the web. Argh.

I then made my way to the correct location… the iconic Rene C. Davidson Courthouse, perched on the Southwest corner of Lake Merritt. Waited again in line, went through the metal detector and screening, made my way to the second floor… Room 240 where I expected to find the Court Self-Help Center. Instead I found a series of flyers stating that the Self-Help Center had been moved to the first floor, Room 109.

I could go on and on… two more lines, then directed to the basement, only to be told to go across the street to the Family Law Library, then back to the Courthouse, back through the security screening, back in line… You get my drift.

What should have been a simple 15 minute procedure took me 2 1/2 hours. Jeeezzzz…

The positive side is I got a nice look at this beautiful building, during a thin slice of blue sky and sunshine today. I refer to it as iconic because it’s frequently featured as an Oakland landmark in illustrated and photographic materials… like this vintage style postcard on Our Oakland’s Greetings From Oakland post. Which reminds me… did you all notice my new blogroll? Right-hand side… scroll down. Check it out, there’s some great stuff~!

Rene C. Davidson Courthouse, alameda county court

This is actually Alameda County’s Fifth Courthouse. The fourth was a real stunner, built in the Parisian Second Empire Style with a domed central tower and four miniature corner towers… see historical photo below. It was opened in 1875, located between 4th and 5th Streets at Broadway, and for over 50 years served “as a powerful symbol of the importance and wealth of what was then California’s fourth most populous county.” Sadly, it fell out of favor before the modern historic preservation movement and was ultimately replaced and eventually demolished. (Courthouse historical placard)

alameda county courthouse

Our current courthouse, the Rene C. Davidson, was constructed in the mid-1930′s through the passage of a $1.7 million bond measure, supplemented by Public Works Administration (PWA) funds. The building, consisting reinforced concrete over a steel frame, features exterior surfaces of California granite and terra cotta trim. Designed by prominent local architects William Corlett, Henry Minton, James Plachek, William Schirmer, and Carl Werner, the main facade of the building faces Lake Merritt (I actually shot the back from 12th Street) and opens to spacious lobby featuring fifteen foot high marble mosaic murals depicting county history. Wish I had pictures of those to share but I somehow missed seeing them while being funneled from line to line. Guess I’ll have to go back…