Byron White U.S. Courthouse, Denver, CO
The grand Neo-Classical design of the Byron R. White U.S. Courthouse brought design elements popular in the eastern United States to Denver. The monumental scale and elegance expressed its official and public character, and served as inspiration for other civic buildings in the city.
By 1900, Denver was a major transportation crossroads and a significant western commercial city. The monumental 1893 U.S. Post Office was already considered outdated, leading the people of Denver to seek a new, larger building for the Post Office and Federal Courts.
Authorization for a new building was approved as early as 1903, but funds were not appropriated until 1908. In 1909 Supervising Architect of the Treasury Department James Knox Taylor selected New York architects Tracy, Swartwout, and Litchfield to design Denver's new Post Office and Courthouse. It was one of only thirty-five Federal buildings built during Taylor's tenure (1883-1912) that were designed by independent architects commissioned by the U.S. Treasury Department under the Tarsney Act. Passed in 1893, the Act authorized the Treasury Secretary to use private architects, selected through architectural competitions, to design Federal buildings. The Act reflected the growing demand for greater architectural standards for public buildings and opened the way for additional appropriations to maintain those standards.
Evarts Tracy (1868-1922) and Egerton Swartwout (1870-1943), graduated from Yale University and worked as draftsmen in the New York office of McKim, Mead, and White before establishing their own firm in New York in 1900. Electus Darwin Litchfield (1872-1952), a graduate of the Brookland Polytechnic Institute and the Stevens Institute of Technology, joined the partnership in 1908.
Construction began in 1910, but progress was slow due to insufficient funds. The initial appropriation of $1,500,000 was supplemented with an additional $400,000 as a result of Denver Postmaster Joseph H. Harrison's lobbying effort in Washington, DC. The building opened in January 1916.
In 1973 the U.S. Post Office and Courthouse was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In 1994 it was renamed in honor of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Byron R. White (1917-2002) a native of Fort Collins, Colorado.
With its monumental presence and dramatic public spaces, the Byron R. White U.S. Courthouse is an excellent example of the Neo-Classical architecture that dominated federal building design at the turn of the twentieth century. Occupying an entire city block in downtown Denver and standing four stories in height, the building reflects the academic characteristics of the Neo-Classical style with its symmetrical design, classical details, and imposing manner.
Clad in Colorado Yule marble, the material used for the exterior of the Lincoln Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in Washington, DC, the U.S. Courthouse is set above the street on a rusticated base. A series of grand stairs lead up to the main entrance on the southeast elevation (Stout Street), which is marked by sixteen, three-story, Ionic columns adorned with eagles. The secondary elevations incorporate similar, but less pronounced, engaged Ionic columns. Set above the third story, a decorative band of medallions and eagles form the base of the large ornamental cornice.
The frieze above the main entrance has city names, with cities located east of Denver inscribed to the east of the central bay and those located to the city's west inscribed to the bay's west, symbolizing the flow of mail across the country. The solid marble walls on either side of the colonnade are inscribed with the names of former U.S. Postmaster Generals. Inscriptions selected and designed by architect Evarts Tracy mark the secondary elevations of the building. The frieze facing Eighteenth Street reads "Lex Nemini Iniquum, Nemini Injuriam Facit" (Cicero, "The law causes wrong or injury to no one"), and the Nineteenth Street side reads "Nulli Negabimus, Nulli Differemus, Jutitiam" (the Magna Carta, "To no one shall we deny justice, nor shall we discriminate in its application"). Marble seats on the northeast and southwest sides of the building are inscribed, "Alternate rest and labor long endure," and "If thou desire rest, desire not too much."
The main entry lobby spans the width of the building, with windows opening out through the portico. It has a terrazzo floor and vaulted ceiling with arches springing from the pilasters. Names of Pony Express riders adorn the marble-faced walls. The U.S. Court of Appeals is located on the second floor along with the Law Library and a District Courtroom. The Law Library (now Courtroom Four) is clad with carved oak panels. An eagle and the inscription, "Lux et Veritas" (light and truth), crown the exit. The U.S. District Courtroom A with its arched ceiling and pink-tinged white marble walls retains its original gold-trimmed black velvet drapery in the apse behind the judge's bench.
