Courthouse Docent Council restores ornate lantern
The massive, ornate lantern that hangs from the ceiling just inside the Anacapa Street entrance to the Santa Barbara County Courthouse has probably been largely unnoticed by the many visitors and people who work there.
But not by members of the Courthouse Docent Council, who recently took on the project of cleaning and refurbishing the 10-foot-tall lighting fixture, along with the small pendant that hangs from the bottom.
“The lantern was installed when the courthouse was built in 1929 and had never been cleaned. One of the first things we had to do was carefully remove the birds’ nests. Families have lived there since the lantern was first placed in the open air entry,” said Rodney Baker, a docent for 12 years who spearheaded the work as project chairman for the council.
“The cleaning began two years ago but stopped when the courthouse was closed because of the pandemic. Actually, the shutdown worked in our favor because we were able to lower the lantern to the floor to work on it without impeding foot traffic,” Mr. Baker told the News-Press. “It had to be lowered on a winch from the attic. What might have taken months took weeks.”
The work was done by Ann Kale, an architectural lighting expert; Powell Electric and Holroyd Studios. Ms. Kale also designed the lighting in the Mural Room. Powell staff installed the new lighting hardware.
“Holroyd has worked on the cleaning, repair and conservation of all the Courthouse lamps,” said Mr. Baker, who retired as chief engineer for Cox Communications after a 30-year-career.
“When the lantern was raised and the lights turned on, the impact was breathtaking. It illuminated the spectacular ceiling above, which was painted by John Smeraldi. It is a fine example of Mudejar art, a mixture of Spanish and Moorish art.”
According to Google, Mr. Smeraldi, who died in 1947, was born in Palermo, Italy, and studied art with the great masters at the time. His murals are still viewed in the Vatican, the Blue Room in the White House and Grand Central Station among many other famous places.
He made ceilings the focus of his paintings in the U.S.
The lantern also lights up a painting on a nearby wall by Albert Gilbert Cram, an American painter who received his fine art education in the East, studying under William Merritt chase.
He later moved to San Diego, working mostly with Western scenes. He was also an etcher and an illustrator for the U.S. government. Three of his large-scale paintings hang in the Courthouse.
Funds for the project, which cost about $6,000, came from the docent-operated information booth, where postcards and other souvenirs are sold, and donations are accepted.
A newer source of funds comes from the AmazonSmile Foundation, which donates 0.5% of the purchase price from customers’ eligible purchases to the charitable organization they select when they shop on AmazonSmile.
Although the Santa Barbara County Courthouse remains closed to the public, visitors can take a collection of self-guided tours provided by the Courthouse Docent Council. A QR code on the lawn sign in front of the main Anacapa Street entrance allows mobile devices and tablets to access an internet-based menu of four tours.
They are also available directly at sbcourthouse.org.
The initial Self-Guided Exterior Tour, launched last year highlighting architectural features, has been enhanced by the addition of the most interesting exotic plantings surrounding the site.
Two interactive interior tours can also be taken remotely. The Mural Room Tour explains the iconic enclosure from a wall-to-wall perspective, and the tour of the Clock Tower Interior, takes the user up the tile-lined staircase, views the Mudejar ceiling and the majestic religious symbols of the second-floor lobby, then continues through the Bisno-Schall Clock gallery to the top viewing deck.
The three physical feature tours are supplemented by an interactive timeline tour, called “Our Story,” which gives insight into the historic California events that led to the Courthouse creation.
“The development team is now working on a people section to provide biographical background of the creators and influencers responsible for what has been called the most beautiful public building in America,” said Mr. Baker.