The Old Orange County Courthouse: Santa Ana, CA’s Hidden Gem

The Historical Significance

Nestled in the heart of Santa Ana, CA, the Old Orange County Courthouse is a testament to the region’s rich history. This grand building, completed in 1901, is Southern California’s oldest court building.

It has been a silent witness to numerous events that have shaped Orange County into what it is today. From its dedication, this granite and sandstone marvel has been the traditional home of county government, serving various functions over the years.

The courthouse is not just an old building; it’s a living museum of Orange County’s past. It has been listed as a State of California Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places. These designations are not just for show; they reflect the building’s integral role in the community and its preservation for future generations.

The courthouse is a place where history has been made. Over the years, it has been the scene of several essential and far-reaching court cases, including People vs. Termo Corporation in 1933, which had implications for off-shore oil drilling, and the highly publicized People of California vs. Gollum and Overell in 1947.

Architectural Marvel

The Old Orange County Courthouse is a masterpiece in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, designed by Charles L. Strange. This architectural style was famous for government buildings at the end of the 19th century and is characterized by heavy, rough-cut stone blocks, broad towers, and rounded arches.

The courthouse’s red Arizona sandstone façade has become an iconic Orange County government landmark, standing out amidst the modern civic center complex that has grown around it.

Between 1983 and 1992, the courthouse underwent significant seismic upgrades and a restoration project. These efforts aimed to preserve the building’s public spaces in their original 1901 appearance. The project was not just about aesthetics; it was a necessary intervention to address the building’s aging façade, which had shown signs of significant erosion and cracking.

The restoration project was comprehensive, extending to the building’s interior. Concrete bond beams, historic wood windows, and transom stone ledges on the third floor were all part of the repair work.

The project also included securing and patching the sandstone façade and window ledges, cleaning, repairing, resealing, and repainting all the wood windows on three floors, and replacing copper roofing and drain at the decorative stone balcony.

Inside the Old Orange County Courthouse

Stepping inside the Old Orange County Courthouse is like taking a journey back in time. The facility accommodates the Orange County History Center, encompassing the Orange County Archives and the Old Courthouse Museum.

These institutions serve as repositories of the county’s rich history, offering information and artifacts that tell the story of Orange County and its people.

The courthouse is not just a place for historians and researchers; it’s a space that invites community engagement. The exhibition gallery displays temporary and permanent exhibits relating to local and regional history. These exhibits are carefully curated to offer visitors a nuanced understanding of the events and personalities shaping the county.

The courthouse brings it to life in the most authentic setting for those interested in the judicial system. Children and adults can see the oldest courtroom in Southern California, and educational tours can accommodate up to 75 students. These tours are informative and free of charge, making the courthouse an accessible educational resource for the community.

A Hollywood Connection

The courthouse has another claim to fame; it’s a star in its own right. The rich wood, ornate judge’s bench, period chandeliers, and high ornamented ceiling of Courtroom No. One has made it a perfect Hollywood set. Over the years, the courthouse has appeared in various movies and TV shows, adding a touch of authenticity to the silver screen.

In 1915, the courthouse was used for the silent film “The Flying Torpedo,” supervised by D.W. Griffith. Other notable movies shot in part here include “Compulsion” featuring Orson Welles, “Norma Rae” with Sally Field, and “Legally Blonde” starring Reese Witherspoon. Each film project brought a bit of Hollywood glamour to this otherwise solemn building, making it a part of pop culture history.

But it’s not just the movies that have found a home here. The courthouse has also been the backdrop for numerous TV shows, documentaries, and music videos. This dual role as a working courthouse and a film set makes it unique, blending the every day with the extraordinary.

Community Engagement

The Old Orange County Courthouse is also a community hub. Over the years, it has been a popular venue for weddings, with many residents having fond memories of tying the knot in this historic setting.

The courthouse offers more than just a picturesque backdrop; it provides a sense of continuity, linking the present with the past.

The building continues to serve the public in various capacities. It’s not just a relic of the past but a living, breathing part of Orange County. It is open to anyone interested in learning about local history, making a wedding ceremony, or admiring architecture. It’s a place that belongs to the community and tells the story of Orange County and its people.

Visiting the Old Orange County Courthouse

For those planning to visit, the Old Orange County Courthouse is at 211 W. Santa Ana Blvd., Santa Ana, CA. Metered parking is available, and walk-in visitors are always welcome during regular business hours. Group tours can be scheduled, and admission to the exhibit gallery is free.

The courthouse offers various amenities, including restrooms and areas for special events like a wedding ceremony. It’s not just a place to visit; it’s a place to experience, engage with history, and become part of Orange County’s rich tapestry.

So, the next time you’re in Santa Ana, take a moment to visit this historic landmark. It’s not just a trip to a building; it’s a journey through time, a way to connect with the community, and perhaps even a chance to make your history.

Conclusion

The Old Orange County Courthouse is more than a historic landmark; it’s a living, breathing part of Orange County. From its architectural grandeur to its role in the community, the courthouse is a treasure trove of stories waiting to be discovered.

It’s a place that invites exploration, education, and a bit of nostalgia. So, why not take a trip down memory lane and visit this iconic building? After all, history is not just something you read about; it’s something you experience.

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