Let’s hear, “Save the Jail” one more time!

by Melissa Jacobson

The new, 7100 square foot, County Administration building on Escobar Street — which looks near completion — cannot be ignored for the girth of its footprint.  It stands newly proud, overlooking the ageless Carquinez Staits and the Delta; waters plied by Native Americans (Chupcan-Miwok), fortune seeking gold miners, immigrant fishermen and even the likes of Jack London. But, what will be the legacy of this modern building? Something else we cannot ignore, and also looms large, is the legal agreement to protect our past before the County hurdles on to make our future.  

It’s been five years since the Architectural Preservation Foundation of Contra Costa County (APFCCC) was founded in order to “save the jail,” a 1901 structure listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and a part of the vital history of Martinez and Contra Costa County. We challenged the County’s planned demolition of the Old Jail in Superior Court and began settlement talks with the County in good faith.  In the Fall of 2019, settlement talks between APFCCC and the County slowed while the construction of the new County Administration building quickened. Now, we find ourselves in the midst of the pandemic.

Many citizens and homeowners of Contra Costa County voiced support for the preservation of the Old Jail property back in 2017.  Citizens also supported – financially and through letters of support — the APFCCC in our lawsuit against the county’s violation of state law, local ordinances, due process, the enforcement of the California Environmental Quality Act and the County’s refusal to correct these violations.

This brief update, puts County officials on notice.  We have not given up, nor will we go away from a just cause to preserve architectural history.  The Old Jail property, once preserved, will allow the various stories – many highlighting Social Justice of Contra Costa County –to be told and preserved.  

It has been a long haul, and the APFCCC will continue the momentum towards a successful resolution that will preserve the Old Jail property for future Contra Costa County citizens.  The APFCCC will use all available means – once again – to ensure that before moving forward, we need to reckon with the past.

Melissa Jacobson
President, Architectural Preservation Foundation of Contra Costa County

We welcome those who are interested to apply for an open board position: APFofCCC@Gmail.com .Or, visit us on Instragram: apfofccc


One Reply to “Let’s hear, “Save the Jail” one more time!”

  1. JAIL HISTORY. In the early 1970s, my mother, the late Louise Harvey Clark of Lafayette, created and successfully led a movement to replace the old Martinez jail with a new model jail. At that time, everyone agreed that the old Martinez jail was too small, too old, and too decrepit to continue to be used as a county jail. The county supervisors voted, unanimously, to build a mini-San-Quentin proposed by the county sheriff – a maximum security, city block of concrete with foot thick walls, no windows, no amenities, and 6 prisoners per cell. My mother thought that the sheriff’s plan was excessive and, probably, too expensive. She did some research and learned about a federal commission which had done a study and had published recommendations for a model jail. The federal guidelines were based on the fact that almost everyone locked up in a county jail is either awaiting trial – and, therefore, presumed innocent – or serving short time for a minor offense. Therefore, medium to low security would be sufficient for almost all of the inmates. The federal guidelines also called for: no more than one person per cell; a window for each cell; and educational and enrichment opportunities and amenities to help prisoners to not re-offend. My mother proposed that the county supervisors build a Martinez jail pursuant to the federal guidelines. She joined, and got on the boards of, local civic groups such as League of Women Voters, American Association of University Women, etc. She got those groups to adopt resolutions asking the supervisors to build a jail pursuant to the federal guidelines. She sent those resolutions to: the supervisors; the newspapers; and other charitable groups such as men’s groups, religious groups, and social groups – and she asked those groups to adopt similar resolutions, and send those resolutions to the supervisors and the media. She wrote hundreds of letters to the editors of the Contra Costa Times and the San Francisco Chronicle – many of which were signed by volunteers she had recruited. She worked on this project, non-stop, for 5 years; she turned around every county supervisor; they built the jail she asked them to build; and the sheriff – and the then under-sheriff who later became sheriff and state senator – who had vigorously opposed my mother’s proposal – bragged that it was among their greatest achievements.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *