Part One: Library and Courts I renovation

Just before World War I, California agencies (then “departments”) were becoming increasingly comfortable in fog-cooled San Francisco. Post-earthquake San Francisco had new buildings galore while Sacramento offered only the historic, yet small, Capitol building. Government business (including that of the Supreme Court and the California State Library) was migrating west, and it looked as if it would stay there. Someone had to do something.

Faced with San Francisco’s commodious charm, state leaders, including State Librarian James L. Gillis, got to work. They launched a bond proposal for an astounding $700,000. They secured a good chunk of land on the west side of the Capitol, and they reeled in one of the nation’s greatest architects, Charles Peter Weeks. It took over a decade and a few more bond measures but in 1928 California’s capital had what it needed, an architectural and cultural anchor, the Capitol Extension Complex featuring the Library and Courts Building and its sister building, the Office Building. Though drably named, the twin classical buildings facing each other over an elegant circle changed downtown Sacramento and lodged state government in the capitol.

Updating a masterwork

A masterwork of neo-classical design, for over 80 years the Library and Courts Building has embodied the dignity and longevity of state government, and the great State Library and Supreme Court it houses. This landmark, now on the National Register of Historic Places, is rich with Edward Field Sanford sculptures and statues, Italian marble colonnades, a Sierra White granite lobby, Maynard Dixon and Frank Van Sloun narrative murals, mosaic floors, and emblematic friezes. The building has done its job: it deserves a makeover. Starting this year, the Library and Courts Building will undergo a complete renovation.

Through 2011, communication technology and structural experts will be working with preservationists, architectural historians, and state representatives to outfit Library and Courts with 21st century technologies, to make it safe and accessible, and to restore its early 20th century grandeur. Once renovated, Library and Courts will be a streamlined e-haven for 21st century government business.

The state contractors’ 2-year task is formidable. In addition to building a new telecommunication infrastructure, they will make fire and life safety upgrades, including improving emergency exits and adding fire suppression systems and alarms.  They will replace the elevators’ mechanical controls and operating devices while retaining the antique wood paneling. They will remodel the main lobby and restrooms so that those areas comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. And they will repair the building’s roof and its exterior “skin” (which includes historic Gladding, McBean terra cotta from the second floor up), both of which would pose falling hazards during an earthquake.

Making it cool, literally

As part of the state of California’s support of environmentally sound design, Pella McCormick, California Department of General Services (DGS) project director, reports the state is going for a U.S. Green Building Council ‘LEED’ rating of Silver, and that the renovated landmark will contain innovative energy and sustainability features. To encourage bike commuters, the basement will have full shower and locker areas for men and women. To prevent heating and air-conditioning waste, energy-saving equipment will replace antiquated heating and ventilation apparatus. To preserve water, efficient fixtures will be added to the landscape irrigation and the building’s plumbing. Further, the state will use sustainable products for changeable items such as carpets which will be California gold standard.

To safeguard the Library and Court’s design integrity though, contractors will not replace the old windows. McCormick says “We will only repair the windows and put a clear film on them to help with glare and heat gain. We’re also adding an automatic shade system, or window coverings.”

Safely renovating, creatively upgrading

DGS retained project architects Carey and Company to conduct the renovation. The firm’s list of past projects is long, and boasts some California’s most beloved architectural gems: the Marin Civic Center (a Frank Lloyd Wright design), San Francisco City Hall, the California State Capitol, the Utah State Capitol, and the Noe Valley Branch of the  San Francisco Public Library.

Carey and Company has recruited an architectural conservationist to consult with the team as it peels away decades of wear and hasty add-ons. Working from original 1920’s drawings, they will make the building come alive, opening-up light wells to shed natural light on statuary and murals dimmed for decades. McCormick says “The grand staircase, the sculptures in the library circulation room, and the decorative painting on ceilings will appear almost new. She emphasizes that the state will not “do anything” to the great Maynard Dixon murals but protect them. “Caring for California’s treasures is one of our top priorities,” McCormick says.

Since the 1920’s, California’s Library and Courts Building has been a great architectural fixture in the Sacramento capital. In just over two years, with its original glory restored, Library and Courts will be ready to make history again.

For more information about the renovation of the Stanley Mosk Library and Courts Building, please contact the Office of the State Librarian at (916) 654-0266.

Editor’s note: This article will be reprinted in the October/November 2008 issue of the CSL Foundation Bulletin. Portions of the article will also be on the California State Library website at:




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