Santa Clara County History

History of Santa Clara County

The Public Buildings of the County--Many Locations of the County Court House--Changes Made by the Legislature--Futile Attempt to Regain the State Capital--The County Hospital and Almshouse.

The county buildings today are models of beauty, size and convenience. The evolution from the primitive structures of the early days is both remarkable and interesting. For some time after the Americans took possession of affairs the old Juzgado on Market Street, San Jose, was used as a court house. It was poorly arranged for such a purpose and in 1850, better though temporary quarters were secured in a building on First Street opposite Fountain Alley. Another change, to the Bella Union building, where the Auzerais House now stands, was soon made and court was held here until 1851 when the old state house on Market Plaza was purchased from the city, the selection having been made by Judge Redman. The building seems to have been looked upon by the people as common property and they were accustomed to hold all sorts of meetings and entertainments there. This was considered by the county government as an infringement of its dignity and in July, 1852, the sheriff was ordered to "take charge of the court house and allow no dances, shows or balls to be held therein." This order elicited such a cry of indignation from the people that within two days after its issuance, it was modified so as to allow the use of the building as an assembly hall and place of amusement, but the sheriff was instructed to collect for such uses a sufficient amount to pay the fees of a janitor and watchman.

The old state house having been burned, the court house was removed to the adobe building on Lightston Street, owned by Frank Lightston, and the officers again began to look about for a permanent location. Levi Goodrich was appointed as architect and directed to present plans and specifications, the idea being to rebuild on the old lot on Market Plaza. The plans were drawn and the clerk was directed to call for bids, but before anything further was done A. S. Caldwell offered to sell the county the lot and building at the southeast corner of Second and San Fernando Streets. A committee was appointed and reported that the building, with a little alteration, could be made suitable for a court house, and the purchase was made. The price paid was $4000. In December, 1853, this building was officially declared to be the county court house, the same order setting apart the south room on the lower floor as the district court room. The county sold the state house outside lot to a Mr. Briggs for $500, reserving the right to use the jail thereon until a new jail could be built. The county occupied its new quarters for sixteen years when it became necessary to have enlarged accommodations. An order was made offering $100 for the best plan for a new court house.

Pending this matter the clerk was authorized to negotiate with the San Jose Common Council for the temporary use of the second story of the city hall on Market Street for a court room. This resulted in a two years' lease, in return for which the county gave the city the use of a portion of the lot at the corner of San Fernando and Second Streets. The exchange was effected in August, 1860. In the latter part of this year Levi Goodrich presented plans for a new building. The plans were adopted and he received the premium of $100 offered therefor. In March, 1861, the board of supervisors asked Hon. A. L. Rhodes, state senator, to procure the passage of an act by the Legislature authorizing the county to issue bonds to pay for the building. They also directed Mr. Goodrich to prepare working drawings.

The lease of the city hall expired in 1862. At that time Martin Murphy was finishing his brick building on Market Street--the property now mainly occupied by Hart's department store. He offered to rent to the county the upper floor of these buildings for $190 per month and finish them in a manner suitable for use as county offices, the large hall at the corner of Market and El Dorado Streets to be used as a court room. The county accepted the offer and took a five years' lease, with the privilege of renewal. This was the last location of the court house prior to the construction of the present building.

Two years elapsed before anything was done toward the erection of a new court house. During that time there grew up a sentiment that the old lot at the corner of Second and San Fernando Streets was not a suitable location and the supervisors were urged to purchase another lot. There was some opposition to this suggestion and heated debates were held over it at the board meetings. Two of the supervisors, Messrs. Quinby and Yates, were opposed to buying another lot and when a resolution to change the location was adopted, voted in the negative. Among the sites offered to the board was the one now occupied by the court house. It was owned by W. H. Hall, who offered to sell it to the county for $5000. The title having been found valid, the purchase was consummated. The original tract was 137 1/2 feet front on First Street by 275 feet deep. Afterward more frontage was purchased.

