The Marin County Civic Center in San Rafael stands as a testament to arguably the most revered architect in American history.
As the last commissioned work by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the Civic Center was the only government project he ever designed. Sadly, Wright didn't see the completed building, as he died in 1959, before the project was finished.
Visitors can take in an array of extraordinary design features at this national and state historic landmark. Among them are the building's distinctive pink stucco walls, blue roof, scalloped balconies, and the flattened dome of the circular library and its connected gold spire.
But the beauty of the building belies the controversy that preceded its construction. In early 1957, county supervisor Vera Schultz decided Wright should be the architect of the civic center and enlisted her colleague Mary Summers, chair of the planning commission, to ensure he was considered for the job. In July 1957, the board of supervisors voted 4-1 to negotiate with Wright for his services.
Two days after that vote, Wright arrived to lay out his plans and sign the contract but was met with a wall of opposition from the American Legion and the Taxpayer Alliance. Wright was accused of being a communist sympathizer and a promoter of draft resistance during World War II.
Schultz, Summers and their allies ultimately prevailed, and Wright forged ahead with his design.
The civic center is comprised of two long buildings—the Hall of Justice and the administration building, linked by an 80-foot dome. Its elegant simplicity is a hallmark of Wright's work, and the Marin County Civic Center remains one of the most remarkable examples of his genius.
In 2015, the building was nominated (with nine other Wright-designed buildings) as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. So far, none of those structures have been elevated to UNESCO World Heritage status.