Civic Center 50th Anniversary

50th Anniversary Celebration

50th Anniversary Year-long Celebrations

On October 2nd, 2012 the Board of Supervisors adopted a Resolution Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the official dedication of the administration building at the Civic Center campus master planned by Frank Lloyd Wright (FLW), and proclaiming the next 12 months as a celebration of the Civic Center's past heritage and present uses, and honoring the Frank Lloyd Wright Civic Center Conservancy for their stewardship of his legacy. See the Board letter for more information.

Special Culminating Event October 29th- Original Radio-Show Drama "Vera, Mary and Mr. Wright"

Watch recorded performance

As much as County of Marin cherishes its National Historic Landmark, obtaining the go-ahead  to build the Marin County Civic Center more than 50 years ago was not an easy task. In fact, some officials were not on board with the idea at all, including influential politicians. In the late 1950s, there were some dramatic meetings about the subject before the Frank Lloyd Wright designed project was finally approved. The year-long celebration of the Marin County Civic Center’s golden anniversary is culminating Oct. 29 with a live performance that captures that drama.

The original radio-show drama, “Vera, Mary and Mr. Wright,” written exclusively for the 50th anniversary by Mill Valley author Richard Rapaport traces the political struggle to design and build a new Marin County Civic Center in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The staged radio drama focuses on Vera Schultz, the County’s first female Supervisor, and Mary Summers, the County’s (and the State's) first female Planning Director, who put their political lives on the line to support Wright’s revolutionary design against the “Old Courthouse Gang"  that had run the County for much of the previous century. Former Planning Director Marge Macris takes the role of planning director Mary Summers. Former Supervisor Annette Rose plays Supervisor Vera Schultz; Civic Center Associate Architect Bill Schwarz plays architect Aaron Green, Mill Valley artist Brian Frank Carter portrays Frank Lloyd Wright, and public information officer Brent Ainsworth assumes the role of the obstreperous Supervisor William Fusselman, who successfully temporarily stopped the building’s construction.  Professional actor Peter B. Collins is the Radio Announcer/Narrator. Former Board aide and County Administrator’s Analyst Suki Sennett directs the drama. Members of the production team include retired Civic Center Volunteers founder Joan Brown, librarian Laurie Thompson and Conservancy member Sandra Fawn. See event invitation.

commemorative postmark stamped on envelope

50th Anniversary Postmark

From January 17th to October 13th, 2013 a special commemorative postmark will be available at the Civic Center Post Office at 2 Civic Center Drive, San Rafael. There will be a special location in the Post Office for customers to drop letters for the 50th Anniversary Postmark.

50th anniversary civic center banner

Commemorative Banner

Originally created for the 1990 "In the Realm of Ideas" exhibit, a large red banner is hung in the Administration Building to highlight our 50th Anniversary celebration and to invite the public to re-visit our historical exhibits on the first and second floors of the building and in the new exhibit space in Room 233 of the Civic Center Cafe.

Civic Center spire lighted at night

Spire Lighting

To highlight these displays and commemorate important dates in the history of the Civic Center, the building's iconic 200-foot golden spire will be illuminated on special nights. The spire will be visible according to Wright's original plans, from all over central Marin County and beyond.

The lighting days are scheduled for: 

January 17: Postmark and banner release; February 15: Administration building's ground breaking (1960); March 25: FLW's preliminary plan presentation to the Board of Supervisors (1958); May 1: Supervisors voted to move forward with building the Hall of Justice (1963); June 8: FLW's birthday; July 3-7: Marin County Fair; August 2: FLW's first visit to Civic Center site (1957), September 3: Master plan model displayed (1958); September 17: Special Public Event, Tours, Reception and special guest panel: "FLW Marin County Civic Center: Past, Present and Future," October 12-13: Dedication Day, Happy Birthday Civic Center!

