1 The John Rhoades Federal Judicial Center Plaza
Our tour begins at the former intersection of Union and E streets, at the center of the pedestrian plazas linking the campus of the John Rhoades Federal Judicial Center. Views from this spot to the north, south, east, and west all reveal the grid layout of the real estate venture known in 1850 as “New Town” San Diego. When California was admitted to the Union in 1850, San Diego was a dusty little settlement of small adobe and wooden structures huddled on a barren landscape, cut off from the rest of the country. That year, chief U.S. surveyor Andrew B. Gray mapped out 160 acres of waterfront land they called New Town. The town was laid out in a series of 56 mostly square blocks, small in size to maximize the number of desirable corner lots in the development. The present-day Rhoades Center occupies five blocks at the northeastern corner of the original New Town development, and one block of a later addition. The small size of each block in New Town led to the eventual closure of streets throughout the downtown area in order to create parcel sizes large enough to accommodate the modern structures of downtown San Diego today.
2 Site of the Capri/Albany Hotels
Through the latter part of the 19th century, the New Town block that eventually became the site of the Capri and State Hotels was dotted with wooden residential structures. By 1914, the three-story Albany Hotel had been constructed on the east half of the block. The hotel included a restaurant famous for its oysters. During construction of the Carter/Keep Courthouse, several truckloads of buried oyster shells were hauled off the site. The building was demolished in 2004.
3 Site of the San Remo/Army-Navy YMCA/ State Hotel
Originally constructed near the time of the Albany in 1914, the three-story San Remo Hotel occupied the west side of the block. Around 1920, the San Remo Hotel became the location of the Army-Navy YMCA. By 1926, the YMCA had moved into its present location on Broadway and the building had been renamed the State Hotel. The State was demolished in November 2001 and the site was used for parking until construction of the new courthouse began in 2009. Remnants of the old YMCA basement swimming pool were unearthed during construction of the new courthouse.
4 Block 39: The State Street Neighborhood
After mapping out the town site for New Town along San Diego Bay, Andrew Gray, an Army surveyor, realized the potential value of the land. He purchased the property with partners and they gave the federal government two lots: Block 31, where the Army built a barracks and supply depot, and Block 39, where they hoped the government would build a post office or customs house. Instead, the Army stabled its horses there. Around 1900, the city wanted the new federal Post Office built on Broadway as part of a grand civic center. Instead, federal officials selected a site the government already owned: the Corral Block, ironically, the same Block 39 that Andrew Gray had originally intended for a post office. Block 39 still contained Army horse stables, troughs and a few small wooden structures. The federal building destined to become the Jacob Weinberger U.S. Courthouse was constructed on the old Army corral in 1913. San Diego would wait another 100 years to realize a federal courthouse fronting Broadway.
5 The Jacob S. Weinberger United States Courthouse
The Southern District of California, as it is now configured, was created in 1966 when California was divided into 4 separate districts. Prior to 1966, the Southern District of California was centered in Los Angeles and the Weinberger Courthouse served as a satellite location for judges traveling from Los Angeles. The building was designed in 1906 by federal architects under the supervision of James Knox Taylor, chief architect for the treasury department. Taylor described the design for San Diego’s new federal building as “an adoption of the Spanish Renaissance. The large windows are arranged so that they will open in the form of casements so that the entire area of the casement openings will be made efficient and an abundance of fresh air and light can be admitted . . . .” The building, now an historical landmark, was commissioned on April 5, 1913 as the U.S. Post Office and Customs House. It now houses the Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of California. Additional information on the building can be obtained via the brochure “A Brief History and Tour of the Courthouse,” available in the lobby of the building.
6 Metropolitan Correctional Center, San Diego
The Metropolitan Correctional Center, San Diego (MCC
San Diego) is the United States federal administrative detention
facility in San Diego which holds up to 1048 male and
female prisoners of all security levels. It is operated by the
Federal Bureau of Prisons, a division of the United States
Department of Justice. Most prisoners held at MCC San
Diego have pending cases in the United States District Court
for the Southern District of California. MCC San Diego also
holds prisoners serving brief sentences. The 23 story building
is connected via secure underground passageways to both
the Schwartz and Carter/Keep Courthouses.
MCC San Diego opened in December 1974 and represented the first shift within the Bureau of Prisons to a new generation of high-rise prison buildings, along with MCC New York and MCC Chicago.
7 The Edward J. Schwartz Courthouse and Federal Office Building
The Edward J. Schwartz United States Courthouse and
Federal Office Building were built in 1974 on the same
land where U.S. District Judge Edward Schwartz once attended
elementary school. Judge Schwartz was instrumental
in procuring the approval and funding for these buildings.
