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R. Chambers; Federal Judge, Preservationist

October 27, 1994|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Richard H. Chambers, the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals judge who fought to preserve historic buildings and was instrumental in moving the court's Los Angeles offices to a renovated Spanish colonial hotel building in Pasadena, has died. He was 87.

Chambers, who had continued hearing cases as a senior judge until he was disabled by a stroke three years ago, died Friday in Tucson, where he lived.

He was appointed to the appellate court by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1954, and from 1959 until 1976 served as the court's chief judge. The 9th Circuit encompasses the eight Western states and all U.S. territories in the Pacific.

Although it is based in San Francisco, the court also maintains offices and occasionally meets in Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles.

When the appellate body felt squeezed by the local U.S. District Court in the Downtown federal courthouse, Chambers became the driving force behind a plan to move to Pasadena. At his urging, the court took over the Hotel Vista del Arroyo and spent $10 million to rehabilitate it. The hotel, built in 1881, had served as an Army hospital and was declared surplus property in 1974.

The General Services Administration planned to sell the old hotel and initially greeted Chambers' idea as a "boondoggle." The move remained controversial among his colleagues, with many considering the building too ornate and costly. When the court moved in 1985, four judges lagged behind in protest.

In 1992, the building was named the Richard H. Chambers U.S. Court of Appeals in honor of Chambers' conversion efforts.

He also led campaigns to preserve or restore nearly two dozen other historic buildings, mostly courthouses, in San Francisco, San Diego, Portland and elsewhere in the nation.

Chambers' lobbying included unusual means such as sending memos to fellow judges signed by his horse, Tom Chambers. When he wanted some of the Pasadena hotel-cum-courthouse bungalows torn down to build a parking lot, he launched a letter-writing campaign by taking out a classified advertisement in the Pasadena newspaper.

"The paid advertisement," he said, "enabled me to put my message in the paper without being edited."

Born in Illinois, Chambers moved to Arizona with his family when he was 1 year old. He earned his law degree from Stanford University and went into practice with his father in Tucson.

Chambers served as president of the Pima County Bar Assn. in 1950 and 1951 and as a member of the Judicial Conference of the United States from 1959 to 1976.

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