THE MARIN COUNTY Civic Center is the most distinctive government complex in the United States, and it’s the only government project designed by Frank Lloyd Wright ever built. The story of how it came to be, and the heated controversy created when Wright first proposed his design, is a
memorable chapter in the history of American architecture.
In the early 1950s Marin County’s rapidly growing
population was served by an antiquated courthouse in
downtown San Rafael, along with various county offices
scattered around 12 locations. So in 1953 the Board of
Supervisors began seeking a site for a new courthouse and
county offices. On April 27, 1956, the county purchased a
private ranch in San Venetia just east of Highway 101 for
$426,000. During the following year, a committee inter-
viewed dozens of architects, providing 26 names to the
Board of Supervisors, one name being Frank Lloyd Wright.
In April 1957 four of the five supervisors met with Wright
in his San Francisco office to discuss the project. Finally,
on June 26, 1957, four of the supervisors voted to begin
negotiations with Wright after recommending him as the
architect. And that’s when the trouble began.
“In Marin County you have one of the most beautiful landscapes
I have seen, and I am proud to make the buildings of this county
characteristic of the beauty of the county.”
— Frank Lloyd Wright, in comments to a public meeting in San Rafael, July 1957