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U.S. Court of Appeals Ninth Circuit Library, Pasadena, California
by Lan Dang

Law Library and Library Services

What makes the Ninth Circuit Library in Pasadena special is the historical and architectural significance of the building. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981. The library is located inside the courthouse, which is a six story, Spanish Colonial Revival style building. The building originally was the premier resort Vista Del Arroyo Hotel, built in 1919. It became home to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in 1986. The Pasadena branch library is a part of the Ninth Circuit library system. The system includes our headquarter library in San Francisco and twenty-three branch libraries located in the nine western states and United States territories of Guam and Northern Mariana Islands. Besides the main website maintained by the headquarters library, most of the branch libraries have their own webpage. Each branch library develops and maintains topical subspecialties. We share these resources with other libraries in different areas of law. The Pasadena branch library contains approximately 26,000 volumes and our area of specialty is bankruptcy and banking law. The majority of the collection consists of federal law, state law, legal treatises and legislative history materials. There are three staff members on site, two professional librarians and one library technician. Our library services extend to all court personnel within the Ninth Circuit states and territories as well as members of the federal judiciary in the United States. Frequently we receive requests from other circuit and district court libraries. Occasionally we get requests from the United States Supreme Court library. The Ninth Circuit library system provides reference and research to an estimated 400 federal judges and 5,000 court employees. On a daily basis, we work closely with the judges and law clerks in our location.

Building History

From the outside, the courthouse looks like a hotel or a large estate from bygone days. It looks like a hotel because originally it was the Vista Del Arroyo hotel in the 1920’s and 1930’s. The property was purchased by Mr. D. M. Linnard, who was the owner of the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco and the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego. When you step inside you will feel as though you are being transported back in time, because nothing has changed in the main lobby. With its high ceiling and ornate chandeliers, it looks exactly as it was when it was the Vista Del Arroyo hotel. A few steps from the main lobby, you will encounter a very large room. This big room with arched glass windows all along the wall is the law library. It is the largest room in the entire building. Due to the size, it served as the main dining room when the building was a hotel in the 1920’s and when it was a hospital during WWII. The large columns and decorated ceiling in the library give you a sense of how majestic the building used to be as grand hotel. From the library you can look out to the arroyo and see the lovely garden and the Colorado Street Bridge. The view is like a perfect picture from a postcard. During the restoration stage of converting the building into a courthouse, all the heavy drapes were removed to allow as much natural light into the library as possible. In the winter months, the entire library turns a beautiful shade of orange when the sun sets in the evening. Because the building sits on the crest of the arroyo, visitors have a superb view of the mountains and valley.




The era of the grand Vista Del Arroyo hotel ended on February 3, 1943, when the United States government purchased the building from Mr. Linnard and turned it into McCornack Army Hospital. The hospital served as a rehabilitation center for soldiers from the Pacific Theater and veterans with serious injuries. It also served family members from the military. As a result, quite a few baby boomers were born at the hospital. After the war the hospital moved out, and various government agencies occupied the building. It was not until 1980 that Chief Judge Richard Chambers started restoring and converting the building into a courthouse. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was a Ninth Circuit judge at the time, served as chairman of the building committee. The building was dedicated as the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on February 3, 1986. United States Supreme Court Chief Judge Warren Burger was the presiding judge at the dedication ceremonies. The courthouse was renamed the Richard H. Chambers U.S. Court of Appeals Building on February 16, 1993. This was to honor Judge Chambers, who was the driving force behind the conversion of the building.

Fun Facts

Court employees can tell visitors that their courthouse used to have a swimming pool. The oval-shaped swimming pool was part of the Vista Del Arroyo hotel and is located at the bottom of the western slope in the formal garden area. If you want to see how the swimming pool appeared back then, you have to watch the 1940 movie, My Favorite Wife. The swimming pool was featured in this movie, which starred Cary Grant and Irene Dunne. Not too many courthouses can claim that they have a swimming pool on their property.

Another well-known person from the past is Howard Hughes. It was written that young Howard Hughes and his family used to vacation at the hotel. As the story goes, Howard liked to play his saxophone, and he often woke up the hotel guests. The guests complained to the hotel manager and asked him to get rid of the kid or else they would leave. To solve the problem, the hotel manager hid the saxophone mouthpiece from Howard in the morning and gave it back to him in the afternoon.

In present day the courthouse was the setting in the book Supreme Ambition: a Novel written by David Lat. The author was a former law clerk for a Ninth Circuit judge. He used the Pasadena courthouse as the setting for his story about a law clerk with the ambition of working for the Supreme Court. There is a chapter in the book, in which the law clerks meet in the law library to discuss a case.

Another fun fact that the court employees like to tell their friends and families is that they can stop and smell the roses every day before they go in to work. This is true because court employees literally can stop and smell the roses as they enter the building every morning. The long pergola that leads to the entrance of the courthouse is lined with red and white climbing rose bushes that reach as high as ten feet tall. In the springtime you can smell the distinct rose and orange blossom fragrance in the air. The grounds that surround the building are especially lovely at this time of the year. Flowers bloom everywhere, and beautiful plants just pop up out of nowhere. This was the result of Judge Cynthia Holcomb Hall’s careful planning over the years when she was in charge of the landscaping and gardens of the courthouse.

A few years ago we had a visitor who was born in the building while his father was working as an Army medical staff member for the McCornack Hospital. At the end of the library tour and before his departure, he said to the assistant librarian, “What a lovely environment to come to work in every day.” Needless to say, I have to agree with him one hundred percent.

Copyright 2017 by Lan Dang.
About the author:
Before joining the Ninth Circuit Library as an Assistant Librarian, Lan Dang was a reference librarian for an entertainment law firm. She started out with the District Court in Los Angeles and transferred to the Court of Appeals in Pasadena. Lan enjoys conducting tours of the law library and sharing the rich history of the building with visitors. The best part of her job is the view from the library window during the spring time when the gardens are in full bloom.