Marin Civic Center celebrates 60th anniversary

Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic Marin County Civic Center in San Rafael turns 60 this month.

County officials have planned a daylong celebration on Oct. 13 to mark the anniversary on the day it opened in 1962. The occasion will include free docent-led tours, a cake cutting, a panel discussion and other activities. The events start at 10 am

“We wanted to create a day for the community that would celebrate the building itself, but allow people to experience the building in different ways,” said Libby Garrison, spokesperson for the Department of Cultural Services.

From 10 am to 4 pm visitors will be able to enjoy a display of vintage cars from the same time period the structure was built parked outside the building’s south arch across from the post office.

Building tours will be held from 10 amto 2 pm Marin Photography Club members will be on hand to give tips on how to photograph architecture.

“Lots of people who come are inspired by the beauty of the architecture, the lines, the arches,” Garrison said. “The experts will be here to help you get the perfect Instagram post.”

From 11 am to noon in the Board of Supervisors chambers, there will be a panel discussion with county staffers who will talk about what it’s like to work in the historic landmark.

A cake cutting and ceremony is set for noon at the cafeteria garden. Heston Cakes of Terra Linda is fashioning a cake in the shape of the Civic Center building for the event. The local band County Crows will perform hits from the 1960s.

Visitors can enjoy a screening of “Gattaca,” starring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman and Jude Law, under the Civic Center’s iconic dome. The Civic Center is part of the set for the 1997 sci-fi thriller. The screening begins at 3:30 pm

A special exhibit celebrating the history and architecture is already on display at the Civic Center Library. Visitors can check out the exhibit as well as participate in activities, including crafts and a virtual scavenger hunt. A display of best-selling books and movies from 1962 also will be available for check out.

Carol Acquaviva, librarian and archivist, worked on the library display and will be moderating the panel discussion.

“I think stepping back and reflecting on our history is always important,” Acquaviva said. “We’re just so very lucky in Marin to have this Frank Lloyd Wright building. It’s a gem for our county.”

The Civic Center, which was commissioned in 1957, would become Wright’s last and largest public project.

According to the county, when Wright visited Marin for the first time, he said, “You have one of the most beautiful landscapes I have seen, and I am proud to make the buildings of this county characteristic of the beauty of the county. … Here is a crucial opportunity to open the eyes not of Marin County alone, but of the entire country, to what officials gathering together might themselves do to broaden and beautify human lives.”

Bill Schwarz, an architect, serves as the architectural advisor for the Civic Center. He has spent more than 50 years improving and preserving the county’s government building.

Schwarz said it was thanks to then-supervisor Vera Schultz and Planning Director Mary Summers that Wright was hired for the job. Schwarz said the county told Wright they would level the site to build the structure, but Wright wanted to use the natural topography.

“The result was a series of graceful arches and buildings upon those arches, a vision he had within 15 minutes of being at the site,” Schwarz said, noting that Wright was “an impassioned American patriot,” who wanted to create a governmental building that was inviting to the community and was aesthetically pleasing.

“Now, can you imagine those hills without those marvelous buildings on them?” Schwarz said. “This building couldn’t be built anywhere else. It’s poetic. A work of genius.”

He called the iconic spire “a celebratory exclamation point.”

As part of the celebration, the spire will be illuminated for 60 nights. Visitors can also download the Frank Lloyd Wright Civic Center Tour app for self-guided tours.

Residents born on Oct. 13, 1962 who attend can pick up a gift bag at the cafeteria garden.

The Civic Center became both a state and national historic landmark in 1991, and is one of 10 Frank Lloyd Wright sites nominated to the World Heritage List. The list maintained by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization recognizes world cultural treasures and now includes 21 sites in the United States.

Friends of the Civic Center Library, Frank Lloyd Wright Civic Center Conservancy, the Marin Photography Club, Jeff Craemer, and Gustaf Rooth are co-sponsors of the event.

More information is at

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