Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Local

After 151 years, court is back in session at San Diego's historic Whaley House

There was a time when the center of San Diego was Old Town, back when today's downtown was called "New Town." And back then in the mid to late-1800s, the center of it all was the Whaley House — now known across the world as "America’s Most Haunted House."

But on this Tuesday, the ghosts got a break because on this day only, the Whaley House became home to San Diego Superior Court, Department 68, with Judge Richard S. Whitney presiding.

Whaley House Court 04.jpg
Matthew Bowler
The Honorable Richard S. Whitney sat in the judge's seat at San Diego's historic Whaley House for the first time in 151 years, Old Town San Diego, May 17, 2022.

The Whaley House served as San Diego’s one and only courthouse from 1868 to 1871. It was the city’s second courthouse. The first one was just a couple of blocks away.

Bringing court back to the grand old place was a dream come true for Judge Whitney.

“It’s an exciting day. There’s been a lot of preparation by the Whaley folks, the Superior Court and the Sheriff’s Department to bring this courtroom back to life," said the judge.

Whaley House Court 02.jpg
Matthew Bowler
The Honorable Richard S. Whitney sat in the judge's seat at San Diego's historic Whaley House for the first time in 151 years, Old Town San Diego, May 17, 2022.

Being a judge in the 1800s was a tough business. A group of them had to travel between San Diego, Los Angeles and San Bernardino on horseback, each journey taking several days. And there were some tough cases heard in this court.

“There were also some capital punishment (cases) and even some executions that were conducted right on site, fairly soon following the sentencing," said Judge Whitney.

But there was nothing nearly so dramatic on this day. Judge Whitney presided over a few civil cases before adjourning the first court proceedings held here in 151 years.

Whaley House Court 03.jpg
Matthew Bowler
The Honorable Richard S. Whitney sat in the judge's seat at San Diego's historic Whaley House for the first time in 151 years, Old Town San Diego, May 17, 2022.

Whitney said there was no particular reason he chose Tuesday to hold court in the old house. He said he just wanted to draw attention to the historical significance of this place.

As for the Whaley House as courthouse, that ended when a fight between Thomas Whaley and Alonzo Horton ended with a triumph for Horton in relocating San Diego’s courthouse to a location close to where all the courthouses downtown are today. The Whaley House would head in a different direction, eventually becoming "America’s Most Haunted House" and a beloved landmark in Old Town San Diego.