The U.S. Courthouse is embellished with notable artwork. A pair of Indiana limestone sculptures of Rocky Mountain sheep commissioned from Denver artist Gladys Caldwell Fisher (1907-1952) sit at the southwest entrance. Fisher completed the sculptures, with help from two assistants, working under the Works Progress Administration in 1936. Prominent artwork within the building includes four canvas murals by Herman Schladermundt (1863-1937). The murals, Fortune Turns on Her Wheel -- The Fate of Kings, Postal Service, Labor is Great Producer of Wealth, and Nil Sine Numine (Nothing Without Power), were completed in 1918 and shipped from New York.
Extensive building renovations were made in the 1950s and on into the 1960s when the U.S. Postal Service altered the lobby and first floor, constructed a concrete-block addition, demolished the Appellate Courtroom and Grand Jury Room, and removed original columns for expansion of the third floor. From 1992-1994 some of the alterations were reversed when the building was rehabilitated for use as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. The Appellate Courtroom and the Grand Jury Room on the third floor were reconstructed. The lobby, Ceremonial Courtroom, Courtroom Two, Courtroom Four, and District Courtroom A were restored to their original grandeur. The restoration received numerous preservation awards.
1893: Passage of the Tarsney Act permits the Federal Government to hire private architects through competitions.
1908-1909: Funds are appropriated and a site purchased for a new Federal building; the New York firm of Tracy, Swartwout and Litchfield designs the U.S. Post Office and Federal Building.
1910-1916: The U.S. Post Office and Federal Building is constructed.
1918: Four canvas lobby murals by Herman Schladermundt of New York are installed.
1936:Stone sculptures of Rocky Mountain sheep by artist Gladys Caldwell Fisher are installed.
1950s: Extensive system modifications are made to the building; the third floor is expanded and the fourth floor altered for new courtrooms.
1962-1966: The U.S. Postal Service controls building and undertakes substantive alterations for its own use.
1973: The U.S. Post Office and Federal Building is listed in National Register of Historic Places.
1992-1994: U.S. General Services Administration undertakes an extensive renovation/ restoration of the building.
1994: The building is renamed and dedicated as the Byron R. White U.S. Courthouse.
1994-1997: Preservation of the Byron R. White U.S. Courthouse is recognized by numerous preservation awards.
Architects: Tracy, Swartwout, and Litchfield
Construction Dates: 1910-1916
Landmark Status: Listed in the National Register of Historic Places
Location: 1823 Stout Street
Architectural Style: Neo-Classical
Primary Materials: Yule Company Colorado marble with Indiana limestone
Prominent Features: Exterior Colonnade; Rocky Mountain sheep sculptures by Gladys Caldwell; Fisher murals by Herman Schladermundt
The white marble elevations of the Byron White U.S. Courthouse are an exemplary manifestation of Federal Neo-classicism, expressing the inspirations of American law through the orders of classical antiquity. Designed by the eminent architecture firm of Tracy, Swartwout and Litchfield, this turn of the century edifice weds classical convention in massing with imagination in detail.
A colonnaded portico of the colossal order, at the top of a monumental stair, composes much of the south-facing primary facade. The other three elevations are similar but incorporate engaged columns, rising from a pedestal. These fluted columns are topped by Ionic capitals, modified by the addition of shield bearing federal eagles. The corners of the building are marked by massive walls meeting at clean edges. The north corners are in-turned, and with the portico projecting from the south side result in an O shaped plan with a tongue, with broad wings on the west, east, and north sides. Incised text and uniquely carved horizontal banding under the entablature, with recurring eagles, provide moderate but effective decoration. On the east and west sides of the building, an open areaway surrounded by a stone balustrade, exposes the rusticated basement walls and sets the elevation away from the paved plaza. A raised terrace with a similar balustrade spans the north facade. Ornamental stairs lead up to the terrace at the east and west sides, and like stairs lead up to secondary entrances on each corner of the east and west elevations. The public doorways at the south ends of the side elevations are flaked by Doric columns supporting a projecting entablature, while the Judges' entrances at the north end are set between Doric columns supporting glazed archways. A ramp descends within the east areaway and provides access to an entry for the physically disadvantaged, while another small door is located in the west areaway, accessed by means of an arched opening at the lower end of a driveway. This driveway, at the northwest corner, provides vehicles access from 18th Street to enclosed parking under the terrace, and a similar driveway exits from the northeast corner onto 19th Street. Three quoined arches in the basement wall at the lower end of the northeast ramp mark an entry vestibule for staff use and deliveries. Wall mounted light fixtures centered behind the columns illuminate the portico of the main entry.
