Marin County Civic Center – San Rafael, California - Atlas Obscura

Marin County Civic Center

Frank Lloyd Wright died a year before construction on his largest public project even began. 


Frank Lloyd Wright’s largest public project was California’s Marin County Civic Center. The ambitious complex, which includes an 11-acre lagoon and 20-acre park, is sometimes referred to as the “Big Pink” for its pink stucco walls.

Wright was selected to design the center in 1957. But groundbreaking for the structure didn’t happen until 1960, one year after the modernist architect’s death. His work wasn’t restricted to just the building’s plans—he designed the doors, signs, and furniture in the center. 

Wright’s protégé Aaron Green oversaw construction of the main building, which was completed in 1962. The Hall of Justice was added in 1969; the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in 1971; and the Exhibit Hall in 1976. The accompanying post office, one of several accessory buildings on the site, is the only federal government project of Wright’s career.

The main building is a State and National Historic Landmark. It has been nominated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Its distinctive blue roof, pink walls, and scalloped balconies lend a whimsical air to the structure, which was used as a filming location for George Lucas’s film THX 1138. Lucas was also inspired by Wright’s designs while creating the structures on Naboo in the Star Wars films.

Lucas wasn’t the only one to cement the center’s place in pop culture history. Parts of Peter Frampton’s album Frampton Comes Alive! were recorded there in 1975 and the Grateful Dead recorded their album In the Dark there in 1987. The buildings can be seen in the ‘97 film Gattaca and in Dr. Dre’s 2011 music video for the song “I Need a Doctor.”

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November 20, 2017

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