Sunday, December 16, 2007

Iowa Courthouse in Torrance

In 1980, an odd building opened just south of the 405 on Crenshaw Blvd. in Torrance. It looked like a turn-of-the-century courthouse, although most people saw it erected and could testify that it was a new building.

In December, though, the man who built it, Dudley Gray, died. His obituary in both the Los Angeles Times and the Daily Breeze outline how, in 1977, Gray--who was both a lawyer and a real estate developer--whimsically decided to plant an Iowa Courthouse in the South Bay.

He ran an ad in an Iowa newspaper, offering to buy a courthouse.

The Pottawattamie County Courthouse in Council Bluffs happened to be available. According the Pottawattamie County Historical Society website, the white limestone building was begun in 1885, finished three years later, and cost a whopping $180,000 to finish.

"Designed by architects Eckel and Mann. . . in the Second Empire style with steep mansard roofs, projecting pavilions, a central tower, and above the entrance a statue of Justinia bearing a sword and not wearing a blind-fold. "

A shaft for an elevator was included in the design, but no elevator was installed until 1947. The unstable clocktower was removed in 1950, and by the 1970s the building was sinking measurably on its foundations. Justinia's statue toppled in 1974 and fell onto the sidewalk. The citizens of Pottawattamie County had enough, and began constructing a new County Courthouse in 1975.

Dudley Gray came along a month before demolition of the old building, to salvage the columns, marble floors, cast iron stairways, and some furniture. He paid $3,600 for the lot, according to the Times, the spent $2.5 million hauling the stuff to Torrance to be included in his new 4-story office building just south of the freeway--a building that stood alone and without neighbors for years. Gray's own law firm was on the 4th floor, until he retired in the 90s.

"My colleagues thought I was a ding-a-ling," Gray said in 1980. Umm. . . really?


Doug said...

My grandfather and his crew did the stone carving on the columns of this building as it was being built. They used hand-forged chisels and wooden mallets, which I still have. My mother provided Mr. Gray with her photographs of the construction and my grandfather at work. He made copies, returned them, and told her he would enlarge them and put them in the lobby . I have the original photographs and would love to see the actual building someday.

Vix said...

That is a great story. I haven't been inside the building so I can't tell you if the photos are there or not. Hope you do get out to see it!

spencer iowa real estate said...

very informative and interesting blog.
Thanks for sharing:-)

Taylor said...

My great-grandparents were married in the Pottawattamie County courthouse in Council Bluffs in the 1930's. They moved to Inglewood in the 50's and then lived in Harbor City/Torrance area from the 70's until just a few years ago. I love that some of the building followed them out here.

Vix said...

Taylor, what a great connection you have with the building!

warner44z said...

I Grew up in Council Bluffs. I got my drivers license. In that building in 1973. I got my marriage license there in 1977. There were many buldings in CB Iowa built as beautiful as this one is. It's sad that urban renewal took our downtown away in the name of progress. This bring back many memories of home. Greg Fritz 43 years I lived in CB.

Matthew said...

What many people do not know about the building is that most of the original structures intended to be erected in the building were not considered safe in California due to earthquake concerns.

Vix said...

That makes perfect sense about the earthquake safety. Not a concern in IA, but always something to worry about here, especially in old buildings.

Matthew Ruff said...

I am a local Torrance attorney with an office in this building. It is a very unique structure and every body who lives in town knows when I say the old courthouse building. What many do not know is that Dudley Gray had two sons, both lawyers who worked out of the building for May years.