Special events that occurred during the year-long celebration:

Special Event Frank Lloyd Wright Civic Center Event September 17th

In partnership with the San Francisco chapter of the American Institute of Architects and as part of the month-long "Architecture and the City" Festival, this special architectural tour and panel discussion was held at the Board of Supervisors chambers at the Marin Civic Center on Tuesday September 17th. Special-guest architects William J. Schwarz and Richard A. Keding were on hand to guide tours and talk about history of the Marin Civic Center. A state and national historic landmark, the center was the last commission by Wright, completed by Aaron Green in 1962.  Schwarz was a member of the Taliesin Fellowship in the 1960s who was designated to serve as associate architect for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation on the Marin Civic Center. Keding became an apprentice to Wright in 1957 and staff architect with Taliesin Architects in the 1960s. The Conservancy offered a panel conversation and reception moderated by the San Francisco Chronicle’s architecture and urbanism writer, John King, with panel members, Paul Turner, architectural historian and professor; Marin County supervisor and architect Steve Kinsey; architect Mark Cavagnero, FAIA and landscape architect Manuela King.

William J. Schwarz with four kids

"The Wright Place" at the Marin County Fair. July 3-July 7

"The Wright Place" showcases the imagination, creativity and pioneering spirit of Frank Lloyd Wright and his last commission -  the Marin County Civic Center. The centerpiece of "The Wright Place" is the original scale model  of the Civic Center built by Mr. Wright's Taliesin Architects in 1960.

UPDATE: The Wright Place was visited by thousands of Marin residents of all ages during the 2013 Marin County Fair.  Many attendees stayed at The Wright Place for long periods of time enjoying the various games and activities, as well as interacting with the volunteer staff of historians, architects and community members. The visitors expressed mostly positive thoughts about the FLW Marin County Civic Center and enjoyed learning more about the history of the Civic Center and the vision of it's architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.

William J. Schwarz, associate architect for the FLW Marin County Civic Center, observed:  
"That visitors shared their "mostly positive" thoughts is personally heartwarming. In the mid-to-late 1960s and 1970s my experience was to hear a "mostly" different theme. Many Marin residents were then angry about what they perceived to be an overly costly and bloated county government, and the new Civic Center was viewed with general annoyance as overly ambitious and symbolic of that perceived excess. "Big Pink" was the name often used to disparage collectively county government and the new Civic Center it had built to accommodate its purposes. Well, there have been some shifts -- it's not so pink anymore, and it seems the Civic Center is generally quite beloved. During my attendance at the booth, I only had one visitor state the view that the Wright buildings were so intolerably uninhabitable that they should be abandoned in favor of a new civic center constructed somewhere else."

Josie Shaw

Marin County Fair Youth Photography Competition and Exhibition

The Youth Photography Competition for the 2013 Marin County Fair, entitled “Photographs of the Marin County Civic Center,” in partnership with the Marin County Fair and Frank Lloyd Wright Civic Center Conservancy celebrates the architectural and cultural legacy of the Civic Center during its 50th Anniversary. The Youth Photography Competition entries and winners were displayed in "The Wright Place" and will be exhibited in the Board of Supervisors Foyer in 2013 Fall.

Frank Lloyd Wright Marin Civic Center Conservancy members at a Farmer's Market booth

Call for artists! Join us for a Plein-Air Paint Out at the Frank Lloyd Wright Marin Civic Center Farmer's Market on Sunday, June 9th. Pick your favorite spot to paint the Civic Center and surrounding grounds. Celebrate the imagination of Frank Lloyd Wright (born June 8, 1867) and enjoy the beauty of our Marin Civic Center grounds. Members of the Frank Lloyd Wright Conservancy will be on hand at the information booth to share interesting facts and information about the history of the Marin Civic Center. For more information, visit Marin Open Studios Artists Newsletter.

Bixler House dining room

Growing Up in a Frank Lloyd Wright House

From 1977 to 1994, Kim Bixler and her family lived in the Boynton House in Rochester, New York, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1908. On Tuesday, March 26, Kim did an engaging mulit-media presentation through the joys and pitfalls of owning a Wright-designed home. She shared family photographs, personal anecdotes and explained the tumultuous history of the house. Event sponsored by the Anne T. Kent California Room & the Frank Lloyd Wright Civic Center Conservancy.

Commendations from the National Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy and the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation (Taliesin)

"The Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy - the only organization dedicated solely to the preservation of the extant work of Frank Lloyd Wright, the most important architect of the 20th century - is very pleased to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Marin County Civic Center. Your community expressed the vision to seek Wright to design the centerpiece for your community, the courage to see Wright's unique design through to completion and the integrity to preserve the fabric of the building and its setting for posterity. The Marin County Civic Center will stand for all time as one of the most important examples of Wright's work and as testament to your civic pride."

