Birch Bayh Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, Indianapolis, Indiana

Building History

The Birch Bayh Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse (formerly known as the U.S. Courthouse and Post Office) is a distinguished example of Beaux Arts architecture. It was one of only 35 federal buildings constructed under the Tarsney Act of 1893. The Treasury Department sought designs for the new federal building from private architectural firms through an open competition allowed under the Act. John Hall Rankin and Thomas Kellogg, noted Philadelphia architects, secured the design contract, and the Treasury Department accepted the New York-based John Pierce Company's low construction bid of $1,300,000. (The final cost, however, reached nearly $2,000,000.) Begun in 1902 and completed in 1905, the new federal building was massive. Accommodating 925 federal employees, the U-shaped, Beaux Arts structure occupied an entire block, rose four stories, and housed federal courts, offices, and the main post office.

Beaux Arts classicism, often reflected in federal buildings of this era, was popularized by the majestic buildings of the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. Monumental design and formal planning of spaces are hallmarks of the style. The Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse inspired Beaux Arts designs for other public buildings in Indianapolis, including City Hall (1910), the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library (1917), and buildings in the Indiana World War Memorial Plaza (dedicated in 1927).

Architecture

Resting on a gray granite foundation, the Birch Bayh Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse is a steel-framed, flat-roofed structure clad with Indiana limestone. The south (front) elevation has eleven bays, separated by three-story Ionic engaged columns and flanked by entry pavilions. Each pavilion has a central cast-bronze and glass doorway, reached by a wide, shallow gray granite stair flanked by pedestals with heroic sculptures by John Massey Rhind entitled "Industry, Science, Agriculture, and Literature."

Completed in 1905, the new federal building was originally U-shaped. The symmetrical facade features evenly spaced Ionic pilasters and terraces with stone balusters. A heavy classical cornice tops the building. A five-story addition, completed in 1938, enclosed the original U-shaped plan, creating an interior courtyard. The addition is compatible with the original building, featuring classical ornamentation mixed with modern details such as the stylized relief over the entrances.

The original impressive scale and richly ornamented interior design elements remain intact. Mosaic tile ceilings, cantilevered marble staircases, and much of the original decorative artwork and furnishings are still in place. The major interior spaces of the building are the first-floor lobbies and connecting corridor and the original courtrooms at the southeast and southwest corners of the second floor. The exterior entry doors at the southeast and southwest corners of the first floor open into barrel-vaulted corridors with white marble walls and brown and green marble pilasters and columns. The corridors lead to vaulted octagonal vestibules that feature red marble walls and gray Tuscan columns, as well as Roman-style mosaics on the ceilings. Arched openings of the octagonal vestibules lead to lobbies with elevators and grand staircases, and to the quadripart vaulted connecting corridor. The semicircular marble staircases are among the finest examples of cantilevered (supported only from one end) stone stairs in the United States.

Among the most impressive interior features of the building are the Depression-era murals. Working under the Treasury Relief Art Project, which aimed to restore faith in the country through patriotic and historically themed art, master artist Grant Christian painted murals that depict the history of transportation and delivery of mail in Indianapolis.

The courtrooms feature handsome marble floors, colored marble and plaster wall finishes, and elaborately ornamented, gilded, and painted plaster beam and panel ceilings with skylights. Bronzed railings, stained-glass windows, and heavy wrought-iron gates provide detail to these rooms, which also still have their original furniture. Allegorical representations of Justice placed above each judge's bench symbolize the seriousness of their responsibility.

Depression-era interior modifications were mostly cosmetic in nature. These included replacement of open metal grillwork doors on the elevators with polished metal doors, and installation of dark green marble-faced walls at elevator entrances. Modern translucent panels replaced the original stained-glass skylights in the second-floor courtrooms.

The first-floor east-west corridor is no longer used as a post office. The postal service windows and mailboxes were removed when these functions were shifted to widely dispersed annexes. Replicas of the service windows were added during the course of restoration, returning the space to its original appearance.

In recent years, GSA has reversed some past modifications made in the name of modernization, and has begun conserving important elements of the building. GSA has replaced modern lighting with appropriate period features, repaired mosaic tile ceilings, and restored exterior stone work. In 1974, the Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Significant Events

1902-1905: The Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse is constructed.

1935: Murals by Master artist Grant Christian depict the history of transportation and mail delivery in Indianapolis.

1938: Addition of north wing is completed.

1962: GSA's ongoing preservation work begins.

1974: The Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

2003: Building renamed in honor of U.S. Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana.

