Courthouse History

Early History

San Mateo County has built four courthouses on the block of land originally donated by Simon Mezes and the Arguello Family, owners of Rancho Las Pulgas. The top floor of the 1858 courthouse was destroyed in the 1868 earthquake. The remaining floor served as an annex to the second courthouse built in 1882.
Photo by O.V. Lange.


Due to the growth of the county and the desire for a grander building, a third, larger courthouse was designed just behind the second one. Completed shortly before the 1906 earthquake, only the dome structure survived.

Temple of Justice

The dome was incorporated into the fourth courthouse. Designed by Glenn Allen, it was built in the Roman and Renaissance revival styles. Known as the Temple of Justice, it opened on July 4, 1910.

County Government

In the early 1900s, the courthouse was home to all county government. In addition to the courtroom, the Board of Supervisors, Sheriff, Coroner, Auditor, Treasurer, County Clerk, Assessor, Tax Collector, District Attorney, Recorder and Superintendent of Schools had offices in the building. It also housed work areas for the County Engineers (left).


In 1939, the front facade of the building was removed and the Fiscal Building was added. In 1941, a second annex was added to the back of the building. Both buildings were WPA projects. In 1958, an 8-story building called the Hall of Records and Justice was built near the courthouse.

Becoming a Museum

By the 1990s, the courthouse no longer met modern court needs. In 1998, the San Mateo County History Museum had the opportunity to move into the building. The History Museum has developed exhibits where you can explore the county’s rich and colorful history


In 2005, work started to tear down the Fiscal Building. The original front facade of the old courthouse was reconstructed. Today, the City of Redwood City hosts a wide variety of programming on Courthouse Square in front of the building.


Today, the old courthouse is home to the San Mateo County History Museum. The museum is open Tuesday-Sunday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.