Kings County Courthouse

June 21, 2010

FRESNO BEE FILE

Then: The newly completed Kings County Courthouse in this 1896 photograph was taken by the county\'s first sheriff, William Van Buckner.

The historic Kings County Courthouse, the 114-year-old crown jewel of Hanford’s Courthouse Square, is a success story, an escapee from the wrecking ball.

It was designed by renowned architect William H. Wilcox of Los Angeles, who won the job in a competition. He designed it in the Neoclassical Revival style, with an eclectic mix of stylistic elements.

Among them: yellow terra-cotta brick walls, pressed metal cornices, four impressive metal roof spires and north and south porticos. Wilcox originally planned a central dome, but supervisors felt the money would be better spent on a sub-basement.

Completed in 1896 for $26,364, the building underwent a major expansion in 1914, compatible with the original design, that nearly doubled its capacity. It was the seat of county government until 1977, when a new Kings County Government Center was built a mile west on Lacey Boulevard.

By then, the stately old building was in trouble. It had been poorly maintained, and a study found it would cost less to demolish it than save it. Angry residents, favoring preservation, faced City Council members in packed meetings.

A solution was proposed: Apply for a historic designation, which would lead to less restrictive building codes and cut renovation costs. Applause erupted when the council voted unanimously to protect the courthouse, along with the Bastille– the old jail– and the Veterans Building.

Developer Max Walden, who had restored the famed Cooper House in Santa Cruz, signed a lease agreement to rehabilitate the courthouse. Today, it houses several businesses, including a sports bar in a former courtroom. The outside features a working carousel and rose gardens.

JOHN WALKER / THE FRESNO BEE

Now: The old Kings County Courthouse lives on today as the centerpiece of Hanford\'s Courthouse Square. Gary Shimmin and 3-year-old daughter Lindsey walk by one of the courthouse\'s rose gardens during a visit from Clovis with their church group.