Foundations of the Law

Historical Background

Albert Stewart, 1956. 16' x 5' x 3'. Los Angeles County Courthouse, Grand Ave.
Three statues: "Mosaic Law", "Magna Carta", and "Declaration of Independence".

The Courthouse's International style, designed by Jess Stanton, Paul Williams, Adrian Wilson and the architectural firm of Austin Field & Frey, represents a dramatic break from the past by lacking the classical elements that connect traditional courthouse design to the history, traditions and authority of the law. The building appears, to paraphrase Le Corbusier, as a machine for the administration of justice. The only decoration are the three heroic figures over the Grand Avenue entrance and the bas relief over the Hill Street entrance. If "ornament is a crime," as the great Viennese architect Adolph Loos claimed, then this meager embellishment on the $23,000,000 Los Angeles County Courthouse can be considered a misdemeanor.

Each statue over the Grand Avenue entrance depicts a lawgiver in a style and size that conveys dignity and strength. Together, they represent the legal traditions upon which the foundation of American society rests. The emphasis on the clothing, which connects the ensemble most closely to the classical style, identifies each legal tradition.

The statue entitled "Mosaic Law" depicts Moses standing over a broken calf, symbolizing the Judeo-Christian heritage. Portraying a 13th century knight above a castle, "Magna Carta" personifies the English Common Law limitations on the power of government. "Declaration of Independence," the depiction of Thomas Jefferson standing over a ship, represents the uniqueness of American Law. Gold colored copies of "Mosaic Law" and "Declaration of Independence" are located next to the south entrances of the adjacent Hall of Administration.

Commissioned by Jess Stanton, the building's principal architect, Stewart first prepared sketches of the work. He then make a quarter size maquette to finalize the design. A full size model was then executed which Gladding, McBean & Company, the west's principal manufacturer of architectural terra cotta, used to shape the ceramic veneer sections installed on the Courthouse facade.

The text has been provided courtesy of Michael Several, Los Angeles, January 1998.

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