From the second floor up, the building perimeter surrounds internal light courts opened to the sky overhead. An inside wing projects from the middle of the south side, bisecting the court completely at the lowest level, which is articulated as a rusticated base with tiny irregularly spaced windows. The gray limestone walls of the light courts are detailed in the Renaissance style, used extensively inside the building.
The building windows retain their historic layout. The basement windows are visible in the areaways along the east and west elevation and are generally rectangular, though a few have arched tops. Windows on the upper floors of the street facing elevations have rounded tops on the first floor and are rectangular on the second through fourth floors. The space between the columns governs the width of the large windows between engaged columns and those beyond the free columns of the portico. The second floor windows expand up to the third floor on the east and west facades since the spaces along these walls are double height. The fourth floor, which is above the entablature (denoted as "attic" in classical parlance), has small slit windows on the primary south elevation and larger rectangular windows on the remaining three elevations. Inside the light courts, there are three levels of windows the second floor, third floor and fourth floor. The second floor windows are rectangular windows with the only variation occurring on the center projecting element where the windows are small slit windows in groups of three. The third floor windows vary by elevation. On the north wall, the third floor windows have arched transoms. A portico with columns marks the location of the original grand jury room, at the middle of the north wall, opposite the projecting center wing. The third floor windows on the central projecting element are tall, rectangular windows. The rest of the third floor windows are rectangular windows with pilasters that support alternating curved and peaked pediments. One on each side, two large pyramidal skylights occupy most of the light courts roofs admitting diffuse sunlight into the new courtrooms below. A glass ceiling in a fourth floor corridor is intact, though the glass tile skylight above it has been covered over at the roof level and painted white on the interior side.
The sloping faces of the roof are slate covered on the street side, with asbestos shingles intended to emulate slate applied to the light court faces. The roof has a ridge on the south side, and a flat top between inner and outer slopes over the other wings.
On the first floor, the main entry lobby spans the length of the building with windows looking out through the portico to the south. Above the terrazzo flooring, the ceiling is vaulted, with arches springing from pilasters. The names of Pony Express riders adorn the marble-faced walls. At the west and east ends, murals decorate a side entry and elevator lobby extending into each wing. At the west and east ends of the lobby, original corridors that also serve as display areas lead north from the lobby. The west corridor displays tell the history of the courts and the east corridor displays tell the history of Byron White. Marble columns supporting a pediment flank the former postmasters office entry in the west elevator lobby. New dark gray marble frames delineate the glazed public entry doors of the new courtrooms, constructed in what was originally the Post Office workroom. In between these courtrooms, by the entry vestibule, the main lobby opens into a new reception area with a curved, marble-topped wooden reception counter. New public restrooms are accessible from the lobby.
The new courtrooms, inspired by the Renaissance interiors typical of the courthouse, are illuminated by natural light from the wood-framed ornamental glass ceilings located below the skylights in the light courts. The courtrooms have carpet flooring and the walls are finished with a cream-colored fabric covering. A judges' anteroom is located behind the west courtroom and a judges' conference room with antechamber for robes adjoins the back of the east courtroom, with private washrooms and kitchenettes provided behind both courtrooms.
The rest of the first floor is occupied by tenant space which contains new offices accessible from either the lobby or from a large open office space beyond the courtrooms along the extensively glazed north exterior wall. Situated within the space occupied by the former mailroom, many of these new rooms have glazed partition walls and French doors, in addition to carpeting and new light fixtures. Adjacent to the former lobby extensions, along the outer walls, the former offices in the wings have been converted for use as judge's chambers.
The second through fourth floors have similar plans, with corridors forming a continuous circuit through the perimeter office areas. On the second floor, a lobby similar to the main entry lobby is located directly above the first floor lobby, with smaller corridors like those above in the west, east, and north wings. The third and fourth floors have a corridor where the first two floors have a lobby, except that the fourth floor corridor is displaced to the outside, over the columns of the portico, allowing its original glass ceiling to be situated in front and clear of the main roof. The second floor lobby has a lower ceiling than the entry lobby below, and consequently has a shallow barrel vault above the polished terrazzo floor. All the floors have elevator lobbies similar to the first floor, except the third floor which is open to the floor below, and where only one of each pair of cabs stops and is accessed from the side. The basement only has an elevator lobby in the southeast corner. Corridors on the second floor and above have red carpeting with gold trimmed borders laid over the terrazzo flooring. Most of the light fixtures in the corridors are either original or of the original type. The west and east corridors are single loaded, with offices on the outside overlooking the streets, whereas the north corridor is double loaded, with offices also overlooking the light courts.