Combined, they are one of the few federal buildings
dedicated during the administration of President Gerald
Ford. They are also unique in that they were named after
Judge Schwartz while he was still living.
The buildings were the first to be built in the Horton Plaza Redevelopment Project, a fifteen block area, which runs five blocks between Union Street to Horton Park and three blocks south of Broadway. The six story Federal Building and its neighboring five-story courthouse have an exterior of precast concrete panels and bronze tinted windows. Crushed chips of Coldspring Corilian granite mixed with the concrete give the building a unique earth tone coloring. The building complex includes two large landscaped areas, including an urban park covering parts of two city blocks on the south-side of the Federal Building. In 2008, the lawn area of the south plaza was replaced with artificial turf, saving 1.4 million gallons of water each year.
8 9/11 Memorial Garden
The 9/11 Memorial Garden, envisioned by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and installed by the General Services Administration, pays tribute to the victims and first responders who stepped forward to assist at the tragedies that occurred on September 11, 2001. It includes a selection of red, white and blue flowers, symbolizing the patriotic spirit of our nation. The garden is identified by a commemorative plaque which dedicates the garden to those who were lost. It includes a quote by Pierre Auguste Renoir: “The pain passes, but the beauty remains.” The memorial garden’s commemorative plaque was unveiled by the mother of 9/11 victim Timothy Ray Ward, at a 10th Anniversary remembrance event held on September 11, 2011. Over 200 people attended the event, including four family members of victims killed in the 9/11 attacks.
9 Front Street Art-in-Architecture
Two commissioned works of 20th Century art can be observed
while passing through the Front Street portal of the federal
building. Through the glass on the west side, Bruce Beasley’s
Axial Incidence, is displayed on a pedestal in the location of the
former main entry to the building. Resembling a large piece of
fine crystal, this piece was part of a project to display contemporary
art in federal buildings in the 1970s. This effort has
since grown to become today’s Art-in-Architecture program, which requires 0.5%
of all new building construction funds be set aside for public art.
Through the glass on the east side of the portal, the paintings Navajo Shepherd and Refuge, by Emery Donaldson Horsky, are displayed above the building entry station. The paintings depict a distant mountain range in the American Southwest. While a resident of Canoga Park in the 1930s, Horsky was active in the Federal Art Project, the visual arts arm of the depression era Works Progress Administration, which operated from August 29, 1935 to June 30, 1943. This work was commissioned in 1941. For many years, both paintings were installed at the Naval Training Center in San Diego.
Also through the Art-in-Architecture program and in cooperation with the National Endowment for the Arts, GSA commissioned Beverly Pepper’s sculpture, Excalibur, which is displayed in the plaza. The piece consists of three steel triangular forms angled so as to appear to reach across the ground and toward the sky.
11 The Edward J. Schwartz Courthouse Plaza
The second “park” developed along with the Schwartz Courthouse is the plaza
running along the west side of Front Street. This plaza includes the E Street Mall
and the area immediately adjacent to the courthouse. Originally,
the main public entry to the courthouse was centered on the plaza
with a moat-like recess on either side to allow daylight down to
the basement level of the building. Today, the plaza and green
space provide a respite from the bustle of downtown activity.
Two notable features of the plaza are the large birdbath element
on the south end and the steps down toward the Courthouse. In
its day, these steps made the Schwartz one of the very few courthouses
to be entered by descending from the sidewalk. Through
the years, this space has also been the scene of many citizen expressions
of free speech, so essential to our democracy.
The dedication ceremony of the Edward J. Schwartz Courthouse and Federal Building took place at the south end of this plaza on October 6, 1976.
12 Schwartz Courthouse Cornerstone
After nearly two years of planning, construction on the Schwartz buildings began in November 1972. The contract was awarded to general contractor Huber, Hunt & Nichols with a bid of $36.5 million. During the Cornerstone Ceremony on October 29, 1974, Mayor Pete Wilson said the new Federal complex was the “anchor of the Horton Plaza redevelopment program” for downtown and the L-shaped structure covering three city blocks would spur vital redevelopment efforts and be a “stimulus to the renaissance of downtown San Diego.” The cornerstone covers a rectangular, copper time capsule filled with news clippings of the progress of the Federal complex, the cover sheet of the contract, ceremony program, commemorative postage stamps, current local newspaper, a dated Federal court calendar, two photos of the model of the building, and seeds from trees growing near the complex.