Larry Woodin, President
Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy

"Congratulations on the 50th anniversary of the Marin County Civic Center – the last major work of Frank Lloyd Wright, an extraordinary example of Wright's principles and integrity of design, a testament to the wonderful community it serves and represents, and a true personal favorite among Wright's powerful body of work."

Sean Malone, President & CEO
Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

Civic Center Blog Series

Brought to you by the Anne T. Kent California Room, (Marin County Free Library)

civic center state plaque

October: Frank Lloyd Wright – How old was he in 1959?

Answer:  92 years old. If you look closely at the dates on the plaque on the ground floor of the Marin County Civic Center, you will notice the dates next to Wright’s name recorded as 1869 – 1959 for the year of his birth, and the year of his passing.

According to The Wisconsin Magazine of History, Vol. 50. No 2 (Winter, 1967) article titled “Frank Lloyd Wright – The Madison Years:  Records versus Recollections” by Thomas S. Hines, Jr., it was Mr. Wright, himself, who claimed he was born in 1869.  In the absence of an official birth certificate the article says, Wright contended most of his adult life in public and in print he was born June 8, 1869.  However, since then, historians have determined the correct date of his birth as June 8, 1867.  Because both scholarly and popular biographical references about Frank Lloyd Wright over many years took him at his word, the error was compounded hundreds of times over the years, according to the article. states, “Although he often stated his birthday as June 8, 1869, records prove that he was in fact born in 1867.”

No one knows which reference was used to determine the “1869” date of birth when the Marin County Civic Center’s historical plaque was made.

Below please find several other reliable biographical sources which list Wright’s correct birth date:

  1. Robert C. Twombley, Frank Lloyd Wright: An Interpretive Biography, New York: 1972, p.5: “Just as they were settling in, Anna gave birth to the first of her three children, her only son Frank Lloyd Wright on June 8, 1867.
  2. About Wright: An Album of Recollections by those who knew Frank Lloyd Wright, edited by Edgar Tafel, FAIA, has a biographical outline at the beginning: “June 8, 1867: Born June 8 in Richland Center, Wisconsin to Anna Lloyd Jones and William C. Wright. First child of his father’s second marriage.

October: The Story Behind the Funding of the State Landmark Commemorative Plaque

The Marin County Civic Center was named State of California historic site No. 999 in July 1991. The State, then, as now, was in financial difficulties and did not have the $988.77 needed for the commemorative bronze plaque.

“Civic Center now a state historical landmark: But Sacramento’s too broke to buy the plaque,” announced a July 16, 1991 headline in the Marin Independent Journal. County Supervisor Al Aramburu led the effort to find a donor for the commemorative plaque, reporting at the July 23, 1991 Board of Supervisor’s meeting that four potential donors had stepped forward to fund the plaque. Then, at the July 30, 1991 board meeting Supervisor Aramburu announced that the Dudum family of Kentfield had generously volunteered to fund the State historic landmark plaque.

Picture of Audie and Laila DudumAudie and Laila Dudum, pictured here in September 2013 with the plaque, are frequent patrons of the Civic Center’s farmers’ market.  "We have had the privilege of living in the county for over forty years, and along with Mt. Tam, the Civic Center has been a polestar for the community. We are delighted that it will remain so for generations to come." Together with their sons John and Michael and daughter Debbie, Audie and Laila congratulate the County in our year-long celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Marin County Civic Center. Interestingly, it took until December 31, 1992 for the plaque to actually be installed at the Civic Center.

civic center model

September: 55 Years Ago This Month

Frank Lloyd Wright’s scale model of the Civic Center was first put on public display at the California State Fair in  September, 1958. The Marin Independent Journal commented “We’re glad that the model arrived in time to represent Marin for the greater part of the fair. And we are happy that the supervisors saw fit to send it up there for display, even though it means that fair visitors will see the model even before it is displayed down here.”

