The Old Orange County Courthouse, formerly known as the Santa Ana County Courthouse, is a Romanesque Revival structure located on Civic Center and Broadway streets in Santa Ana’s Historic Downtown District. The Old Orange County Courthouse is a California Historical Landmark No. 837 that is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The newly formed County of Orange purchased the land where the Old Courthouse now stands from William Spurgeon, the founder of Santa Ana, in 1893 with the express intent of erecting a permanent courthouse. However, the first structure built on that lot was not a courthouse, but the county jail, which opened in 1897. The County Board of Supervisors did not commission Los Angeles architect Charles Strange to build a courthouse until 1900. His design was very similar to that of an Iowa county courthouse, which was not lost on the early Orange County citizens, many of whom had moved from the Midwest. The new courthouse intended to be the most spectacular structure in Orange County in the early twentieth century.
The structure was finally dedicated in November 1901, after seventeen months of construction. It hosted the majority of County government services. Superior court only required one courtroom, but by 1914, a second courtroom was required. The Old Courthouse became unable to meet all of the needs of local government as the population of Orange County and the rest of Southern California expanded. Additional structures were built, and surrounding hotels and churches were rented out for offices and courtrooms. Despite repeated efforts to rebuild and enlarge the historic Courthouse, the structure remained mostly unaltered.
Several significant and far-reaching court cases were heard at the Old Courthouse. The bench concluded in People vs. Termo Corporation (1933) that the State of California was entitled to royalties for easements for offshore oil drilling. In Irvine Co. vs. California Employment Commission, the court ruled in 1941 that all employees of a big farm operation were still constituted agricultural labor and thus protected from the Unemployment Insurance Act. Hundreds of people gathered to the Old Courthouse for a peek of one of the defendants during one of the most notable cases of its time, People of California v. Gollum and Overell (1947). Despite the fact that the accused were acquitted, new laws for the sale and purchase of explosives were imposed. Chimel v. California (1965), which was eventually heard by the United States Supreme Court, established new criteria for search and arrest.
In 1969, the courts relocated from the Old Courthouse to a new and larger facility on Civic Center Drive in Santa Ana. Soon after, the Old Courthouse was named a California State Historic Landmark and included on the National Register of Historic Places for its historical significance. The Old Courthouse’s restoration effort began in 1983 and was finished in 1992.
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