Pima County Courthouse

Historic Building Fact Sheet

pima county courthouse exterior

The Pima County Courthouse stands today as an iconic building in Tucson. (Feb. 2022) Photo Credit: Chris Rycroft

Need to Know Info

Address115 North Church Avenue
Tucson, Arizona
Coordinates32°13’24.5″N 110°58’22.3″W
Date Added to NRHPJune 23, 1978

The Pima County Courthouse is a historic landmark in downtown Tucson, designed in Spanish Colonial Revival style by Roy Place in 1928 and formerly serving as the main county courthouse.

After housing various court operations for decades, it was converted into museum space featuring exhibits from the University of Arizona along with a memorial to the 2011 Tucson shooting victims.

The courthouse gained national fame for briefly holding notorious gangster John Dillinger in 1934 and has appeared as a backdrop in several Hollywood films over the years.

The In-Depth Story

From Dillinger to Hollywood: History of the Pima County Courthouse

The Pima County Courthouse, located in downtown Tucson, Arizona, is a former county courthouse building of immense historical and architectural significance. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this iconic structure was designed by architect Roy Place in 1928, showcasing a blend of Mission Revival and Spanish Colonial Revival styles.

Originally constructed to serve as the main county courthouse, the building housed the Pima County Superior Court from 1930 to 1977. Subsequently, it became the home of the Pima County Consolidated Justice Court from 1977 to 2015, where lower-level state criminal matters and small claims cases were adjudicated. In February 2015, court proceedings for the Justice Court were relocated to a newer facility shared with other Pima County departments at 240 North Stone Avenue, while Superior Court proceedings were held at the Pima County Superior Court building on 110 West Congress Street.

As the various departments and court functions prepared to vacate the premises by 2017, Pima County devised plans to convert the historic Courthouse into a museum space. Discussions were held with the University of Arizona and the Tucson Museum of Art to house exhibits within the repurposed building. Additionally, plans included the establishment of a new café and the creation of a memorial honoring the victims of the 2011 Tucson shooting, which seriously wounded then-U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords.

In 2020, the University of Arizona Mineral Museum (UAMM), formerly located on the university’s campus, embarked on the process of relocating its extensive collection to the Pima County Courthouse in downtown Tucson.

The Pima County Historic Courthouse stands as one of Tucson’s most beloved landmarks, revered for its architectural grandeur and historical significance. Designed by architect Roy Place, the building’s iconic Spanish Colonial Revival style was realized in 1929, and it remained in service for an impressive 86-year span, serving as the backdrop for numerous weddings and housing various County departments.

In 1978, the building obtained its “Historic” designation from the National Register of Historic Places, earning recognition as the “most outstanding Spanish Colonial Revival building in Arizona.” Its elegant blue-tiled dome, a prominent feature visible from afar, has become one of the most recognized structures in the region, even adorning the official Pima County logo.

Over the years, the Courthouse has been home to several tenants, including the Sheriff’s Department, the School Superintendent’s Office, Superior Court, and, most recently, the Consolidated Justice Court, Assessor, Recorder, and Treasurer’s Offices.

Currently, the Pima County Courthouse serves as the headquarters for Pima County Attractions & Tourism, Pima County Administration, Visit Tucson, the Southern Arizona Heritage and Visitor Center, and the University of Arizona Alfie Norville Gem and Mineral Museum.

The Pima County Courthouse gained national notoriety in 1934 when it became the temporary holding facility for America’s infamous “Public Enemy No. 1,” John Dillinger, and three members of his gang. After their capture in Tucson, the notorious bank robbers were arraigned in an upstairs courtroom, later known as “Courtroom 8,” before being extradited. During their four-day stay, the public was allowed to pay a fee to catch a glimpse of the celebrity gangsters in their cells, attracting widespread media attention.

In recent Courthouse restoration efforts, “Courtroom 8” has been meticulously preserved and rehabilitated to recreate its 1930s appearance during the Dillinger era, providing visitors with an authentic glimpse into this historic event.

Over the decades, the Pima County Courthouse has attracted numerous celebrity visitors and served as a backdrop for several Hollywood productions. In January 1954, the “King of Hollywood,” Clark Gable, spent a day at the Courthouse as a defendant in a $40,000 damage lawsuit. His trial garnered significant attention, with all 77 courtroom seats filled and female courthouse employees reportedly using their breaks to catch a glimpse of the iconic star.

Another actor who graced the Courthouse with his presence was Johnny Depp. In 1991, while filming the movie “Arrowtooth Waltz” in the area, Depp was pulled over for speeding at 93 miles per hour on I-10. Coincidentally, he pleaded guilty to the speeding charge in the same courtroom where he would later portray John Dillinger in the 2009 film “Public Enemies.”

Reports also suggest that celebrities such as Steve Martin and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis visited the Pima County Courthouse, though the reasons for their visits remain undocumented.

In addition to hosting famous figures, the historic landmark has served as the backdrop for several blockbuster films, including the 1956 thriller “A Kiss Before Dying,” starring Robert Wagner and Joanne Woodward, and the 1976 musical drama “A Star is Born,” featuring Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson.

The Pima County Courthouse stands as a testament to Tucson’s rich history, its architectural grandeur, and its enduring allure as a cultural and civic landmark. With its recent transformation into a museum and visitor center, this iconic structure continues to captivate locals and visitors alike, offering a window into the city’s storied past and a glimpse into its promising future.

NRHP Reference #: 78000566