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Courthouse History

The old Federal Building and United States Courthouse came back to life on April 22, 1994, after extensive renovation. Now named the Jacob Weinberger United States Courthouse, the building is the permanent home to the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of California. During its 100+ years of life, this building has seen many changes and served many masters. The Weinberger Courthouse story starts at the turn of the century.

A series of international events began to culminate in San Diego around 1900. Local businessmen, government leaders, and newspapers had pushed strongly for the construction of the Panama Canal, recognizing its importance to San Diego, which was the first American port for ships sailing north. They envisioned San Diego as the international trade center on the West Coast. They also planned a Panama-California Exposition, which would focus world attention on San Diego and would boost employment, economy, world trade, and tourism. This would consequently produce a "Renaissance" in San Diego's development. In 1906, Congress authorized construction of the first permanent federal building in San Diego, specifically designed to house the U.S. Post Office, the U.S. District Court, and U.S. Customs. It was commissioned on April 5, 1913 as the “U.S. Post Office and Custom House.” The architecture of the building is an eclectic design, blending "monumental classicism and Spanish colonial revival," creating a federal building that uniquely recognizes San Diego's Hispanic heritage. In 1916, Miss Kate Sessions received the contract for planting the building grounds. (Sessions was a noted San Diego horticulturist responsible for much of the plants and trees of Balboa Park, site of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition.) In August of 1917, Postmaster Barrow asked for permission "to plow up the large lawn to the south of the building and plant the ground to potatoes, beans, or some other useful vegetable," to locally support the World War I war effort.

In 1928, 4,000 square feet was added and in 1938, the Post Office was relocated and the old federal building was renamed "U.S. Customs and Courthouse," with the main occupants being the district court, customs service, the F.B.I., and other federal agencies. During the 1940s and 1950s, various additions and modifications took place. In 1956, Jacob Weinberger, Resident Judge, dedicated a new courtroom "as a place where justice under law will be made a reality."

In 1961, the building was renamed "The United States Court House." In 1966, ceremonies were held here to establish the Southern District of California, comprised of San Diego and Imperial Counties. In April of 1976, a new federal office building and courthouse was completed just northeast of the old building, leaving behind a deteriorating structure with a doubtful future. Fortunately in 1975, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Therefore, destruction was not an option; however, the old courthouse sat lifeless for many years.

Efforts to revive the building were spearheaded by Judge Richard Chambers and Judge John Rhoades, and in 1990 renovation began, utilizing original blueprints and old photographs as guides. On April 29, 1994, following four years of extensive renovation, the staff of the U. S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of California took residence in the magnificently restored, historic courthouse.

You are welcome to tour this historic building. The building is open to the public from 9 am to 4 pm Monday through Friday, except on federal holidays. Guided tours of this historical building are available by calling (619) 557-6428.