The second floor has an original courtroom in the east wing (the former district court), a reconstructed courtroom in the west wing (the original appeals court), and a third courtroom in the center wing, which was originally the law library. All three of these courtrooms are double height spaces, inaccessible from the third floor, except for a "minstrel" gallery above the main public entrance to the center courtroom.
The north and south walls of the former law library are curved and there are four lower level entrances to the room, one in the middle of each of the four walls. The main south entry beneath the upper gallery is surrounded by ornamental woodwork and is surmounted by a carved eagle, bearing a shield. A narrow curved stair located west of this south entrance leads up to the gallery at the third floor level which can also be accessed via a door beyond two fluted, wooded Ionic columns that opens into a short passage off the third floor south corridor. Original bookshelves line the walls at the lower level, which are elsewhere oak paneled. Names of historic legal authorities decorate the cornice above the bookshelves, over which large windows are situated at the upper level, admitting light from the surrounding open court. Three chandeliers, each with twelve glass bowls, hang from the decorative plaster ceiling. The room has new carpet flooring. New wood furnishings include a judges bench on a dais at the north end of the room, stands for the defendant and witnesses, lawyers' tables with chairs, spectator benches, and a lectern.
The original, east, second floor courtroom has a shallow, barrel vaulted ceiling. Springing from a denticulated cornice, the ceiling is plaster with plaster medallions set between large ornamental plaster ribs. Four windows along the east wall, and four recessed panels of similar proportions on the west wall, are framed between pilasters surmounted by half round plaster arches. The elevated judges bench is located between a pair of pilasters supporting a large proscenium arch, surmounted by an eagle. The open arch frames a large semicircular alcove, with a half dome ceiling decorated with dark blue drapery which continues down behind the judges bench. An architrave surrounds the room, and has been gilded within this alcove. The main doors on the south are also located between a pair of pilasters, which support an entablature alcove which is a clock within the arched panel, decorated with another eagle. The eagles are gilded, as are other details in the white, plaster relief work decorating the upper portion of this room. The lower half of the walls and the pilasters are faced with white marble tiles. Original sconces, chandeliers and a few recessed modern downlights provide illumination. Latin inscriptions in this courtroom read, Justitia Virtutum Regina (Justice the Queen of Virtues); Justitia Soror Fides (Justice the Sister of Faith); Ita Lex Scripta Est (Thus is the Law Writ); and Nemo est supra leges (No one is superior to the law).
Behind a door at the front of the room, now unused, a tight circular stair allowed jurors to descend from the original jury room on the floor above.
Through a pocket door in the curved alcove behind his bench, the judge can enter the courtroom from his chambers. The judge's office retains a number of original features, including oak paneling and recessed bookcases. Paneled wood doors above this level conceal storage. An original fireplace with wood mantel is set in the northeast corner of the office. A short passage connects the judge's office with the courtroom, the corridor and an original washroom with white, marble-faced walls. The judge's office can also be entered from the corridor through an assistant's office, with wood paneled storage wall.
The original court of appeals, at the west end of the second floor, has been carefully reconstructed. Although the original stone columns were sold, similar columns without flutes were cast and are painted white and crowned with gilded Corinthian capitals to resemble the plaster originals. Dark blue velvet draperies decorate this courtroom also, and hang between a column screen of four columns, separating the main courtroom from a small room between the judges bench and conference room. A similar column screen at the south end of the room delineates a small lobby. The shallow, barrel vaulted ceiling rises above a denticulated cornice, and terminates at a shallow coffered arch above the columns at each end of the room. A ribbed, segmented half-dome caps the space behind the judge's bench. Artificial light is provided by small chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and by brass torcheres with glass globes mounted on the pilasters on the east and west walls. The wood furnishings resemble those in the other courtrooms. Some gilded eagles and other ornaments decorate the plaster walls and ceilings but this room, a unique expression of Neo-classical Revival, is somewhat less elaborate than other original courtroom and former law library.
