Richard H. Chambers U.S. Court of Appeals Building, Pasadena, California

Building History

Set on the crest of a steep hill overlooking the Arroyo Seco River, 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 the six-story bell tower with flanking wings, in 1930.

The site's resort history dates to 1882, when Emma C. Bangs opened the original La Vista del Arroyo Hotel, 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 La 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 hotel to replace 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 bell tower 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 the old hotel, under the care of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), housed a variety of Federal agencies from 1951 to 1974.

In 1981 the Vista del Arroyo was placed 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.

Architecture

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 steel and wood frame section built in 1920-21, 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. Only the northernmost portion of the 1920 building remains--its southern half and central campanile (bell tower) were removed for the 1930s addition.

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. In 1921, architect Myron Hunt transformed the Vista Hotel into one of the premier resorts in Pasadena, designing several of the hotel's original bungalows. Pasadena 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 cottages, including the elaborate Maxwell House--constructed for the famous coffee magnate--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 original plaster decorations recreated in the Spanish Room (now a courtroom), Dining Room (now a library), 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 cast-iron 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.

Significant Events

1882: Emma C. Bangs opens a resort hotel called La Vista del Arroyo.

1919: Hotel tycoon Daniel M. Linard buys the hotel and hires architects Marston & Van Pelt to replace the wood-frame building with a larger Spanish Colonial Revival structure.

1930: Architect George H. Wiemeyer redesigns the hotel with a six-story addition.

1936-37: Landscape architect Verner S. Anderson improves the resort by adding formal gardens, fountains, tennis courts, and a large swimming pool.

1943-49: The hotel serves as the War Department's McCornack Army Hospital.

1951-74: Various Federal agencies occupy the building.

1981: Neptune & Thomas begins designing restoration of old Vista to house U.S. Court of Appeals. The building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

1985: The U.S. General Services Administration reopens the former hotel as a federal courthouse.

Building Facts

Architects: Sylvanus Marston & Garrett Van Pelt; George H. Wiemeyer; Myron Hunt

Construction Dates: North wing, 1920; tower and angled wings, 1930; bungalows, 1921-37; Maxwell House, 1929

Landmark Status: Listed in the National Register of Historic Places

Location: 125 South Grand Street

Architectural Style: Spanish Colonial Revival

Primary Materials: Reinforced concrete walls dressed with beige stucco and red terra-cotta tile roof

Prominent Feature: Six-story bell tower

Richard H. Chambers U.S. Court of Appeals Building, Pasadena, California

The old Vista del Arroyo Hotel/Richard H. Chambers U.S. Court of Appeals is the largest building in a complex of structures situated at the edge of a steeply sloping site overlooking the Arroyo Seco in Pasadena. The Vista del Arroyo complex is located adjacent to a residential district and lies at the western entrance to the City of Pasadena, its grounds running from the top of a crest down into the arroyo. The main hotel dominates the site, and was designed to be prominently viewed by drivers entering Pasadena from the west over the Colorado Street Bridge.

The old hotel was constructed primarily in two sections: a two-story steel and wood frame structure built in 1920-1921, and a six-story reinforced concrete structure built in 1930-1931. The buildings were joined together at the original main entrance, their first floors aligning to form a continuous first floor. Only the northernmost portion of the 1920s building remains, its southern half and central campanile having been removed to make way for the 1930s addition.

The 1930s section of the building is T-shaped in plan at its first two stories with L-shaped upper story plans. The remaining section of the 1920s building extends the main shaft of the T-shape to the north. Together, the two sections embrace the arroyo and are directly oriented towards the adjacent bridge. Both the 1920s and the 1930s sections were designed in a Spanish Colonial Revival style with stucco walls, a variety of arched openings, and red clay tile roofing distinctive of that style. The overall ornamental detailing is very simple, consisting of bracketed balconies and an arcaded ground level, and with a dramatically ornamented central tower that is the most prominent feature of both the building as well as the site.

