Border Station Old Customs Building, Calexico, CA

The old Customs Building at the Calexico Border Station is located to the international border between the United States and Mexico, at the intersection of First Street and Heffernan Avenue. It is a free-standing L-shaped building whose primary elevation faces west. Appropriately, the building is Spanish Colonial Revival in its styling, exhibiting the stuccoed exterior and the red clay tile roof which are the hallmarks of that architectural idiom. Secondary material on the exterior include terra cotta and wrought iron. Of reinforced brick construction, the building consists of a single-gabled main block which is two stories in height over a subterranean basement, and a one story wing, referred to as the Public Health Annex, which is partly side-gabled and partly flat-roofed, on the south. The main black measures 95 feet by 40 feet; the annex is 68 feet by 37 feet. A detached, one story garage/inspection shed on the northeast - whose dimensions are 43 by 43 feet - is part of the complex. The symmetrical design of the main block culminates in a centered, octagonal cupola topped with a a tile rood, lantern, and finial. Seven bays are defined on the facade by the fenestration. On the main level, the end bays project beneath tiled and shed roofs. The side elevations of the main block are three bays in width; three bays are also located on the facade of the annex. Windows are primarily six-over-six double hung wood Sachs, with a series of four-light openings on the annex. Entries are located on the west, south, and east elevations; original doors have transoms above are are fully-glazed, twelve-light, single doors, or nine-light over two panel single doors. Several have original hardware, including handles which curve oppositely to reflect opposite door swing directions. The most notable alteration of the exterior of the building is the removal of the porte cochere that formerly extended from the center of the main block west facade to cover three lanes of vehicular traffic, as well as the sidewalk in front of the building. In 1962 the porte cochere was replaced by a metal canopy; between 1988 and 1995 (the NR nomination says this happened in 1975, but 1988 plans indicate this canopy still in place) this canopy was removed and a three bay portico whose design echoes that of the original porte cochere was built. The portico is embellished with new patterned tile insets, again echoing the decoration of the original structure. Other modifications to the exterior include replacement of some of the original doors and transoms, as well s a wood-sided addition, constructed in 1970, to the east end of the south wing. Now mostly vacant, the interior of the building accommodated the functions of the customs and immigrations departments which are not handled by a newer building (built in 1974) one block to the west. Public spaces were located on the first floor, with offices arranged off a double-loaded corridor on the second story. Mechanical services, storage, and detention rooms were located off of a double-loaded corridor in the basement. Spatial configurations appear to be mostly intact on the basement and second floor. New partitions have been added, and original ones removed, on the first floor and in the north part of the inspection shed.

The old Customs Building at the Calexico Border Station has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places at the National Level of significance. It is important for its role in politics and government as a custom house. It is a location where U.S. policies for international political and economic relations have been directly implemented since 1933. Its role as an immigration station has also had direct influence on the Hispanic heritage of the region. The station is also recognized as a notable example of regional Spanish Colonial Revival architecture as interpreted by the Depression-era federal building program under which it was constructed.

Calexico's function as a border community on the United States side of the international boundary with Mexico dates to its founding in 1900, initially as a surveyor's camp in conjunction with the construction of the canal bringing water from the Colorado River to the Imperial Valley. The first U.S. Customs office in Calexico was established in 1902. A Mexican counterpart in Mexicali, across the border, followed in 1904. Border traffic, both goods and people, increased rapidly, and Calexico grew with it. By the early 1930s the Customs House had moved two times, and it was apparent that a new facility was needed.

The federal agency responsible for the construction of the old Customs Building at Calexico in 1932 was the Public Buildings Branch of the procurement Division of the U.S. Treasury department. Part of a massive federal construction program began under the Hoover administration and continued under Roosevelt's Public Works Administration, the Calexico facility was realized under the aegis of Acting Supervising Architect James A. Wetmore. Design credit probably belongs to the Superintendent of the Architectural Division at Treasury, Louis A. Simon. In keeping with the general practice of the federal building program, the Calexico customs house is characterized by a restrained use of local architectural tradition, executed, in so far was feasible, with local materials and craftsmen.

Plans for the building were announced in 1932. Following a delay caused by a threatened federal appropriations cut, local businessmen raised $40,000 for purchase of the land at First Street and Heffernan Avenue. Work began at the end of 1932, with a cornerstone dedication in April 1933, The building opened in November, 1933, amidst great public interest. Like its counterparts at Tecate (1933), San Ysidro (1933), and Naco (Arizona), the border station played an important role in the daily life of the community and the two nations it served. The old Customs Building at Calexico continued in its original function until 1974, when it was supplanted by a border station nearby. It retains a high degree of architectural character and integrity.

Description Architect
1932 1933 Original Construction Wetmore, James A., Supervising Arch
Last Reviewed: 2017-10-16