In mid-September, when the California State Fair ended, Marin County residents had an opportunity to view the model at Macy’s, then located in downtown San Rafael.  “Civic Center Model Draws Throng at Macy’s” states a Sept. 10, 1958 I.J. headline. The caption says: “Frank Lloyd Wright’s model of the Marin County Civic Center, which was on display at the California State Fair’s 10-day run in Sacramento, is now drawing onlookers at Macy’s in San Rafael, where it was placed just inside the entrance from the parking lot after its return from the capital…..”

Today, visitors can still view Wright’s original scale model on the ground floor of the Marin County Civic Center’s Administration Building. 

Frank Lloyd Wright on the Civic Center building site in Santa Venetia on Aug. 2, 1957

August: 56 Years Ago This Month

On August 2, 1957, during a break from a meeting with the Marin County Board of Supervisors, Frank Lloyd Wright visited the future building site of the Marin County Civic Center for the first time. Marin’s new government center was to be built on a 130-acre parcel in Santa Venetia.

San Francisco Examiner reporter Francis B. O’Gara chronicled Wright’s visit to the Santa Venetia:

Mr. Wright “….ducked between the strands of one barbed wire fence and climbed over another one, jumped across several ditches and fought his way through knee-high grass and thistles. Finally he rendered his appraisal: “Splendid,” he said, “It’s as beautiful as California can have.” Two 15 year-old Santa Venetia girls, Linda Martinez and Carole Baas, asked Wright to pose for snapshots. He agreed amiably. “Are you going to knock down all these hills?” one girl inquired. “Not a single hill,” said the master architect, now beaming with enthusiasm.

Walter Castro

July: 50 Years Ago This Month

On July 16, 1963, Walter Castro, Chairman of the Marin County Board of Supervisors and a champion of Frank Lloyd Wright’s design for Marin’s new Civic Center, died suddenly of a heart attack. The San Francisco Chronicle reported “As chairman, Mr. Castro became the power behind the move to obtain Frank Lloyd Wright to design the county’s new civic center…. During tense meetings and heated debates over the Wright project, Mr. Castro’s keen wit and ready smile did much to ease tensions and persuade the doubters.

In a 1957 letter addressed to Walter Castro, Frank Lloyd Wright had written: “The stormy time you have all had getting what you had…reason to believe was the best talent available to preserve and enhance your beautiful Marin County, is characteristic of all political…efforts of the sort…. Be assured I apprehend to the full the rare opportunity to which you bring me…. Gratefully your architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, August 16, 1957.

Frank Lloyd Wright

June: 55 Years Ago This Month

On June 8, 1958, Frank Lloyd Wright celebrated his 91st birthday. Two months earlier, Wright’s completed plans for Marin County’s new Civic Center had been accepted by the Board of Supervisors. 1958 also saw the publication of Wright’s book, The Living City, in which he presented his final blueprint for the utopian community, Broadacre City, a concept he had been refining since 1932. Many of the principles outlined in The Living City were incorporated into Wright’s design for Marin’s new government and cultural center:

“Architectural features of any democratic ground plan for human freedom rise naturally by and from, topography. This means that buildings would all take on, in endless variety, the nature and character of the ground on which they would stand….Wherever possible, all buildings would be integral parts – organic features of the ground - according to place and purpose.”

Supervisor Leydecker

May: 47 Years Ago This Month

The Groundbreaking ceremony for the Hall of Justice, the second phase of Marin’s new government center, took place on May 25, 1966. In this photograph, Chairman of the Board of Supervisors Byron W. Leydecker stands at the podium while California Governor Edmund G. Brown stands to his right. The Hall of Justice was completed and officially accepted by the Board of Supervisors on December 9, 1969. It is 880 feet long and the bays on both sides of the building are over 40 feet wide.

picture of lighted spire

April: 55 Years Ago This Month

On April 28, 1958, the Board of Supervisors voted to accept Wrights plans and authorized the acceptance for bids for construction.  Before his death on April 9, 1959, Frank Lloyd Wright completed concept drawings for all of the structures on the Civic Center campus, including the fairgrounds. The Marin County Civic Center was not only his last major design project but also the only government facility of his design that was ever built. Taliesin Senior Architect, William Wesley Peters and Bay Area architect, Aaron Green, both close associates of Frank Lloyd Wright, carried Wright’s vision for the Marin County Civic Center to completion after his death. Our National Historic Landmark, the Marin County Civic Center, is a testament to Wright's vision, as, in his words, “a good building was one that makes the landscape more beautiful than before that building was even built.”