On the third floor at the middle of the north corridor, the semi-circular Grand Jury room faces the library wing inside the light courts, just beyond the green marble columns of the portico outside. Inside, a Doric colonnade has been reconstructed along the curved, predominantly glass south wall. The upper two thirds of the white plaster columns are fluted. The original Adam Style ribbed ceiling, a partial segmental dome, has been restored. The original wood floor with marble trim has however been covered with carpet flooring. The plaster walls have niches with half domes, illuminated by recessed downlights and sconces. With columns typical of atria at Pompeii and a large sculpted eagle with a wreath on the curved masonry wall of the central wing visible outside this room, like the original appeals court, allies itself with the New-classical Revival.
There are two entrances into the building at the basement level, an employee entrance in the northeast corner and the accessible entrance in the southeast corner. The northeast entrance lobby has marble wall with a rusticated finish as found on the exterior, plaster ceiling and carpet flooring. Two of the original doors with round tops remain. The southeast entrance lobby has polished marble panels walls, an arched plaster ceiling and terrazzo flooring that continues into the adjacent elevator lobby. The original storage rooms under the stairs along the south wall have brick walls, concrete flooring and the ceilings are either concrete or the structure of the stair above which has a fireproof coating applied to it. The original steel doors with arched tops remain at the entrances to these rooms. The corridor adjacent to these rooms has painted brick walls, painted concrete flooring and a painted plaster ceiling. The rest of the basement contains tenant space which contains offices, storage rooms and a break room with modern finishes. The basement also contains the building support spaces such as the mechanical and electrical rooms. Mechanical and electrical systems are also located in a sub-basement in the center of the building. A service passage in the sub-basement formerly provided access into a coal pit located beneath a mail loading platform under the north terrace, adjacent to Champa Street, but this has now been closed off.
The Byron White U.S. Courthouse, formerly the U.S. Post Office and Courthouse, is architecturally and historically significant and retains a great deal of historical integrity. The significance of the building has been recognized at the local, state and national levels. The U.S. Post Office and Courthouse was entered in the National Register of Historic Places on March 20, 1973. The building is also mentioned in a thematic resource nomination completed for 13 other post offices in Colorado constructed between 1900 and 1941. The thematic resource nomination was approved and the 13 additional post offices were listed on the National Register on January 24, 1986. The Denver U.S. Post Office and Courthouse was also included in an Inventory completed for the Historic American Buildings Survey in 1971. It is a Denver Historic Landmark and a Colorado Historical Landmark.
The historical significance of the building is based in part upon the regional history of the U.S. Postal Service and this particular post office. From the mid-1800s through the early 1860s, several overland stages and express delivery companies serviced the mail needs to the area currently known as Denver. Service was infrequent and the cost of mailing a letter was exorbitantly high, ranging from about 25 cents to $5. Early occupants of the city waited in line at the express company office to pick up packages, which might be addressed only to the recipient in "Kansas Territory." The system gradually improved with the addition of more reliable express coach companies and the Pony Express riders, such as Buffalo Bill Cody, who deserve historical merit in their own right. The local population petitioned for establishment of a post office at the mouth of Cherry Creek. In 1861 the area known as Denver City, Kansas Territory, became Denver, Colorado, and a postmaster was appointed. During the later nineteenth century, Denver became part of the federal postal system and even acquired postal carriers for house-to-house delivery.
Many notable Denver personalities served as postmaster, including Henry Allen; David Moffat, who became well-known in railroad construction; William Byers, who founded the "Rocky Mountain News;" Robert Speer, later appointed mayor of Denver; and Senator Horace Tabor, who financed the Tabor Block, Tabor Opera House, and donated a lot for the preceding post office building.
By the turn of the century, Denver had become a permanent transportation hub and major commercial city. The construction of the elaborate post office at 16th and Arapahoe Streets in 1893 was a preliminary gesture toward the present post office and courthouse structure. Later the post office moved from the "Old Custom House" to the "New Custom House," and the old building was eventually demolished in the 1960s. Within a few decades, even the monumental structure on 16th Street was considered outmoded. The occupants of Denver expressed the need for a larger and more up to date federal building with a U.S. Post Office and courts of law as well.
Prior to the gold rush in 1859, the legal system in the territory was not strongly defined. Miners and people's courts were organized through town meetings, but their effectiveness was limited as there were no jails. These less formal courts were terminated in 1861 with the establishment of Federal Territorial District Courts in the new Territory of Colorado. The three original districts were in Denver, Central City, and Canon City. Each was overseen by an acting district judge, appointed by the president to simultaneously serve a four year term with the Supreme Court of the Colorado Territory.