13 Broadway Display Windows
The original design for the Schwartz Courthouse façade along Broadway included recessed alcoves and planters. These elements proved to be unsightly and created maintenance and security issues. GSA, in collaboration with the U.S. District Court, reconfigured the alcoves in 2005 to create a dynamic, visual display of artwork, imagery, and famous historical quotes that embrace the themes of Freedom, Liberty, Equality and Justice for all. While enhancing both the “curb appeal” and security of the courthouse, the display areas also provide an educational opportunity for the public about the judiciary.
14 Hotel San Diego
The six-story Hotel San Diego was built at the corner of Union Street and Broadway in 1914 with a southwest annex added in 1924. The construction of the hotel helped to establish the urban fabric of a growing city. Significant in its association with developer John D. Spreckels and architect Harrison Albright, the hotel was part of the building boom spurred by the Panama California International Exposition of 1915-1916 and was part of Spreckels’ plan to construct a series of seven large commercial buildings along Broadway to create a commercial corridor in the downtown area. The Hotel San Diego was one of the first truly modern hotels in the city and was also one of the largest reinforced concrete buildings in California at the time. Through the years, the hotel was home to many civic groups and businesses, including the city’s first television station, KFMB, which began broadcasting from studios in the basement in 1949. Early broadcasters included Harold Keen and weathergirl Raquel Welch. In the mid-1950’s, the County constructed courtrooms on the second and third floors of the hotel. In 2000, the Hotel appeared in Academy Award winning film, Traffic, starring Michael Douglas. By the turn of the millennium, the building had fallen into disrepair and was imploded on April 16, 2006 to make way for the new Carter/Keep U.S. Courthouse. District Judge John Rhoades had the honor of pushing the button to ignite the explosives causing the massive implosion.
15 Hedge Wedge
San Diegan Robert Irwin is an internationally recognized artist known for playing with light and space and perception. Hedge Wedge is Irwin’s living sculpture, a ramp of interlocking concrete and steel elements, topped by a green privet. As with the grand steps of historic courthouses, Hedge Wedge provides a transition between the bustle of the surrounding city and the ceremonial space of the courthouse. This sculptural element required close collaboration between the buildings’ architects, landscape designers, construction engineers, and others to become a reality. More than 1,000 plants for the piece were grown in a nursery over two years before they were planted at the courthouse.
16 James M. Carter/Judith N. Keep Courthouse with Cornerstone and Builders’ Plaque
The architectural massing of the new federal courthouse combines
a slender 16-story tower, rising above a transparent building base.
The ultrathin massing incorporates sustainable design strategies to
allow daylight into the entire building and offer natural ventilation
on select floors. In juxtaposition to the rectilinear tower, the building
lobby is an elliptical volume carefully positioned to be visible
from all approaches to the site. The lobby form serves to receive
and direct staff and visitors to the multiple courthouse destinations. It is filled with
filtered daylight from above and animated by mezzanines of staff and visitor circulation.
The traditional “lobby mural” is replaced by a 180-foot
long south-facing ribbon window that frames a “mural garden”
which changes with the seasons. The two-courts-per-floor
design eliminates long corridors and gives human scale to the
procession from entry to courtroom. This activity is visible
from the public plaza to express a dynamic and accessible judicial process.
The building cornerstone and the Registry of Builders and Designers are both located at the top of the entry ramp, near the main entry doors. The project provided over 1,500 jobs for each year of construction with over $185,000,000 in salaries benefitting the local economy. The building achieved LEED Gold Certification by the U.S. Green Building Council for environmental sustainability.
17 Acrylic Prism
Within the light-filled lobby of the Carter/Keep Courthouse is Robert Irwin’s nearly transparent 33-foot-high sculpture, Acrylic Prism. The sculpture is a highly polished obelisk, made of virtually transparent acrylic so it becomes a prism. In the sunlit lobby, when the light is overhead, you might not see the column at all. But when the sun moves, the prism refracts light and casts colors. “I had this idea to make an object that was nearly transparent, so that it would almost disappear,” Irwin said recently. But it never found its ideal environment. Built for a collector who died before it was done, the piece was installed instead in a shopping mall, where it was scratched, damaged and never lit properly, according to the Los Angeles Times. Damaged further in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, it waited in storage for years for an appropriate home. “No one could find an appropriate space three stories tall,” said Philip Handler, the former dean of the art school at CSU Northridge, who was given the task of trying to get the piece out of the basement. In 2005, as Irwin collaborated with the designers of the Carter/Keep Courthouse, the piece finally found a home.