The Alameda County Courthouse (officially, René C. Davidson Courthouse) is Alameda County’s 5th Courthouse, built from 1934–36. It is the third building in Oakland to house the Alameda County Court, replacing the courthouse originally built in 1875, and was funded through the New Deal WPA program at a construction cost of $1,657,890.
Architecture and Ornament
The courthouse is a fine example of WPA Moderne (aka “Greco Deco”). Pay particular attention to the low relief eagle on top of the entrance, and the metalwork on the balcony railings and elevator doors. The ornamentation is understated, but it is there.
The base is granite, and the tower is exposed concrete with terra cotta ornament (also typical of the style and period).
The most striking features are in the lobby: two 10′×30′ marble mosaics, backed with gold and silver leaf. “Exploration” depicts the Native American and Hispanic history of Alameda County, while “Settling of California” depicts the settlement of the area by frontier settlers.”1 A caption in the bottom left corner says “WPA Federal Arts Project 1938 – artist Marian Simpson – Gaetano Duccini architect.”
Learn more at Oaktown Art.
Plaques on the Outside
A plaque on the courthouse’s outside wall reads:
In 1933 the Oakland Tribune called for voters to support a new bond measure to replace the “antiquated and condemned” county buildings with a modern courthouse and administration building.
The measure failed that year, but carried in April, 1934. Totaling $1.7 million, the bond was supplemented by $462,000 in Public Works Administration (PWA) funds to allow for the construction of the 235,000 square foot courthouse that now stands before you.
Designed by a team of locally prominent architects - William Corlett, Henry Minton, James Plachek, William Schirmer, and Carl Werner - the courthouse was dedicated on September 6, 1936, following twenty months of construction. The steel frame and reinforced concrete building feature exterior surfaces of California granite and terra cotta trim. The main façade of the building, overlooking Lake Merritt, opens to a spacious lobby whose stairway is flanked by fifteen-foot-high marble mosaic murals depicting county history and created by artist Marian Simpson of Berkeley and sculptor Gaetano Duccini of San Francisco. The first and second floors were designed to hold public offices; courtrooms occupy the third through the eighth floors; and the District Attorney’s office occupies the entire ninth floor. A jail with space for over 100 detainees occupies the tenth and eleventh floors, while an observation cupola flanked with eagles crowns the building 200 feet above its base.
Damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, this outstanding example of “PWA Moderne” architecture was completely rehabilitated and continues to actively serve the citizens of Alameda County.
On July 14, 2013, during the protests following the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the plaques on the side of the court house covered in red spray paint. The walls were painted with "FTP," "Kill Zimmerman" and "Kill Cops."
1225 Fallon Street, Oakland, California 94612
Links and References
- Alameda County Court House official website