Recently, I heard someone repeat a recurring falsehood about local history that has been going around for at least 15 years. The claim is that Robert L. Reading, a son of early white settler Pierson B. Reading, was the architect of the Shasta County Hall of Records building that stood next to the county courthouse in Redding for nearly a century.
I’m not sure with whom the falsehood started (though I have my suspicions), but I have a pretty good idea how it started. It’s another great reminder to always evaluate your sources with a critical eye, do thorough research, and go back to primary sources.
Redding finally became the county seat on May 19, 1888 following a number of elections and a court battle that made its way all the way to the California Supreme Court.
According to the June 9, 1888 issue of the (Redding) Republican Free Press, the Board of Supervisors wasted no time in calling for an election to be held the following month on the question of issuing bonds to fund the construction of a new courthouse for the new county seat. Voters approved the bonds, and by May of the following year, painters were putting the final touches on the new courthouse.
The supervisors were interested in building a fireproof hall of records no later than 1899, but those early attempts seem to have fallen through. On January 15, 1906, the Sacramento Union reported the Shasta County Board of Supervisors had ordered the county surveyor (who was Robert L. Reading at the time) to prepare plans and specifications for a hall of records. It’s likely that the errant historian came across an article from this time and considered the matter settled.
However, further research reveals an article in the December 11, 1906 issue of the Chico Record reporting that the Shasta County Grand Jury summoned a county supervisor to explain why nothing had been done in regards to constructing a hall of records. The supervisor claimed that it was due to the changing conditions brought on by the catastrophic fire in San Francisco following the earthquake in April of that year. Why San Francisco’s misfortune did not hasten the fireproof hall’s construction rather than delay it is not made clear.
A little over a year later, the (Redding) Searchlight reported that plans had been accepted by the Board of Supervisors from Matthew W. Herron for a Hall of Records, expected to cost $40,000 (January 12, 1908).
Local history or architecture buffs may recognize Matthew W. Herron as a prominent local architect who designed Redding City Hall (now known as Old City Hall) and the (demolished) Carnegie Library, among other local buildings.
Bids were solicited, and the construction contract for the building was awarded to Roberts Bros. & Co. of Oakland for $46,995 (Courier Free-Press, July 15, 1908). Grading at the site began the following month (Courier Free-Press, August 12, 1908). Work proceeded quickly, and on March 16, 1909, the (Redding) Searchlight reported the Hall of Records stands completed and “there was no attempt at anytime to vary the plans of the architect, M.W. Herron.”
The Hall of Records originally showcased its red clay brick construction, but was covered with a cement render (using cement obtained from Weed) the following year to eliminate seasonal stain and “preserve the imposing appearance of the county building” (Sacramento Union, September 14, 1910). The Board of Supervisors found the appearance so agreeable, they ordered the courthouse to receive the same treatment (Ibid).
The Sacramento Union went on to note “the effect of treating the buildings with the Weed cement is to give them the appearance of marble structures, and it is expected that the lasting qualities of the cement will prove equal to the appearance” (Ibid). Unfortunately, cement renders often result in the opposite effect, as the cement interferes with the contraction and expansion of red clay brick and lime mortar during shifts in the weather, and the brick often destroys itself in the process.
The original courthouse was demolished in 1963, after the completion of the current courthouse, to make room for an annex (Redding Record-Searchlight, March 5, 1963).
The Hall of Records stood in the courthouse square in Redding until 1998, when it was demolished due to its unsafe condition despite attempts to save it—a story all too common in Shasta County history (Redding Record-Searchlight, February 20, 1998).
“Furthermore, the roof leaks extensively, which contributes to the progressive failure of the building’s masonry and plaster, while its structural components are also seriously deteriorated.“County Wants Building Razed,” Redding Record-Searchlight, October 4, 1997.
The mechanical and electrical systems are unusable and all interior finishes and furnishings have been destroyed by water and 90 years of service, Lyman wrote.”
Sadly, in all of the many newspaper articles reporting its poor state of repair, none of the reporters seemed interested in finding out how the county building got into such a condition—or, more pointedly, why the building was not properly maintained by the county and who was responsible for the lack of oversight. That, too, is a story all too common in Shasta County history; but perhaps one for another time.
[Note: This post was edited on August 27, 2019 to correct a misspelling.]