Work on the court house was pushed as rapidly as possible and on January 1, 1868, the county officers took possession. Originally there was but one court room, the ceiling of which extended to the roof. In 1879 a floor was laid, cutting this apartment into two rooms as they now are. Another room, which had been used for a county office, was made over into a third court room, the new constitution, just adopted, having provided for three Superior Courts for Santa Clara County. The cost of the building was about $200,000. When completed it was the finest court house in California. It is of the Roman-Corinthian order of architecture and overlooks St. James Park, whose luxuriance lends pleasure to the eye. Its foundation is of the utmost durability, the walls resting on a substructure of concrete to a depth of six feet and of a like number of feet in thickness. Ponderous brick arches support the lower floor, while all the walls are of the same material, the basement ones being four feet in thickness and the upper ones twenty-one inches. Above the basement the building has two stories and its dimensions are in frontage, 100 feet; in depth, including the portico, 140 feet. The height to the cornices fifty-six feet, and it is 150 feet to the top of the dome, the least diameter of which is seventeen and the greatest fifty feet. Its portico, a magnificent specimen of columnated facade, showing in its fine proportions, richness, strength and beauty, is seventy-six feet in length. the height of the columns being thirty-eight and the diameter four feet. The windows, which are of the finest French plate glass, are each surmounted with pediments, those on the lower story being arched. Each window frame is made of highly ornamented cast iron, the whole weighing, with iron shutters, about 3600 pounds. The roof is covered with zinc. The tower, from which a magnificent view of the city and valley can be obtained, finds light from eleven elliptical windows, surmounted with an iron railing forty-two inches in height, and is reached by a staircase with 172 steps. There are three landings, so as to make the ascent comparatively easy. This noble structure is divided into rooms, one fitted up for the board of supervisors and the remainder apportioned to those of the county officers who do not have rooms in the Hall of Records building adjoining on the north. The courts are finely appointed, that of Department 1 being of noble proportions, sixty-five by forty-eight feet. The entire exterior of the structure is of imitation stone. The main entrance is gained by an ascent of thirteen granite steps, and here, high overhead, stands out in bold relief the motto, "Justicia Dedicata."

No sooner was this splendid building completed than an overpowering sense of magnificence seized upon the board of supervisors, for they made strenuous efforts to make their court house the headquarters of the State Legislature, the removal of which from Sacramento to some more central position then being seriously considered. What more natural than that the first capital of the state should try to regain its lost honors. On February 4, 1868, the minutes of the board showed the following:

"Resolved, That in the event of the General Assembly of the State of California determining to remove the State Capital to the County of Santa Clara, the Board of Supervisors of the said County of Santa Clara tender to the state, the free and entire use of the Court House of said County for state purposes, until such time as a Capitol building may be erected in said County, provided that the Capitol building shall be erected in five years."

The next day another motion, as follows, was carried: "Resolved, That the Honorable the Members of the Legislature and attaches thereof, one and all, are hereby invited to inspect for themselves its eligibility as a seat of government for this state, prior to any final action touching that subject matter; and the hospitalities of the city and county will be cordially extended to them." These orders were rescinded June 15, 1872.

A new county jail was built in the rear of the Court House in 1871. The plans of Levi Goodrich for a brick structure were adopted. The cost was about $60,000. The main prison, 120x42 feet and 21 feet high, is built on a solid brick foundation with granite water tables. The walls are 18 inches thick, of brick with four-inch iron bars running through the center, four and a half inches apart and riveted firmly together, extending around the entire building. Through the central part of the building are two rows of cells, which are built in the same substantial manner as the main walls, being covered overhead with solid arches of heavy iron work and masonry. A large corridor extends completely around these cells and a commodious passage between them. Adjoining the rows of cells, but shut off from them by a heavy wall is what is called the "murderers' tanks." They are two in number with a corridor around them. The entire roof of the jail is of solid sheet iron, strongly anchored down to the substantial wall with massive couplings. On top of the plate of the roof is a layer of brick, finished over with asphaltum. The jailer's apartment adjoins the main building on the front and is forty-two feet square and three stories high, with ornamented fronts on the south and east. This section also contains kitchen, store room, office and the heating system. The second and third stories are divided into large and comfortable cells, and it is in this part of the jail that the women prisoners are confined. The whole prison is well-lighted by ample windows and skylights, well secured. The cells are furnished with cast iron sinks and water closets with sewer connections. The inner face of all the walls are whitewashed.

The Hall of Records, adjoining the Court House at the north and connected with it by a wide covered corridor was erected in 1892 at a cost of $200,000. The overcrowded condition of the Court House rendered the addition necessary. It is two stories in height, but is solidly built of granite on lines similar to that of the Court House. It is used for offices of the county clerk, county treasurer, county auditor, county surveyor, county recorder, county superintendent of schools and Santa Clara County charities. The building was occupied in January, 1893.

The Hall of justice is located on the southeast corner of Market and St. James streets, back of the Hall of Records. It was ready for occupancy when the earthquake of April 18, 1906 wrecked it. The material used in the construction was stone from Goodrich's quarry, near San Jose, and the earthquake proved that it was not of sufficient stability to withstand the shock. In the reconstruction stronger material was used and in 1908 the work was completed. The building is occupied by the county assessor, county tax collector, horticultural commissioner, county library, probation office, justice of the peace, constables and house of detention.