Frank Lloyd Wright presenting his Marin Civic Center Plans at San Rafael High School, March 25, 1958.

March: 55 Years Ago This Month

On July 31, 1957, Frank Lloyd Wright spoke at a public meeting at San Rafael High School to impart his philosophy of architecture and particularly, organic architecture. Following that meeting, he signed the contract that made him the official architect for the Marin County Civic Center and fairgrounds complex. The next day, he was driven to the Scettrini Ranch, site of the new Civic Center, and announced that he had come up with his design.  

A year later, on March 25, 1958, after Wright had presented a complete set of drawings for Marin’s new Civic Center to the Board of Supervisors, he returned to San Rafael High School to present these same plans to the public and to participate in a Q & A session.

During the meeting Wright commented that his design showed “a great concordance with the nature of the beautiful setting of the hills of Marin.” He also assured the public that he would not raze the hills on the site but instead “bridge” them with his buildings.

picture of Marin Civic Center surrounding location in year 1960 and in 2013. In 1960, there were only trees and grass. In 2013, the landscape is covered by houses.

February: 53 Years Ago This Month

“Ground was broken for Marin County’s new civic center and fairgrounds today on a sun-drenched knoll of the 140-acre site along Highway 101 at Santa Venetia.” 

“A crowd of about 350 heard the widow of Frank Lloyd Wright, architect of the civic center, say her husband was pleased with the project….
She declared Marin County will ‘go into the record as the most illuminated county in America for inviting her husband to design the center.’ ‘He was inspired by the beauty of the site,’ she declared. ‘He never violated nature and he put this building here to beautify it.’”
Source: Marin Independent Journal, Feb. 16, 1960. 

cover of House Beautiful magazine with Frank Lloyd Wright building

January: 56 Years Ago This Month

On New Year’s Day 1957, Supervisor Vera Schultz, who was helping plan a new civic center for Marin, was relaxing at home reading the latest issue of House Beautiful devoted entirely to the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. She thought, “Why don’t we reach for the top?” and dialed her friend, County Planning Director Mary Summers, who happened to be reading the same article. They agreed that Wright would be ideal for Marin’s project and Schultz wrote him a letter.

We invite you to visit our new exhibit "Marin and the Realm of Frank Lloyd Wright" in the Civic Center Cafeteria to see the issue of House Beautiful, which inspired Schultz and Summers to contact Wright.

Marin County Parks, Cultural Services and Board holding special events

Other County departments including Parks, Cultural Services, and the Board of Supervisors will be holding events and special programs in recognition over the upcoming year. More details will be published here as events are scheduled.

Exhibit at the Civic Center Cafe

In the Civic Center Cafe, there is the Exhibit Space showing a range of material about the Civic Center including the Dedication Program.

Civic Center 50th Anniversary in the News

Marin Independent Journal: Since You Asked: The battle to get the Marin Civic Center built
KALW: Marin Civic Center at, and Cabaret!
KRCB: Creating the Marin Civic Center
Marinscope: Inspired Light
San Francisco Chronicle: At 50, Marin Civic Center comes of age
Marin Independent Journal: Marin Voice: Wright's unfulfilled vision for Marin Center
Marin Independent Journal: Marin Voice: The shared vision for our Civic Center
Marin Independent Journal: Special postmark celebrates Marin Civic Center
Marin Independent Journal: Newspaper Poll that Saved Civic Center
Marin Independent Journal: Marin Civic Center Celebrates its 50th Anniversary
KQED: Marin Civic Center Celebrates 50th Anniversary

Useful References

Slideshow of 50th Anniversary celebrations and events
Slideshow of 50th Anniversary celebrations by Marin County Free Library - California Room: set 1, set 2, set 3
A Chronology
Audio and Video Tours

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September: 55 Years Ago This Month

Frank Lloyd Wright’s scale model of the Civic Center was first put on public display at the California State Fair in  September, 1958. The Marin Independent Journal commented “We’re glad that the model arrived in time to represent Marin for the greater part of the fair. And we are happy that the supervisors saw fit to send it up there for display, even though it means that fair visitors will see the model even before it is displayed down here.”