On January 8th, when the tragic shooting in Tucson was reported, I was with colleagues touring the southern branch of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The courthouse is the third incarnation of the magnificent structure on the eastern bank of the Arroyo aptly named the Vista Del Arroyo Hotel. It was drafted into the Army during World War II when the Federal Government converted it into a military hospital. Today it serves as a Federal Appellate Courthouse.


We were privileged to tour on the first day of docent events organized by Steven Sarnicola special deputy U.S. Marshal. Steve did this as a volunteer, using his off-time, his personal collection of memorabilia, and his interest in the history of the location to put the unique program together. The primary role of Steve and the other U. S. Marshalls is to protect our federal judges. It is our oldest Federal law enforcement agency since George Washington organized it to protect him. Learning that 9th Circuit Federal Justice John Roll of Arizona was one of the victims of the slaughter that happened earlier that day was a chilling reminder of the importance the role U.S. Marshalls play in the protection of our rights to use the courts.


Steve assembled a slide show of photos depicting the development of the building from its earliest days in 1882 when Emma Bangs opened her wooden boarding house and cottages; from 1919 when hotel tycoon Daniel Linnard commissioned architects Marston & Van Pelt to design the Spanish Colonial Revival building that rivaled the popular Pasadena hotels drawing guests from the east and making Pasadena a desirable upscale resort town; and from 1926 when H. O. Comstock hired architect George H. Wiemeyer to add a grand six-story addition and a central bell tower that is the image known to us today.


January 8th, 1931 was the date the hotel was formally opened for the winter season with a gala dinner dance for hundreds of guests and reported in the Pasadena Star as "one of the finest hotels on the Pacific Coast". When we arrived on that anniversary date, the antique car club that had toured earlier in the day was preparing to leave. Their collection of vintage cars from the twenties and thirties was still parked in a long line on Grand Avenue framing the entrance to the building much as the cars must have been arranged for the happy crowd attending the grand opening eighty years earlier.


We learned that Howard Hughes had lived in one of the hotel bungalows as a child. Steve showed us films of Bob Hope entertaining the troops much in the way Hope had done in the 1940s when he visited during the Army hospital era. We noted the view of the Colorado Bridge as it framed the swimming pool that was here when Hollywood movie-making crews arrived. We could imagine dining in what is now the law library, and dancing in what is now the courthouse with twenty-eight seats where the southern portion of the ninth circuit judges can meet en bench to hear the most important and controversial cases.


We toured the courtrooms where three judge panels sit to hear most of the cases. We saw the special bankruptcy courtroom. And we learned how federal cases proceed through this portion of the legal system in conformity with a process designed to protect our rights. The hearings at the Federal Court of Appeals are open to public observation in the same way as proceedings in the county courts.


For this particular courthouse, the rooms are exquisitely furnished because of the dedication of Richard H. Chambers, the federal judge who found this structure when it was a vacant hospital in surplus property and recognized its potential as a courthouse. He furnished it with surplus federal property, appropriate to the period, from closed courthouses throughout the country.


Today the Richard H. Chambers courthouse bears the Judge's name. The structure is listed in the state of California historic sites, and thanks to Marshall Steven those taking his tour can learn how it functions today and imagine what the activity at the site overlooking the Arroyo was like in each of its former incarnations.