In Denver the Federal First District Court occupied many varied quarters, the first of which was a small room (7' by 9') in a frame building at 13th and Larimer Streets. In 1916, forty years after Colorado achieved statehood in 1876, the Federal District courtroom in the new U.S. Post Office and Courthouse was dedicated. Land for the building had been purchased in 1908, a full block cornered by Stout, Champa, 18th and 19th Streets.
DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION
The design and construction of the new post office and courthouse reflected the demands of a burgeoning civic pride as well as of careful federal programming. The monumental design of the new U.S. Post Office and Courthouse epitomized the spirit of optimism and self-esteem in pre-World War I Denver. The intense determination of the citizens of Denver to see this building realized created both a monument to the importance of Denver as a civic center and a symbol of federal government, postal service, and court system in the new American west. The architectural significance of the building stems in part from its place in the work of an important New York architectural firm, Tracy, Swartwout & Litchfield. Architects Tracy and Swartwout were nationally recognized for their contributions in the field of architecture and the firm was selected in 1909 from a field of twelve architectural competitors to design the building. The U.S. Post Office and Courthouse in Denver is one of the most important examples of their best-known and favorite area of work, the monumental public building. The firm's interest in Classical Revival is apparent in this design, which is of special interest since it emerged as the winning scheme presented at a competition held by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Supervising Architect James Knox Taylor, the director of the project for the Treasury Department, played an important role in the planning and construction of many federal buildings across the country during the first several decades of this country.
Both Evarts Tracy (1868-1922) and Egerton Swartwout (1870-1943) graduated from Yale University, after which they worked as draftsmen in the New York City office of McKim, Mead & White. Tracy also studied for three years at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. Tracy and Swartwout formed a partnership and established their own office in New York in 1900. Electus Darwin Litchfield graduated from Brookland Polytechnic Institute and received the M.E. degree from Stevens Institute of Technology. Prior to joining Tracy and Swartwout in 1908, Litchfield was associated with the architectural firms of Carrere & Hastings and Lord & Hewlett.
Tract and Swartwout were very interested in the adaptation and use of the classical orders; in fact, Swartwout wrote several articles about this style of design. The exterior facades of the U.S. Post Office and Courthouse utilize Neoclassical elements on a grand scale to express the official and public character of the building. This design brought the Neoclassical architectural style, already popular in the eastern United States, into prominence in Denver. The careful design of the interior light courts created a prominent example of the Renaissance Revival style. The motif of the American eagle, repeated throughout the building, reminds the viewer of the federal role of the client for the architectural design and the governmental function of the building. State and local interest in the design of this building is architecturally represented in the use of Colorado marble. The history of the decision to use this material, which involved local and congressional lobbying and years of discussion, adds another note of interest to the architectural design.
The original construction drawings show the name of Grunvald Aus, consulting engineer.
The contact for construction was awarded to the Hedden Construction Company of New York City, and the contract for demolition was awarded to the Goldstein Wrecking Company of Denver. Landmarks removed to make way for the new construction included the Bolles Building and the Coliseum, which provided a setting for plays, skating, prizefighting and panorama pictures. The newspapers reported the demolition was to begin March 3, 1910, and construction would begin by mid-March. In February 1911, the Denver Post noted that the cornerstone would be laid soon. Progress was slow however, partly due to insufficient funds. The initial appropriation of $1,500,000 had to be supplemented with an additional $400,000 made available as a result of the Postmaster Harrison's lobbying effort in Washington. Public interest remained strong, varying from enthusiasm to impatience. Finally, on January 2, 1916, the building was occupied, having cost slightly less than two million dollars.
Upon completion, the building stood as a focal point for a section of downtown Denver which previously had been of lesser importance. The structure served as a model for other local building projects and its influence can still be seen in other governmental and public structures throughout the city of Denver.
The refined interior light courts, elegant public lobbies, and detailed ornamentation reflect the architects' concern for amenities and beauty. The determination of the architects to provide natural light and ventilation, and their careful planning and cooperation with the client for the disposition of the interior spaces, reflect concerted attention to the spatial and technical requirements of the building's users. The interior finishes, decoration, and features provide a valuable study in the design of the period.
The criteria for evaluation for the National Register of Historic Places define integrity as the authenticity of a property's historic identity. A building may have integrity with respect to seven characteristics: location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association. According to these criteria, the U.S. Post Office and Courthouse retains much of its original integrity. The fact that the building occupies an entire city block has to some extent protected it from infringement by new development. The exterior facades in particular look very much as they did at completion.
