The Turret & The Watch Tower

The Santa Barbara County Courthouse (1927-29) was designed by William Mooser and Company during the period immediately following the earthquake of 1925. The Courthouse of the time was so seriously damaged that a new structure needed to be built. It was a time when the Spanish Colonial Revival style was emerging as the style du jour and its use for a major public building was quickly embraced by the community. Santa Barbara, like many communities of the time, allocated the resources so that its civic architecture would symbolize the best of the community. The building, designed with great vision, is grand in scale, expansive in function, and exquisite in detail.

The community envisioned a building that would not only include a ceremonial meeting room for the Board of Supervisors, house the various functions of the courts, but interestingly enough, also incorporated the jail. The latter function was housed in the southeast corner tower of the building and its solitary confinement cells were on the highest floor (shown here). Rather than leave the jail’s tower as an unadorned mass, the architects embellished this portion of their “castle” with a turret, or as the docents at the courthouse call it, the Watch Tower.

As with most Watch Towers found on castles from the Iberian Peninsula, they were relatively small architectural elements hung on the side of a tower. Ironically, in the building where we are all sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, the architect’s Watch Tower is a bit of a lie – it has never been used for that function, nor for that matter, any other function since there is no way into or out of it! But glossing over this minor transgression, we find an architectural element that is both charming and absolutely necessary to lift an otherwise plain cement plaster tower into prominence. The Watch Tower is capped with a copper roof, and contains beautifully detailed carvings that provide it with just enough pizzazz to confidently finish this corner of the building.