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Marin County Courthouse

(Frank Lloyd Wright), also brief visit to Robert Louis Stevenson Museum and dinner at Culinary Institute of America (CIA)

sunny 70 °F

Tuesday was an errands day, so I didn't write a separate blog entry for it.

Today however was a major day for me on this trip. I finally made it to the Marin County Courthouse, which was the last Ebuilding designed by Frank Lloyd Wright! I didn't just make it to the courthouse, I took the docent tour - and loved every minute of it. This was a big deal to me, this building is to blame for my closet obsession with FLW. When I was a kid, we occasionally drove up Hwy 101 north of San Francisco to visit my Mom's relatives in Petaluma and Glen Ellen. Every time we drove through San Rafael, I'd see this most unusual building and was fascinated by it. Later I learned it was a Frank Lloyd Wright building, and while I was no longer in this part of the country, I did have the opportunity to visit his original home in Oak Park, Illinois and also walked around several of the homes he designed in that area. Later I had a chance to visit Falling Waters, his fantastic design in Pennsylvania. I did stop by the Marin County Courthouse once, but when I asked someone in the parking lot about touring the building, they told me (incorrectly) that it was only open to the public for tours on Wednesdays. They only give tours on Wednesdays at 10:30 AM, but it is open to the public all week.

At any event, today at 10:30 I took the tour. Marin County had purchased a former dairy farm for the purpose of building a new county facility and interviewed several architects. There were several small hills on the site and all of the other architects recommended bulldozing the hills flat. Frank Lloyd Wright proposed instead to incorporate the hills into the design. At first, he didn't have a plan for the building, but they signed a contract with him anyway (he was already quite famous at this time of course). The county commissioners gave him carte blanche, and the 90 year old architect went to work. Reading some of the newspaper clippings on display, it wasn't all that rosy. People complained about signing a contract with an architect without a clue about what sort of design he'd deliver. Later after construction had already started, it was actually halted as a new board of commissioners voted to stop the work as the new building would cost the taxpayers too much money. Public support for the project finally swayed the commission however and the building was completed (on schedule and on budget by the way).

FLW never got to see the building, he died at 92 before it was completed. However, many, many people have enjoyed it ever since. It has also been used in several movies, including Gattaca and Star Wars (scenes from the planat Naboo).

While it was hard to get a bad picture of the building, it is hard to get a good overview from up close so I'm including a shot of one of the models that shows how it straddles the small hills. Wright's concept was a sort of Roman Aquaduct.


This shows the longer wing which is the Hall of Justice. It is 880' feet long and ranges from two to four stories depending on where you are (relative to the hills and the arches). There is a jail buried in the hill under the octagional roof, so prisoners can be transported to court through tunnels. To the left is an 80' dome, under which is the county commission chambers and also a library. The left wing houses the county administrative offices and is a little shorter then the right, 580' long.

The entry to the buildings is through the arch in the center.


There are a couple of art decco doors leading to an escalator.


FLW's original plan was for the building to have gold anondized paint for the roofs, but the paint products available at the time would not have stood up to the damp weather in Marin county, so his widow later suggested blue such as he'd used in other projects.


Another famous part of the structure is the 172' gold spire which originally held a radio transmitter and exhaust vent.


The spire is at the edge of a patio off the cafeteria (Room 233, where the tour begins), with a lovely pool and gardens. This is also near the center complex (under the dome) where the two wings meet.


Here's another view of the patio from above.


Another feature that isn't visible from the freeway is all the anondized aluminum 'balls' along the roof line. These extend the full length of the building, both inside and outside. FLW used these to break up the flat roof line. This view is from the patio on the hill at the end of the Admin wing.


There are two separate roofs/sides to each of the two wings. Originally, they were open to the sky - however it rains in Marin County more than FLW realized, so were covered over fairly quickly.


Inside, between the two sides, are atriums with offices, courtrooms, etc. along both sides. The top openings are wider and get narrower in each floor to allow as much light as possible to reach the bottom. This also results in very dramatic views throughout the interior of the building.


I also found the views through the round window openings very cool.


There was a meeting (celebration) starting shortly in the commissioners room, but we were allowed in briefly. This is under the dome in the center of the complex, which FLW left as a round room (quite unique at the time). Artistic details in a FLW building are never in short supply, even the recessed sections of the ceiling for the light fixtures.


The top room under the dome was the library. A cardboard cutout of Frank Lloyd Wright was supposedly full size, hmm,


So after the tour, I hung around a little longer taking pictures (trust me, I only uploaded a small portion of lot!). Then I bought some lunch in the cafe and ate out on that lovely patio, then headed back to Calistoga.

Again, we'd seen so many beautiful roses in this area I had to include another rose picture?


It was still relatively early, so I decided to take Mom down to the Robert Louis Stevenson museum we'd seen in St. Helena. I tried taking some pictures inside, but they didn't come out very good (probably should have used a flash), but this one of a statue outside is nice. It was inspired by a "Childs Garden of Verses", a book of poems he wrote.


Stevenson wasn't from this area, but honeymooned in Calastoga and liked the area so much that he wrote a book about it (Silverado Squatters), so they figured they have as much a right to have a museum about him as any place. It's small (just a large room really), but nice and has a lot of information.

We killed a little time here and at the adjacent library, then headed to the CIA. No, not that CIA, but the Culinary Institute of America - a cooking school housed in the former Christian Brothers Winery.


I'd never heard of this before, but I guess those into culinary arts are quite familiar with it. We didn't take a tour (I think they give tours), but were a little early for dinner, so visited the main building briefly and went through the kitchen store - which included a chocolate tasting...


My pictures of the restaraunt didn't come out too good either, but if you can see it - a table near us had a centerpiece of a tree!


And my shot of the Gazpacho came out pretty good, the gazpacho was pretty good too.


The rest of the dinner was mixed, some dishes were excellant - others not so much so. Overall, it was a very pricey meal for mixed quality. Maybe why there weren't very many customers? Anyway, it was an interesting experience and we both had fun talking with our student waitress, Sara.

Posted by jl98584 09:16 Archived in USA

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