The first organized effort to care for the indigent sick was made in 1854, when a committee from the common council met a committee from the board of supervisors and agreed to act in concert in the matter. By the terms of this agreement the county was to bear two-thirds of the expense and the city one-third. All affairs concerning indigent sick were to be managed by a joint committee composed of each board. The council, however, refused to confirm the action of its committee, alleging that they were able to take care of their indigent sick. On this the supervisors appointed George Peck, R. G. Moody and William Daniels as a relief committee or board of health. During this year the county received $869.45 as its share of the state relief fund.

The next year, 1855, a county physician was appointed and the city agreed to pay $50 per month towards maintenance and medical attendance. About the same time the old Levy property was rented for a hospital, the city paying a monthly rent of forty dollars. In November of the same year the county advertised for proposals for a house and lot for hospital purposes. In response to this call the Merritt brothers offered to sell the old Sutter house for $5,500. This house was situated to the northeast of the city and to it was attached twenty-five acres of ground. The offer was accepted and the county occupied the premises until February, 1856, when the owners failing to make a good deed to the property, the contract for the purchase was rescinded. The county then advertised for proposals for taking care of the indigent sick. The first contract was let to Dr. G. B. Crane, who agreed to maintain the patients and furnish medical and surgical attendance for $4,600 per year, the number of patients not to be more than seven a day, or if in excess of that number, to be paid at that rate. For several years the patients were taken care of in this manner.

In 1860 the necessity for a hospital building became very apparent and a committee to select a site was appointed. Many offers were made but the proposal of Hiram Cahill was accepted. His tract contained twelve acres of land, situated on the south side of South Street, just west of Los Gatos Creek. The price paid was $4,000. The buildings on the tract were repaired and enlarged and a pest house was built near the creek on the south. These premises were occupied until 1871. Before this time, in 1868, the hospital became too small to accommodate all the patients. The city had grown much larger and there was considerable objection to the location of the institution so near the city limits. An effort was made to secure another location, but it was three years before a new site was chosen. The Board finally purchased of John S. Connor 114 acres of land on one of the roads to Los Gatos, three and one-half miles from San Jose. The price paid was $12,400. In 1875 the contract for the building was awarded to W. O. Breyfogle for $14,633.70. Messrs. Lenzen and Gash were the architects. Before this, the old buildings from the old grounds had been removed to the new site and the old premises cut up into lots and sold for $4,518.64. In 1884 eighty-one acres of the new tract were sold to different parties, leaving thirty-three acres to the present grounds. Afterward more land was bought so that now the tract contains thirty-eight and one-half acres. The money accruing from the 1884 sales amounted to $14,727.71, being $2,327.71 more than the cost of the entire tract. Since the removal of the hospital to its present location many building additions and improvements have been made. The average number of patients during 1919 was about 200. The main hospital has five wards and is replete with every sanitarv requirement. Outside are the tuberculosis hospital, Old Ladies' Home, with thirty-seven inmates, Old Men's Home, isolation hospital, and pest house, and residences for the eighteen nurses and the superintendent, Dr. D. R. Wilson. Edward Halsey is the secretary.

Up to 1883 there was no almshouse in Santa Clara County. Invalids in destitute circumstances were cared for at the county hospital, while the indigent who were not invalids were cared for by allowances by the board of supervisors. These allowances were of money, provisions, clothing, fuel, etc., as each case might demand. For many years the destitute children were cared for by the Ladies' Benevolent Society, this society receiving from the board a monthly allowance of a certain amount per capita. Each supervisor exercised a supervision over the destitute of his district and all allowances were made on his recommendation.

The expense necessarily incurred by this system of affording relief began to be very burdensome and in 1883 steps were taken to establish a county farm. In March of that year a committee was appointed to examine the matter and the report was in favor of establishing an almshouse. The present site--on the Oakland road, half a mile south of Milpitas--was selected. A tract of 100 acres was purchased from James Boyd for $25,000. The tract contained the present main building, which had been erected as a residence some years before by John O'Toole at an expense of $21,000. Now nearly all aid to destitute persons is extended through this institution. Persons not residents of the county are not aided at all, but are returned to the counties where they belong. For several years indigent women were cared for here, but when an Old Ladies' Home was built at the county hospital they were removed to the new location. The superintendent is James Carson and the number of patients (1920) is 198. Those who are able to work are employed about the grounds, mainly in gardening.

Source: Sawyers, Eugene T. History of Santa Clara County, Los Angeles, Calif; Historic Record Company, 1922.

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