The Marin Civic Center was Frank Lloyd Wright's 770th commission and one of his last. When he arrived at the site to survey it, he was 90 years old. It has such great architectural importance that it has been nominated for World Heritage status, along with several other Wright designs.
Marin Civic Center, 1955
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation says the civic center was designed 1955, but you may find other sources that say 1957. In either case, construction didn't start until 1960, after his death. The first building of the municipal complex was completed in 1962.
For the 140-acre complex, Wright designed the Administration Building and Hall of Justice, two wings that span across three small hills, which lend their curves to the entire structure's design theme, their intersection topped with an 80-foot-wide dome and etched with arched arcades. A 172-foot-tall gold tower accentuates the structure.
Inside are long atria that are widest at the top. The courtrooms are laid out in a curved shape. A geometric theme is present throughout the design, with circular elements, half circle, arcs, and ovals. Wright didn't stop with the building. He also designed the door, the signs, the furniture and many other small details.
Because Wright died before the construction, others realized his plan: his protege Aaron Green and son-in-law Wesley Peters oversaw the project. The most significant change they made was the roof color, which Wright wanted to be gold so it would blend in with the surrounding hills in summer and fall. Unable to find gold paint that was durable enough, his wife and colleagues chose sky blue instead. In the year 2000, the roof got a coat of bright blue polyurethane.
Other plans included a theater, auditorium, a fairground pavilion, and a lagoon (which were never built) The Post Office was constructed and is Wright's only design for a U.S. government facility.
The Marin County website has an extensive description of all its features, rooms and symbolism.
More About the Marin Civic Center - and More of California's Wright Sites
Wright used much symbolism to embody his philosophy of government, and his design is so timelessly modern that the building was filmed as Gattaca Corporation headquarters in the 1997 film of the same name. It was also the backdrop for Marin resident George Lucas' first feature-length film, THX 1138.
What You Need to Know About the Marin Civic Center
The Marin Civic Center is at
3501 Civic Center Drive
San Rafael, CA
Guided tours are given weekly, and the facility is fully open only on weekdays. Download their self-guided booklet and audio tour before you go
The on-site gift shop carries an excellent selection of Wright-inspired items
More of the Wright Sites
The Marin Civic Center is one of a few California Wright sites that are open for public tours. You can get a list of all the Frank Lloyd Wright tours in California in this guide.
It is also one of eight Wright designs in the San Francisco area, including two of his most important works. Use the guide to Frank Lloyd Wright in the San Francisco area to find all of them.
Marin Civic Center is one of Wright's designs which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Others include the Anderton Court Shops, Hollyhock House, Ennis House, Samuel Freeman House, Hanna House, the Millard House, and the WStorer House.
Wright's work isn't all in the San Francisco area. He also designed nine structures in the Los Angeles area. Use the guide to Wright Sites in Los Angeles to find out where they are. You'll also find several houses, a church, and a medical clinic in some of the most unexpected places. Here's where to find Wright sites in the rest of California.
More to See Nearby
You'll find examples of Victorian style architecture all over San Francisco, including the famous Painted Ladies of Alamo Square. Other sights with particular architectural interest include the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the deYoung Museum and Renzo Piano's Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, and the Transamerica Building.