Building Facts

Architects: John Hall Rankin and Thomas Kellogg

Construction Dates: 1902-1905

Landmark Status: Listed in the National Register of Historic Places

Location: The city block bounded by Ohio, Meridian, Pennsylvania, and New York Streets

Architectural Style: Classical Revival

Primary Materials: Indiana limestone sheathing over steel framing and reinforced concrete; gray granite base and stairs

Prominent Feature: Elaborate interior finishes including marble, plaster, and mosaics

The Birch Bayh Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Indianapolis, Indiana, is located one block north of Monument Circle on the block bounded by Ohio Street, Meridian Street, Pennsylvania Street, and New York Street. It was designed to house federal courts, offices, and the main city post office for Indianapolis. These functions were accommodated in a four story extended U-shaped building with its symmetrical long facade facing south on to Ohio Street. Construction was begun in 1902 and the building was completed in 1905. The structural system is steel, the floors and flat roof are reinforced concrete, and the exterior walls are sheathed in Indiana limestone. The style is predominantly Beaux Arts Classicism. In 1936-1938, a five-story addition was added to the north, closing the original U-shaped plan and creating a light court for the upper floors. The classical facades were extended on the east and west while the new north elevation contained simple Art Deco detailing.

The south facade has eleven bays, separated by three-story fluted Ionic engaged columns and flanked by entry pavilions at the southeast and southwest corners. The main entrances are accented by pairs of heroic limestone statues by John Massey Rhind, added in 1906. A heavy classical denticulated cornice with a stone balustrade above terminates the vertical thrust of the pilasters and provides an appropriate cap to the monumental facade.

The east and west elevations consist of the entry pavilions, behind which are secondary pavilions which contain the grand stairs, wings of eight bays (five original and three addition) separated by rectangular three-story fluted Ionic pilasters, and then northern pavilions which contain the arched entry to the U.S. Post Office drive-through.

The north elevation has fourteen bays separated by three story pilasters with Art Deco capitals, and flanked by pavilions with cantilevered balconies and Ionic pilasters at each corner. Typically, the plan of the building is composed of double-loaded corridors ringing the building on all floors. The elevator lobbies and grand stairs are located near the southeast and southwest corners of the building. The corridors, lobbies and stairs are finished with marble floors, marble walls or plaster walls with marble wainscot, and either mosaic tile vaults or plaster beam and panel ceilings.

The major interior spaces of the building are the first floor lobbies and connecting corridor and the original courtrooms at the southeast and southwest corners of the second floor. The exterior entry doors at the southeast and southwest corners of the first floor open into barrel vaulted vestibules which lead to vaulted octagonal vestibules. Arched openings of the octagonal vestibules lead to elevator/stair lobbies and the quadripartite vaulted connecting corridor. The vestibules and corridor are finished with variously colored marble and terrazzo floors, marble walls and plaster or mosaic tiled ceilings. The courtrooms have marble floors, variously colored marble and plaster wall finishes and elaborately ornamented, gilded and painted plaster beam and panel ceilings with skylights. These rooms still have their original furniture.

The Birch Bayh Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Indianapolis, Indiana, is an outstanding example of the Classical Revival style of architecture which was popular for public buildings at the turn of the century.

The site for the building was purchased in 1900 for $626,000 under the authorization of a congressional appropriation bill passed on March 1, 1899. A national architectural competition was held to select the architect for the building. The winner of the competition was the Philadelphia architectural firm of John Hall Rankin and Thomas W. Kellogg. The John Pierce Co. of New York submitted the lowest construction bid for the project -- $1,267,530 for the building exclusive of the art work, equipment and furnishings. The interior was contracted to the Chapman Decorative Company of Philadelphia. E.C. Strathman was the superintendent of construction and James Knox Taylor was the supervising architect for the Treasury Department. Ground was broken on May 29, 1902, and the cornerstone was laid March 25, 1903. The building was completed in September 1905, to accommodate 925 federal employees.

Principal functions of the building originally were for courtrooms and associated spaces for the U.S. District Court for Indiana, and for a U.S. Post Office. In 1935, Congress appropriated $1,300,000 for the construction of a north wing to the building. Construction of the addition was begun on September 24, 1936, and was completed on May 21, 1938. The cost of the addition was variously reported as $1,536,871 up to $1,890,000. This addition extended the classical facade around the north side of the building and provided an appropriate elevation facing the important six-block long, Beaux Arts inspired Indiana War Memorial Plaza, terminated at the north by Paul P. Cret's 1917 classical revival design, the Indianapolis Public Library.

Year
Start
Year
End
Description Architect
1902 1905 Original Construction Rankin & Kellogg
1906 1908 Sculptures are Installed at Entrances John Massey Rhind
1936 1938 Construction of North Wing and Elevator Enclosures McGuire & Shook/Rankin & Kellogg
1937 WPA Murals are Installed Grant Christian
1957 General Rehabilitation & Mural Restoration H.L. Grohne Co./Richard Hausdorfer
1962 Air-Conditioning & New P.O. Floor Installed
1963 First Floor Tile Replaced with Terrazzo American Art Mosaic & Tile Comp.
1964 Exterior Limestone is Sandblasted Atlas Industries
1969 Law Library Converted into Offices
1973 1974 Major Remodeling of Former P.O. Facilities
1981 Smoke Enclosures Installed James Associates
1984 Tuckpointing of Exterior Limestone Walls
1986 1987 Security System & Emergency Generator Installed GSA - Region 5
1993 1994 Restoration of Main Lobby & Courts Expansion Odle McGuire & Shook Corp.
1993 1994 Restoration of Light Standards & Steel Windows Lorenz & Williams Inc.