A Tour of the Santa Ana Civic Center

Blowhard, Esq. writes:

In the comments of my last post, Sir Barken Hyena said that, “SoCal is stupid nice.” Well, parts of it certainly are. On the other hand, some areas are architectural wastelands. This especially seems to be the case with many of our government civic centers that date from the post-WWII era. Here’s a tour of one I know well, the Santa Ana Civic Center.

First, here’s a map I pulled from Google with the subject area outlined:

We’ll start at Sasscer Park. Although it abuts a federal courthouse and numerous office buildings, it’s nearly always empty, except for homeless people. This picture was taken just before noon. The fountain has 4 spouts, but only the large center one works.

That’s one sad fountain.

A different view.

OK, next we’ll head north across W. Santa Ana Blvd. into the southern edge of the Civic Center. This is a federal Department of Homeland Security building.

A concrete Borg cube.

Next to it is this monstrosity belonging to California’s Ministry of Labor Department of Worker’s Compensation.

You just know Orwell’s Room 101 is in that place.

OK, let’s head north to the OC Public Law Library. Oh look, more dead space.

An even sadder fountain.

Again, I’ve been here a number of times, even during lunch, and there is hardly ever anyone here. And can you blame them? The slime and algae in that “fountain” probably date from the Carter administration.

Southern California’s largest petri dish.

The law is a majestic thing, or so I’m told. Orange County’s city fathers were nice enough to build an appropriate place for the public to access it.

I’d make the inevitable comparison to a German WWII pillbox, but let’s face it, that’s unfair because those pillboxes were FAR more appealing. At least the Germans situated those on French beaches. The only information I could find about it is that a firm called “Allen & Miller” built it. I assume they’re both dead, but if not and I ever meet either, they’ll get a punch in the face.

Here are more pictures of the wind-swept plaza, i.e. dead space with empty planters and an empty fountain. Again, these pictures were taken between 12 and 12:30.

A lonely soul eats his lunch in the shade of those famous California palms.

Kerry is so offended at the lack of upkeep she has to look away.

Can these fountains get more pathetic?

Next is the Plaza of Flags.

Look, it was a Friday afternoon, the proposal was due on Monday and someone said, “Fuck it, just put up a bunch of flags.”

I love this sign.

Note to city: the only people who actually use this space are the homeless. And teenagers love the Plaza of Flags because all that concrete makes for great skating. Why not just cede it to them? At least then someone will be enjoying it.

Here’s City Hall.

This area was designed and built during the 60s and 70s, during some of the most tense years of the Cold War. Orange County was a notorious anti-communist stronghold at the time and yet this is architecture to make a Soviet urban planner proud.

Here’s the courthouse designed by Richard Neutra.

That’s the back of the courthouse, here’s the front.

Here’s a birds-eye view of the whole mess.

The architecture is bad enough, but what about how the buildings themselves are placed? Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern LanguageChapter 108, “Connected Buildings”: Isolated buildings are symptoms of a disconnected sick society.

When buildings are isolated and free standing, it is of course not necessary for the people who own them, use them, and repair them to interact with one another at all. By contrast, in a town where buildings lean against each other physically, the sheer fact of their adjacency forces people to confront their neighbors, forces them to solve the myriad of little problems which occur between them, forces them to learn how to adapt to other people’s foibles, forces them to learn how to adapt to the realities outside them, which are greater, and more impenetrable than they are.

Not only is it true that connected buildings have these healthy consequences and that isolated buildings have unhealthy ones. It seems very likely — though we have no evidence to prove it — that, in fact, isolated buildings have become so popular, so automatic, so taken for granted in our time, because people seek refuge from the need to confront their neighbors, refuge from the need to work out common problems. In this sense, the isolated buildings are not only symptoms of withdrawal, but they also perpetuate and nurture the sickness.

Finally, I’ve saved my favorite part for last. Here’s the OC Public Defender’s office, on the corner of Ross and Civic Center Dr. West.

Unlike the other structures in this set, I had the pleasure of seeing the inside and it’s just as bland, drab, and depressing as the exterior suggests. Jesus, why did these architects have such an aversion to windows? We have better weather here than just about any other place in the country yet these guys seemed determined to eradicate any hint of the outside.

This next place is directly south of the PD. Currently it stands empty.

So nice they built it twice!

Paleo Retiree said we should keep hammering away on bad bank architecture. Maybe we should add civic centers to the list.

About Blowhard, Esq.

Amateur, dilettante, wannabe.
This entry was posted in Architecture, Photography and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to A Tour of the Santa Ana Civic Center

  1. Fabrizio del Wrongo says:

    That’s some of the ugliest shit I’ve ever seen in my life.


  2. epiminondas says:

    Stalin’s revenge.


  3. Genius tour. A wasteland, but an all-too-familiar one. Do you suppose it WANTS us to go put bullets in our heads?


    • Blowhard, Esq. says:

      I wonder what other proposals they rejected? Were there any other proposals? Who steered this project? What did the government officials think when they first saw the plans? Did they think raw concrete is attractive? Did they look at the plans and think, “Ahh, yes, I’ll love going to work here every day”? Did anyone protest?

      So many questions. I might have to look into this further.


  4. Callowman says:

    Imagine being had up on charges in one of those buildings. Bad civic buildings are saying, “You’re right – we don’t care, and we don’t care if you know it. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”


  5. Sir Barken Hyena says:

    I stand corrected, sadly. One also wonders what they tore down to build this.


    • Blowhard, Esq. says:

      I plan on writing a little more about that in another post.


      • Sir Barken Hyena says:

        I suspect it’ll be the same sad 60s-70s urban “redevelopment” that has scarred the American landscape. 2 of the 3 places I’ve spent most of my adult life had torn down their quaint walkable downtowns as part of that. Travesty.


  6. dearieme says:

    You know all those Ancient Barrows you get all over Britain and Ireland? Do you suppose that people who hated neolithic architecture just covered the ugly stuff with soil?


  7. Glynn Marshes says:

    Just wow . . .


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  9. John says:

    They look like bunkers and pillboxes. What were they so afraid of? Were the 60’s riots really that terrifying?


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  11. Sheri says:

    I worked in the Santa Ana Civic Center in the early 1970’s and the offices were relocated from a building erected in the early 20th century. It was deemed the epitome of modern architecture; complete with a pneumatic system to send documents to the basement copy machine. Imagine one copy machine in a 7 story building. That was “progress”.


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  15. Benjamin Pugh says:

    As of 2017, they have ceded the area to the homeless. The Plaza of Flags is a urine and feces soaked tent concentration camp of “homeless.”


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