Throwback Thursday | Four Lives of the Vista del Arroyo

If the above building was a cat, what might it say?

PHOTO: Rick Thomas photography | News | This historic Pasadena building has served many masters (2019) 

The Vista del Arroyo hotel and bungalows once graced the Arroyo Seco near the Colorado Street Bridge. From 1943 to 1949, however, it served another purpose, and then two more after that!

If this building was a cat, it has already lived four of its nine lives. Can you name all four in order? (see answer below)

PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | News | Magazine advertisement: Vista del Arroyo hotel and bungalows (1932)


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First Life: Vista del Arroyo hotel 

Second Life: U.S. Army Hospital

Third Life: Federal Office Building

Fourth Life: U.S. Court of Appeals 

Next Life: Emergency Shelter (during the Zombie Apocalypse)


Throwback Thursday is written and produced by Rick Thomas


Author Rick Thomas is the former museum curator and vice-chair of education for the South Pasadena Preservation Foundation. He served on the South Pasadena Natural Resources Commission, helping to maintain a strict policy protecting the city’s great old-growth trees. Using touchstone photographs from his own collection—one of the San Gabriel Valley’s largest accumulations of historical images and artifacts—as well as national, state, and local historical archives, Thomas provides a window to his city’s past and an understanding of why its preservation is so important.


  1. I served in the Los Angeles Field Office, 116th INTC GP, US Army Intelligence Corps, from February 1965 to August 1967. Our Field Office exclusively occupied (2/3 of) the top floor of this former Grand Dame. I still recall the three gently angled sectioned layout of the building – I was given to understand this was to minimize conduction of hallway sounds; our office space required occupation along only two of the sections. By venturing to the end of the third section one could look down on the Rose Bowl. This time period included the smoggy years. The Santa Ana winds exposed an impressive vista of the nearby mountains, unfortunately obscured all the rest of the year. The elevators alone provided a brief work daily “return to yesteryear” experience. Our small fleet of Government Vehicles were parked at the base of the hill in the arroyo, accessed down / up the stairs on “cardiac hill”. This provided an unofficial, but nonetheless effective, daily exposure to Physical Training. Parking our Privately Owned Vehicles on the streets around the entrance became an exercise in covert operations in re the Pasadena Police Department (PPD) parking monitors. We had to balance parking proximity to our office against parking time limitations in the residential area(s) immediately around it. These patrols caught onto our ploy of going out in the late morning and wiping off their tire chalk marks, and began meticulously noting license plate numbers. On occasion even movement of one’s vehicle to a spot a block or so away nonetheless ran afoul of a monitor’s license list. These exercises helped hone our intelligence corps skills and innovative techniques.
    I, these many years later, still vividly recall utilizing my badge to pass through the PPD exclusion zone lines surrounding the Orange Grove portion of Pasadena the early morning of 1 January 1966 to drive directly to our Vista del Arroyo office building, park in the small, normally reserved – that day unoccupied – parking lot directly in front of the building, and stroll 1/2 block to the corner of Orange Grove and Colorado Boulevards. Later I realized one actually is provided a better view of the Parade on television by virtue of the fact the cameras, mounted as they were / are stories high, look down on the units – massive floats in particular – permitting viewing of the intricate upper areas, as apposed to one at ground level right by the action, but looking up the sides. Nonetheless, that one brief morning I was “right where the action was”, and had no difficulty directly accessing it with a very short walk and in a timely manner.
    As may be gathered, my US Army enlistment, my first real job after college, proved to be one of the most satisfying experiences of all for me. All this 2 1/2 year adventure was played out on the set of Pasadena’s former Grand Dame hostelry! I am very sorry to relate my current sorrow re the fact neither I, nor I am afraid my comrades, at the time really appreciated the landmark status of the building to which we reported at 0700 hrs at least five days weekly, and occasionally additional odd hours as well; eg: during the Watts Riots.
    The Grand Lady truly was the setting of a marvelous period in this guy’s ordinary life, and in retrospect I recognize even in her then stripped out GSA configuration she still maintained a stalwart presence reflecting quiet dignity, class, and gracious service. She endures, and it appears, prospers. May her beautiful tower stand watch over the historic Arroyo – JPL, Rose Bowl – for many more years, and, quite possibly in even yet another incarnation!