The Santa Barbara County Courthouse joined the likes of the U.S. Capitol Building, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Alamo Thursday evening, when United States Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton announced its designation as a national historical landmark.
Speaking on behalf of the National Office of Historic Preservation and the historical landmark protection program Preserve America, Norton officially declared the courthouse to be a national landmark at a 5:30 p.m. ceremony held at the Sunken Gardens behind the courthouse. Local, state and federal politicians addressed an audience of approximately 100 local residents at the ceremony, which was also attended by a small group of protesters from the Channel Islands Animal Protection Association (CHIAPA) who demonstrated to call attention to the ongoing killing of feral pigs on Santa Cruz Island.
During her speech, Norton said the courthouse qualifies for national landmark status because of its historical significance and because it embodies ideals like equality and justice.
“This courthouse also means a lot to the nation,” Norton said. “It is a standing monument of American history. One of the criteria for designating a national historic landmark is that it represents some sort of American ideal.”
Santa Barbara County First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal said that each year, thousands of visitors from all over the world come to see the courthouse, and it is one of the foremost symbols of Santa Barbara.
“The citizens in our county take unique pride in our Santa Barbara courthouse,” Carbajal said. “This majestic building is treasured by residents throughout the area.”
The Courthouse Legacy Foundation and the County Architect’s Office applied for and organized the dedication of the courthouse as one of California’s 128 national historic landmarks.
President Naomi Schwartz of the Courthouse Legacy Foundation, which is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the courthouse, said the building’s new designation qualifies the group to apply for special funding that is reserved for preservation of national landmarks.
“The National Historic Landmark status will make us eligible to apply for certain grants that are only available to projects that are national historic landmarks,” Schwartz said. “In other words, it will open up new streams of funding for us.”
Schwartz said the landmark is important to Santa Barbara because, in addition to its role as the seat of the county judicial system, it also serves as a gathering place for the community.
“It is also important for the community because the courthouse is a living space,” Schwartz said. “So much goes on inside and outside the building.”
Throughout the dedication ceremony, CHIAPA members stood behind a barricade about 75 yards away from the stage, where Norton joined speakers including Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville — who is currently presiding over the Michael Jackson trial — and representatives for Congresswoman Lois Capps and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
CHIAPA founder Rob Puddicombe said he was there to inform Norton of the group’s ideals because, he said, she has the power to stop the killing of 4,000 non-native pigs on Santa Cruz Island. He said the pigs were brought to the island in the 1850s and are now being targeted for eradication by The Nature Conservancy — the nonprofit nature preservation group that maintains the island in conjunction with the National Parks Service — because they are not native to the area’s ecosystem.
“Gail Norton, the secretary of the interior, is the person with ultimate authority over the park service and therefore, the Channel Islands,” Puddicombe said. “She is the big cheese. She answers directly to President Bush.”