Richard H. Chambers U.S Court of Appeals, Pasadena, CA
Location: 125 S Grand Ave, Pasadena, CA 91105
Set on the crest of a steep hill overlooking the Arroyo Seco, the Richard H. Chambers U.S. Court of Appeals Building towers over its setting and dominates the view from across the Arroyo. Originally built as a hotel during the late stages of Pasadena's great resort hotel age, the main building was constructed in two sections--the two-story north wing, in 1920, and a six-story tower with a belvedere and flanking wings, in 1930.
The site's resort history dates to 1882, when Emma C. Bangs opened the original Arroyo Vista boarding house, a two-story, wood-frame building, and series of small cottages. In 1919, hotel tycoon Daniel M. Linnard, associated with such elegant Pasadena hotels as the Huntington and Green, purchased the Vista del Arroyo with the vision of developing the property into an opulent resort. Linnard commissioned the noted architectural firm of Marston & Van Pelt to design a large, two-story Spanish Colonial Revival addition to the original structure. Once the popularity of the Vista had been established, select guests also built bungalows on the property.
In 1926, Linnard sold the resort to former business partner H.O. Comstock. Comstock hired architect George H. Wiemeyer to redesign the hotel and add a grand six-story addition that consisted of a central belvedere and flanking wings set at an angle. The new Vista opened in 1931 with iridescent color, entertainment, and social gaiety. In 1936, Linnard repurchased the property and hired landscape architect Verner S. Anderson to improve the hotel's grounds by designing formal gardens and adding fountains, tennis courts, and a swimming pool.
In 1943, the U.S. War Department acquired the hotel complex and converted it into the McCornack Army Hospital and offices for the U.S. Army. In 1949, the hospital was deactivated, and it housed navy and army offices. In 1964, it came under the stewardship of the U.S. General Services Administration and it was used for federal agency office space until 1974 when the building closed.
In 1981, the Vista del Arroyo was listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and GSA began design work to restore the building as the southern seat of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In 1995, the building was renamed to honor Judge Richard H. Chambers, whose concept it was to bring a federal courthouse to Pasadena.
The Richard H. Chambers U.S. Court of Appeals Building is the largest of several buildings adjacent to a residential district at the western edge of Pasadena. The old hotel was constructed primarily in two sections: a two-story, stucco-covered wood frame section built in 1920-1921, and a six-story reinforced concrete portion built in 1930-1931. The buildings were joined together at the original main entrance, their first floors aligning on the interior to form a continuous first level. The two sections form a U-shaped plan, oriented to face the Colorado Street Bridge. The 1920 building, of which the southern have and central campanile was removed for the 1930s addition, burned in 1982. The present north section is a replication of the original.
Both the 1920 and the 1930 sections were designed in the Spanish Colonial Revival style with a skillful interplay of stucco walls, arched openings, and terra-cotta tile roof. The exterior ornamental detailing is very simple, with bracketed balconies, an arcaded ground level, and Spanish Colonial Revival features such as circular windows and twisted balusters. The most prominent component of the building, the 1930 tower, is richly embellished and capped with a dome covered with patterned dual-toned tiles.
Between 1920 and 1937, four architects played significant roles in designing the Vista del Arroyo. Sylvanus Marston and Garrett Van Pelt were responsible for the plans for the 1920 hotel. Between 1921 and 1938, the firms of Sylvanus Marston and Myron Hunt transformed the Vista into one of Pasadena's premier resorts by designing twenty bungalows that surrounded the hotel. San Francisco architect George H. Wiemeyer designed the elegant six-story addition in 1930.
The first floor of the interior was richly ornamented. At the hotel entrance, visitors strolled through a vine-covered pergola to a lobby embellished with decorative pilasters, freestanding columns, and plaster moldings. From the elaborate Morning Room and Sunset Room, guests viewed the gardens and outdoor activities as the day progressed.
A number of bungalows, including the elaborate Maxwell House, remain in privately owned portions of the original property. On the 7.2 acres still owned by the government, GSA continues to maintain the original paths, patios, and gardens.
During the 1980s, GSA restored the building exterior, grounds, and ornamental interior spaces to their original appearance under the design direction of J. Rudy Freeman of Neptune & Thomas, earning awards from the American Institute of Architects and National Endowment for the Arts. Suspended ceilings were removed and decorative plaster recreated in the Spanish room (now a courtroom), dining room (now a library), sun lounge (now offices), morning room (now a conference room), and foyers.
The Spanish Room is particularly lavish; its rich detail includes a highly decorative ceiling with large plaster grilles and walls with wrought-iron grilles. The original Dining Room features plaster pilasters and columns, wrought-iron light fixtures, large arched window openings, and a beamed ceiling. The elevator lobby and west foyer also retain significant original elements, such as the decorative elevator doors and original glazed-tile risers of the main stair.
A reconstructed rose-covered pergola, restored fountain, and colorful plantings greet today's visitors to the U.S. Court of Appeals. An irreplaceable landmark serves a new public use as a centerpiece of the community.
- 1882: Emma C. Bangs opens a boarding house
- 1919: Hotel tycoon Daniel M. Linard buys the hotel and hires architects Marston & Van Pelt
- 1930: Architect George H. Wiemeyer redesigns the hotel with a six-story addition
- 1936-1937: Landscape architect Verner S. Anderson improves the resort by adding formal gardens, fountains, tennis courts, and a large swimming pool
- 1943-1949: The hotel serves as the McCornack Army Hospital
- 1951-1974: Various federal agencies occupy the building
- 1981: Neptune & Thomas begins designing restoration of old Vista to house U.S. Court of Appeals, and the building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places
- 1985: GSA reopens the former hotel as a federal courthouse
- Architects: Sylvanus Marston & Garrett Van Pelt; George H. Wiemeyer; Myron Hunt
- Architectural Style: Spanish Colonial Revival
- Construction Dates: North wing, 1920; tower and angled wings, 1930; bungalows, 1921-1938; Maxwell House, 1929
- GSA Building Number: CA9551RR
- National Register of Historic Places Landmark Status:: Listed in the National Register of Historic Places
- Primary Materials: Reinforced concrete walls dressed with beige stucco and red terracotta tile roof
- Prominent Feature: Six-story tower with belvedere