Administration Building

The Administration Building is one of the four Nelles-era buildings remaining on the site. It was one of the several buildings added to the complex during or just following Fred C. Nelles’ tenure as superintendent, to improve the school and fulfill the ideal of a cottage system for the school. The Administration Building was where new wards were admitted to the school, and provided offices for the staff. It served as the public face for the institution, as it was a transitional space between the outside world and the secure campus of the correctional facility. The Administration Building was emblematic of the small-scale de-institutionalized environment that was the goal of the cottage system implemented by Fred C. Nelles, which aimed to help provide the young wards with a sense of family, community, and belonging.

Architectural Character

The Administration Building was designed in the Tudor Revival-style with some details inspired by the English Arts & Crafts movement, such as interior light fixtures and fireplaces. The masonry building was laid in English bond brick. The one-and-a-half-story building had a rectangular plan, with a large cross gable and several smaller gables breaking up the long façade. Character defining features of the façade included a pointed arch over the recessed entrance way, a bay window, cross gable and a large brick chimney. The roof was made of red flag tile. The building had a half-basement and rested on a concrete foundation and a concrete underlayment.

The new Administration Building replaced The Castle from the original Whittier State School. The original cornerstone remains on the grounds, commemorating the original Richardsonian Romanesque Revival-style Castle, that provided the majority of functions for the school facility, but fire damage and structural problems from faulty construction led to its demolition in 1916. By avoiding the authoritarian Romanesque Revival-style of the previous building, the Tudor Revival-style design of the new Administration Building better reflected Nelles’ cottage system, which was intended to provide the young wards with a sense of family, community, and belonging.

Floor Plans

The Administration Building’s floor plan consisted of several rooms arranged on either side of a central corridor, which ran the length of the building. The primary entrance to the building was centrally located and led visitors into a small entryway, followed by a large reception room separated by wood-paneled double doors. The reception room welcomed visitors with a fireplace and large bay window, making the building feel more like a home and less like an institutional administration building.

Historical Landscape Design

Historically, the principal entrance to the Administration Building was located on the primary (north) elevation and faced north towards a circular drive (removed). There were two entries (removed) into the circular drive on the west side from the palm tree-lined street oriented at 45-degrees. A grass lawn (removed) occupied the center of the circular drive. Between the Administration Building and the circular drive was a deep lawn (partially intact). A concrete pathway led from the primary entrance to the circular drive, and two serpentine-shaped concrete pathways led from the side entrance on the east and west elevation to various roads.

Located to the southeast of the Administration Building was the Superintendent’s Residence constructed fourteen years earlier. A road originally ran from the entrance of the property along the eastern property line through the Administration Building and the Superintendent’s Residence and connected with palm tree-lined streets. A concrete pathway (extant) led from the rear entrance located on the south elevation to the secondary road (removed).

There were several mid-century alteration campaigns that removed the road infrastructure adjacent to the Administration Building. In 1958, the circular drive was removed and converted into a Visitor and Administration parking lot; and a portion of the road from the property entrance to the Superintendent’s Residence was removed and this road was fenced off at the western end. Another major improvement was the installation of a fourteen-foot tall fence around the perimeter of the property. It was at that time that the Administration Building and Superintendent’s Residence lost their visual connection with the rest of the school site, as they were not enclosed within the fence boundaries. By 1965, the Visitor and Administration parking lot was expanded to the 45-degree interior road; and the road between the Administration and Superintendent’s Residence was shortened and converted into a cul-de-sac.

Historic photographs indicate that the landscape surrounding the Administration Building was once lushly planted. Lawns surrounded the Administration Building and old sidewalks led to the entrances (the sidewalk enclosing the lawn was a later mid-century improvement). In front of the north, south and east elevation was a continuous planting bed enclosed by a brick header; while the planting beds appeared in historic photographs, the brick headers did not and were later, possibly mid-century, improvements. While the short palms in the planting beds appeared older, they did not appear in historical photographs. Based upon review of historic photographs in comparison with existing conditions, the trees on the north side of the building were more recent additions during or after the 1950s, while the large trees on the south side of the building were from an earlier period and may have been planted in the 1920s or 1930s, such as the Grapefruit, Southern Magnolia, and Palm. Furthermore, the rear (south) elevation retained its spatial relationship to the Superintendent’s Residence and its lush landscape. The original cornerstone and a bench constructed of brownstone from the original 1891 Administration Building can be found in front of the north elevation.

Additional Information

For more historical information, including more building specifics, floor plans, and photos, download the HABS Report and reference page 205.

Physical History

Date of Erection

Constructed between 1928 and 1929


Deputy Chief W.K Daniels

Builder, Supplier, & Contractors

The Division of Architecture at the State of California Department of Public Works



The Administration Building was primarily rectangular with overall dimensions of approximately 186’ long by 50’ wide.


The Administration Building sat on a raised concrete foundation with reinforced concrete footings.


The exterior walls were approximately 1’ thick unreinforced, English bond masonry. One of the rear facing gable ends contained plaster and half-timbering characteristic of the Building’s Tudor style.

Structural System & Framing

The Administration Building’s structural system consisted of exterior unreinforced masonry walls with wood beams and rafters supporting the roof.

Porches, Stoops, Balconies & Bulkheads

There was a single porch located on the Administration Buildings primary (north) elevation. The porch was round in shape and offset to the east of the front facing gable near the center of the structure. The porch included two concrete steps which led to the primary entrance under a recessed, pointed archway. On the rear elevation, next to one of the rear-facing cross gables, there was a small brick stoop recessed under the building’s primary roof, which was supported by one free-standing and two engaged brick columns. The stoop was enclosed with a metal railing.



The Administration Building was a single-story structure and therefore, there were no stairways.


The interior floors of the Administration Building were altered with the addition of linoleum tile and carpeting.

Walls & Ceiling Finish

Most of the rooms were finished with plaster walls, including the large reception room near the main entrance. Other office spaces were altered with the addition of wood paneling on the walls. The ceilings throughout the Administration Building were altered with new drop ceiling framing and tiles. The reception room retained its original plaster ceiling with exposed wood rafters and beams.

Decorative Features & Trim

Although some of the original decorative features were lost due to interior remodeling, features like the splayed doorway surrounding the door to the former secretary’s office remained. Above the splayed doorway was a unique decorative feature including an engaged hemisphere and keystone-shaped pedestal. Other features that remained were the wood built-ins in some of the office spaces, which included cabinets and shelves.


The original door and window hardware were found throughout the Administration Building.