Certain modifications to the exterior are noteworthy in themselves. The addition of the sculptures of Rocky Mountain sheep at the Eighteenth Street entrance in 1936 represent the work of a noted artist, as well as the role of the Federal Works Progress Administration in maintaining and enhancing federal properties during the Depression.
The interior of the building retains many of its public spaces and its overall plan and configuration remain largely intact. Of the four principal design spaces, the large public lobby at the first floor, the District Court and the Law Library retain most of their original features. Although many surfaces and finishes have been covered over during rehabilitation programs, the configuration and ornament of the spaces are for the most part intact. The fourth principal design space, the Appeals Court, was significantly altered but the reconstruction and replacement of the Roman columns with similar ones has restored the original character of this space.
The canvas lobby murals by H.T. Schladermundt were completed around 1918, and shipped to Denver from New York. Gladys Caldwell Fisher's sculpted Rocky Mountain Sheep were completed with the help of two assistants working under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration. The two 6-1/2 ton statues, carved of Indiana Limestone, were installed flanking the 18th Street entrance in 1936.
In 1950, Newstrom, Davis & Company provided the low bid to carry out extensive modifications to the heating, plumbing, lighting, and elevator systems. This work progressed though the 1950's, during which time the elevator lobbies were drastically altered by expansion of the third floor into these double height spaces. Although sandblasting of the exterior was considered, this detrimental cleaning does not appear to have been carried out. Interior walls on the west side of the fourth floor were removed to prepare for new courtrooms.
The first floor lobby was altered in 1962, with the addition of a new vestibule at the main entrance, replacement of the lobby postal windows with service counters, and the addition of new lighting fixtures. Artist Marion F. Iserman was contracted to restore the lobby murals. A concrete block addition on the north side, housing cooling towers, was faced with marble in an attempt to restore visual harmony.
In 1963, preliminary drawings were submitted by the architectural firm of Victor Hornbein and Edward D. White Jr. for the remodeling and conversion of the U.S. Postal Office and Courthouse, in conjunction with the (new) U.S. Custom House. In a report accompanying the drawings, the authors described the District Court, Law Library and Appellate Court as the finest spaces in the building, "representing half a century of judicial tradition". The Court of Appeals was described as a "Roman interior. . . unique among the rooms in this part of the country. . . ". Preservation of these spaces was recommended to preserve tradition and history. Unfortunately the Appellate Court was demolished and the original columns were removed to provide further expansion of the third floor.
A barrier free entrance was punched into the east side of the south elevation in the 1980s, and storm windows were installed. The District Courtroom was renovated.
In the 1990s a massive renovation and restoration project was done in conjunction with the conversion of the Post Office and courthouse, into the Federal Court of Appeals of the Tenth Circuit. The project was designed by Michael Barber Architects. The heating, air conditioning, electrical, mechanical, plumbing and fire suppression systems were all enhanced; and the interiors were upgraded and restored where possible. The third floor extensions into the elevator lobbies and west courtroom were removed, and these spaces were restored to their former two-story height. The Grand Jury Room on the third floor was reconstructed. The other courtrooms were restored, and the original law library finishes were restored and the space was converted to a courtroom. The post office workroom on the first floor was converted to two new courtrooms, an intervening reception area and offices. Judges' chambers and offices are situated along the perimeter of the exterior walls facing the street and looking into the central light courts, on all the floors. Anti-ballistic glazing was applied to many of the windows facing the street. The accessible entrance was relocated allowing the south wall to be restored. The mechanical extension on the north side of the building was removed, and cooling towers located under the terrace serve three cooling towers in the central part of the basement. This project repaired or restored the most significant spaces in the building while creating new areas that are compatible with the original character of the building and a few spaces on the upper floors were left unfinished to be completed as and when needed.
In 1994, the building was renamed the Byron R. White U.S. Courthouse. Byron R. White was born in 1917 in Fort Collins, Colorado. He attended the University of Colorado at Boulder and went on to study at the University of Oxford and later Yale, where he studied law. White was named deputy U.S. attorney general in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy. In 1962, he was appointed to the Supreme Court where he served until 1993. White was the first Supreme Court Justice from Colorado and is the twelfth longest serving justice in Supreme Court history.
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