The Rutherford Report: Government Center Reflects County Heritage

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“History does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak and timid.”

—Dwight D. Eisenhower

Government Center Reflects County Heritage

A lot of thought and planning went into the design of the San Bernardino County Government Center before it was built in downtown San Bernardino in the early 1980s.

The Government Center was commissioned after the County sold its primary office space to accommodate an expansion of Norton Air Force Base.

Then-County Administrative Officer Robert Rigney wanted to ensure the public building reflected the community, so there are multiple homages to the area’s history and character both inside and outside the facility.

For one, the building is located on the site of the stockade built by pioneers from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1851.

A fountain shaped like an arrow flows east toward the Government Center. It is lined with orange trees to represent the County’s citrus heritage. This area is known as Arrowhead Plaza.

Then-First District Supervisor John Joyner was quoted as saying the fountain’s flowing water symbolized “the flow of ideas from the community to the Government Center,” during the dedication of the plaza in November 1982.

Two towering oil paintings specifically commissioned by Rigney for the Government Center greet visitors on either side as they enter. One is of a stagecoach making its way through the Cajon Pass; the other is of a rugged pioneer family looking off into the distance.

Cliff Barnes of Lake Arrowhead painted them inside his A-frame cabin. In fact, he painted the bottom halves on the first floor of his home and the top halves on the second floor before squeezing the giant paintings out his sliding glass door.

Hanging along the balcony in the building’s rotunda is a montage of concrete plaques that illustrate the story of San Bernardino County starting with the Native Americans and their revered arrowhead landmark and moving through to the coming of the missionaries, miners, railroads, agriculture and so on. It’s quite a display that many visitors probably miss.

Also in the two-story rotunda is a bronze-colored statue of a pioneer woman holding a double-barrel shotgun protecting a young boy and flanked by a dog. It was selected for the Government Center in 1984 by the county’s Commission on the Status of Women, and it generated some controversy as one might imagine.

The Los Angeles artist who created the statue named it Prairie Grit, but Rigney, who poured his heart and soul into the design and layout of Government Center, said the County would call it Pioneer Spirit since there “aren’t many prairies around here.”

Two smaller versions of this statue are presented to the Board of Supervisors Chair and Vice Chair after their biennial selection.

In 1988, the Board of Supervisors honored Rigney, who passed away in 1987, by naming the Government Center’s entrance the Robert B. Rigney Rotunda.

There’s also the poignant Peace Officers' Memorial Statue in the rotunda that depicts a police officer cradling a fellow officer who has been killed in the line of duty. The names of 59 law enforcement officers who have been killed in the line of duty along with their departments are listed on the base of the statue.

While it was installed many years after the dedication of the building (1999 to be precise), the memorial fits well with the original intent of making the building a reflection of the community it serves.

Next time you visit the Government Center, take a few moments to seek out these interesting details.

Special thanks to former Special Districts Director Jeff Rigney—son of Robert Rigney—who took the time to talk to me and my staff about the history behind the County Government Center before his retirement after 35 years of service to the County.
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