9th Circuit Court Mystery History

Oct 3, 2012

What is this? What’s happening here?

Editor’s Note: please welcome the second installment of Ann Erdman’s “Mystery History” column, where she provides the seldom known details of locally historical photographs.

One of Ann’s readers, Wanda, guessed correctly: “Guests are enjoying their stay at the Arroyo Vista Guest House, which later became the Vista del Arroyo Hotel (quite a renovation) and is now the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.”

This photo is circa 1888:

Mrs. Emma C. Bangs purchased the plot of land—several acres—between Orange Grove and the Arroyo Seco in 1882.

The Arroyo Vista Guest House was a boarding house and hotel that served winter tourists, travelers, and several people with lung disorders who had come west for a climate more tolerable for their conditions.

Here’s an excerpt from my favorite local reference book, Pasadena: Historical and Personal by J.W. Wood, published in 1917, which can be found in the Centennial Room at Pasadena Central Library:

There are many ways that might be sought to amuse. Even the sick can find opportunities. Mrs. Jennie Banbury ford furnishes the following as illustration.

“When Mrs. Bangs’ boarding house was most flourishing, there were many consumptives coming and going. It became so depressing it was suggested that they band themselves together under the head ‘the busted lung brigade,’ and create more hopeful and cheerful feeling. The suggestion was carried out and proved very successful. They elected officers, had a beautiful silk banner with ‘B.L.B.’ embroidered on it and met all ‘busted lungers’ with open arms. Those whose stay was ended were started on their several ways with smiles and cheers. Each member was compelled to sign the by-laws, which were amusing at least. They must not sit in a draft, must consume just so much milk and so many eggs each day, and look after each other’s comfort, etc. To help the fun along, Mrs. Bangs bought a parrot in Los Angeles who knew how to cough exactly like a ‘lunger’ and contributed much to the amusement. I don’t believe a more grotesque club ever existed, do you? It lasted for several years.”

The guest house was eventually demolished and then rebuilt in 1920 as the magnificent 400-room Vista del Arroyo Hotel designed by architects Sylvanus Marston and Garrett Van Pelt. A year later, architect Myron Hunt added his own touches, which transformed it into the resort hotel that became so famous for so many years.

In this undated photo, guests are in front of the east wing of the hotel with a trellis over the main entrance:

In this 1940s photo, a fashion show takes place on the lower portion of the property:

Another view of the lower grounds:

Its life as a hotel ended in 1943 when it was procured by the federal government under the War Powers Act to serve as an U.S. Army hospital. From 1951 to 1974, the building housed a number of federal agencies. It was remodeled one more time, and since 1981, has served as the 9th Circuit U.S. Federal Court of Appeals.

The interior is just as specatuclar as the exterior:

One of the courtrooms:

A little history is offered at the federal General Services Administration site.

Tours are offered once a month by Steve Sarnicola, a member of the U.S. Marshalls Service that offers security to the building, who can be reached at steveusms(at) The next tour will be at the end of October, on a Saturday or Sunday depending on the availability of the docents, and they need a minimum of 20 people to conduct the tour, which begin at 11 a.m. or 2:30 p.m. Attendees visit the original foyer, and also the library and the courtrooms. Entire tour and presentation lasts about an hour and a half.

I’ve always loved this photo, which is courtesy of the Pasadena Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Many thanks to the Pasadena Museum of History, University of Southern California, and the Richard H. Chambers U.S. Court of Appeals.

Ann Erdman is happily retired after decades of loyal service to the City of Pasadena as Public Information Officer. Her blog can be found at







Flintridge Books

Lyd and Mo Photography

Louis Jane Studios

Homage Pasadena