Red Sandstone Courthouse Ruins

Red Sandstone Courthouse Ruins — Los Angeles Explorers Guild

Red Sandstone Courthouse Ruins

In a quiet city park in East Los Angeles, you can see the last remnants of the first courthouse in Los Angeles.

In 1888, construction started on the the first courthouse in Los Angeles. It was made from red sandstone, so everyone just called it the Red Sandstone Courthouse. It was four stories tall and featured two buildings standing on either side of central clock tower.

The Red Sandstone Courthouse circa 1933. Photo via the Los Angeles Public Library, Los Angeles Herald Examiner Photo Collection.

It also had a central open-air elevator that offered great views of Los Angeles (this was before City Hall and its Observation Deck was built). People traveled from all over for a chance to just ride the elevator and take in the views.

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The Red Sandstone Courthouse took up an entire block of Temple Street between Hill and Spring — an area once known as Poundcake Hill (and Telegraph Hill before that). It’s roughly where the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center sits today. It’s featured prominently on this page of Baist’s 1921 Real Estate map of Los Angeles.

The location of the County Courthouse as seen in Baist’s Real Estate Map of Los Angeles (1921).

The Red Sandstone Courthouse served the city until 1933, when it was declared structurally unsound after sustaining severe damage from the Long Beach earthquake on March 10 of that year. It sat vacant for a few years, but it was eventually (and slowly) demolished from 1935 to 1936.

The Red Sandstone Courthouse (being demolished), 1936. Photo via the Los Angeles Public Library, Security Pacific National Bank Photo Collection.

You may also recognize the Stephen M. White statue at the entrance to the courthouse. This statue was installed in 1901 after the former California senator’s death. As part of the 1936 demolition it was moved to the federal courthouse at 1st and Hill where it stood for 56 years before being relocated to San Pedro’s Cabrillo Beach in 1989.

More about the Stephen White Statue

Stephen White Statue

A statue of former U.S. Senator Stephen Mallory White looks toward the Los Angeles Harbor he helped to develop. But a dark legacy overshadows his achievements.

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City Terrace Park: Resting Place for the Red Sandstone Courthouse

Around the time the Red Sandstone Courthouse was being demolished, a WPA team was carving out a hill to create City Terrace Park. For some reason, the decision was made to truck remnants of the former courthouse nearly four miles east where they’d be be repurposed for different elements of the park.

However, there doesn’t seem to be much information about what the blocks were used for specifically. The park was redesigned in 1957, and some of the easily identifiable red sandstone remnants stayed behind as decoration.

Red sandstone rocks between a baseball field and a playground. Photo from the author’s collection.

Only a few of these sandstone blocks remain in City Terrace Park. They sit there, Zen garden-like in a field of wood chips between the modern playground equipment and a baseball field, unmarked and largely ignored. Even the official L.A. County Parks & Recreation page for City Terrace Park has no mention of the historic landmark.

Much of the detail on the blocks has been worn away as they’ve sat in the park over the last 85 years, but a few of the slabs still display intricate carving.

Some details of the stonework from the original courthouse still remain. Photo from the author’s collection.

Red Sandstone Courthouse Ruins

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Tom Fassbender is a writer of things with a strong adventurous streak. When not exploring Los Angeles, he’s been known to enjoy a cup of coffee or two. You can find him at Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


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