The site and its features cannot be overlooked when describing the building and its significance. The old hotel grounds occupied a 13 acre site, sharing that site with a total of eighteen bungalows that had been originally constructed as guest residences. Additionally, the hotel site included a system of paths and stairways, porches, patios and terraces both attached and unattached to the hotel, and a swimming pool to the west, along with other recreational places such as tennis courts and playgrounds. A number of these site features remain, including the semi-circular terrace and fountain at the east yard; the low stone wall running adjacent to the sidewalk along Grand Avenue; the mature, ornamental trees at the east yard; and a raised concrete terrace at the north end of the building's west elevation. Also, though many of the original bungalows remain, not all are presently owned by the GSA, and most are in various states of neglect and consequent disrepair. At the time of this report, it appears likely that several bungalows will in fact be demolished.

Richard H. Chambers U.S. Court of Appeals Building, Pasadena, California

The old Vista del Arroyo Hotel/Richard H. Chambers U.S. Court of Appeals has long been a visually prominent landmark in Pasadena and, together with its site and complex of adjacent buildings, represents in its history a major episode in Pasadena's development as a resort community.

Positioned at the edge of a residential neighborhood and at the crest of a steeply sloped site overlooking the Arroyo Seco, the six-story main building with its older, two-story wing, towers over its setting and dominates the view from across the arroyo. Especially impressive is the view of the building's angled wings, central tower and overall Spanish Colonial stylistic details from the Colorado Street Bridge.

Pasadena's cultural and social history is interlocked with the railroad lines running through town, and the ensuing boosterism of Pasadena as a beautiful and healthful resort. Winter weary Easterners came to enjoy the sun, fresh fruits and bungalow lifestyle offered by the hotels. Generally, these guests were wealthy, and many decided to remain and reside permanently in Pasadena.

Before the turn of the century, during what was the great age of Pasadena resort hotels, a high class boarding house called La Vista del Arroyo, or the "Arroyo Vista", was located at this site. Operated by Emma C. Bangs, this early hotel consisted of a two-story wood-frame building and several small cottages. The last of this hotel complex was demolished in 1920, when the earliest portion of the present structure was constructed.

The hotel Vista del Arroyo's most important growth periods coincided with ownership and management changes at the hotel in 1919, 1926 and 1936, and in fact came only after the great resort age in Pasadena was on the wane. The Vista, the Huntington, and the Green hotels appear to have been the only successful attempts at prolonging the hotel lifestyles of 19th century Pasadena through both a world war and a depression. The Vista del Arroyo played a particularly prominent role in the 1930s social life of Pasadena, as it was the newest and grandest of Pasadena's resorts.

In 1919, Daniel M. Linnard bought the original Vista and, in 1920, commissioned the architects Marston & Van Pelt to expand the 19th century hotel with the addition of a larger, Spanish Colonial Revival style hotel building. In 1926, Linnard sold the property to H.O. Comstock, who again added to the hotel in 1930. Comstock's architect, George H. Wiemeyer, designed a six-story, reinforced concrete hotel building that required the demolition of what remained of the original turn-of-the-century building, along with a portion of the 1920 building south of the main entrance, including the central campanile. Towards the end of its era as a resort hotel, Linnard repurchased the Vista, and undertook additional improvements to the facility.

In 1943, the War Department acquired the hotel complex, converting its use to a hospital and offices for the U.S. Army. In 1949, the hospital was deactivated and, from 1951-74, the old hotel served as office space for a variety of federal agencies including, from 1964-1973, the General Services Administration. From 1974-1982 the building was vacant, a period of deterioration capped by a fire that extensively damaged the 1920's portion of the building. It was subsequently reconstructed during adaptation of the entire building into a U. S. Court of Appeals and Federal Building. The building reopened as a court facility in 1985, and is presently undergoing additional interior alterations of the upper stories into judges' chambers and other court activities.

Year
Start
Year
End
Description Architect
1920 1938 Original Construction Marston & Van Pelt
1930 1931 New Construction George Wiemeyer
1931 "Spanish Room" Addition George Wiemeyer
1935 "Morning Room" Addition Marston & Maybury
1937 Additions to 1920 Building Hunt & Chambers
1982 U. S. Court of Appeals, Adaptive Use Neptune & Thomas
1988 Seismic Repair