David W. Dyer Federal Building & U.S. Courthouse, Miami, FL

Building History

In 1887, railroad and real estate tycoon Henry Flagler hired the renowned New York architectural firm of Carrere & Hastings to design the Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine, Florida. The hotel's Mediterranean Revival design was so successful that it influenced numerous Florida architects and became the principal aesthetic in the Miami area from the mid-1910s into the 1930s.

In 1926, a devastating hurricane decimated southern Florida. When Congress appropriated more than $2 million for a new courthouse in Miami in 1928, the city was ready for renewal. The Office of the Supervising Architect of the Treasury selected the highly regarded architectural partnership of Phineas E. Paist and Harold D. Steward. Designing the building between 1930 and 1931, Paist and Steward expertly blended classically inspired Renaissance Revival forms and design elements with Mediterranean ornamentation. Paist was one of developer George Merrick's primary architects for the Miami suburb of Coral Gables in the 1920s. There he executed many Mediterranean Revival buildings, most notably the renowned Venetian Pool. From the 1920s through the 1940s, Steward and Paist collaborated on projects including the Florida pavilion for the 1933 Chicago World's Fair.

Paist and Steward developed two sets of plans, each to be built upon a poured concrete and steel structural frame, ensuring the new federal building would resist hurricane-force winds. The first envisioned using imported marble and bronze, while the second was to use aluminum and a local coralline limestone, a lithified coral quarried at Windley Key near Key Largo and called Keystone. The government opted to clad the building in Keystone, reasoning that local materials added to the regional appeal of the building. Construction commenced in 1931 and the opening ceremony was held on July 1, 1933. It is the most monumental Keystone structure in South Florida.

When it opened, the building housed all Miami-area federal agencies with the exception of the Weather Service. The U.S. Postal Service vacated the building in 1976. The building has been unoccupied since 2008, when most of the occupants were relocated into a newly constructed courthouse. It is contained within Federal Courthouse Square, a two-block area that includes two other courthouses.

The building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. In 1997, it was renamed to honor David W. Dyer, a former Chief Judge of Florida's Southern District Court, who was appointed to the Circuit Court of Appeals in 1966.

Architecture

The David W. Dyer Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse is a skillful example of Mediterranean Revival architecture that combines Renaissance Revival elements with regional Florida architectural features. The building, which is faced in Keystone, is three stories in height, with the third story set above a widely projecting entablature on the north, east, and south elevations.

The facade, which has a slightly projecting central bay, faces east onto First Avenue and is dominated by a colonnade comprised of regularly spaced engaged Corinthian columns supporting the classical entablature crowning the second story. Cast-aluminum casement window frames have embossed repeating chevron pat-terns. Spandrel panels depicting scenes from Florida's history are above the second story's arched windows.

The bays adjoining the colonnade feature paired Corinthian pilasters. Bas relief medallions containing classical figures in profile decorate lintels. The central parapet features a carved marble frieze incorporating a large eagle, flanked by a repeating motif of pelicans supporting heraldic shields. The entrances at the ends of the facade have surrounds of carved Floridene buff marble. The north and south elevations feature two-story Corinthian pilasters evoking the facade's colonnade. Ornate mascarons (carved faces) are found on the building's exterior.

The north and south elevations are dominated by central pavilions with bays separated by evenly spaced two-story engaged columns, placed singly and in pairs. An annex is attached to the west elevation. The building's shallow hipped roof is covered with terra-cotta tiles, typical of the Mediterranean Revival style.

Interior spaces are equally elaborate and incorporate eleven different types of marble. Entry vestibules with arched openings lead to the main lobby, where marble covers floors and forms wainscot. Marble pilasters have striking gilt capitals. An inset, multi-colored marble star pattern adorns the center of the floor. Original aluminum and glass chandeliers hang from the painted and gilt wood-and-plaster coffered ceiling. Marble postal tables retain original lamps and inset cast-brass grilles.

The double-height ceremonial District Courtroom is another significant space with well-preserved original details, including the carved wooden judge's bench, jury box, witness stand, and clerk's desk. Decorative details include fluted pilasters, rosettes, and carved plaques with floral rinceaux. At the walls, seven feet of paneled wood wainscot is located beneath scored plaster. Marble Ionic pilasters divide the window openings.

The mural Law Guides Florida Progress completed by artist Denman Fink in 1941 is located above the judge's bench and is flanked by two pairs of Ionic marble pilasters. The mural depicts the positive impact of justice guiding Florida's economic development. Fink included a likeness of himself as a draftsman and a likeness of architect Phineas E. Paist, with whom he worked in Coral Gables, as a chemist. The coffered ceiling features rosettes, stars, and shells.

Other significant artwork in the courthouse includes two striking cast-stone lunettes by Yugoslav-born American artist Alexander Sambugnac. Executed in 1938, the low-relief panels portray two allegorical figures representing themes of the spirit of justice and are placed on the lintels above the leather-covered doors. Love and Hope shows a young woman playing the lyre, while Wisdom and Courage depicts a seated figure gazing at a tablet of the law.

The interior brick courtyard admits light into the building while also providing a beautiful outdoor space commonly found in Florida architecture. A two-story loggia with a vaulted ceiling and columns surrounds the courtyard on three sides. Keystone pilasters support arched lunette windows above the public lobby's paired French doors. Quoins (corner blocks) and Doric columns add decorative elements to the space. The courtyard's interior walls are unplastered brick, as are the exterior walls that face toward the courtyard from the north, east and south wings. The loggia's plaster walls and ceiling are ornamented with the multi-colored Frescoes in Courtyard, added by artist David Novros in 1984. An original postal marble writing table with an elaborate pedestal occupies the west side of the courtyard.

Significant Events

1928 Congress appropriates money for new federal courthouse in Miami

1930-1931 Architects Paist and Steward design building

1931-1933 Building constructed

1983 Building listed in the National Register of Historic Places

1997 Building renamed to honor Judge David W. Dyer

Building Facts

Location: 300 Northeast First Avenues

Architects: Phineas E. Paist and Harold D. Steward

Construction Dates: 1931-1933

Architectural Style: Mediterranean Revival

Landmark Status: Listed in the National Register of Historic Places

Primary Material: Keystone

Prominent Features:
Elaborate Classical Facade
Interior Courtyard and Galleries
Ceremonial Courtroom

David W. Dyer Federal Building & U.S. Courthouse, Miami, FL

The David W. Dyer Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Miami was constructed in the Spanish Colonial Revival style. It was built with Key Largo limestone (also called Key Stone), a coral stone quarried in the Florida Keys. The east elevation is the main facade, and divided into seventeen bays. The two end bays have entrances on the first level. The surrounds at the entrances are of carved Floridene Buff marble. Each entry vestibule has a plaster barrel vault ceiling, grey marble floors, and Key Stone walls. On the outside wall of each entry is a paired ogee arched opening. On the inside wall of each vestibule is an original aluminum bulletin case. A broad granite stoop with steps leads to each entry. A projecting Key Stone cornice extends around the exterior of the building below the third floor level; a smaller cornice ornaments the elevations above the third floor at the roof level. The central fifteen bays project 3' out from the east facade. A one-bay section at each end is marked by paired composite pilasters on each side spanning the first and second floor levels. At the third floor level there are paired Ionic pilasters which are surmounted by mascarons (each with a different facial expression). The remaining thirteen central bays are delineated by two-story high composite columns. These bays have round, arched window openings. Between the floor levels are spandrel panels, each representing a scene of Florida history. Indians and early settlers are depicted at the left, contemporary (1930s) services to the right. At the center of the third level is a decorative parapet spanning three bays. The facade is accented by engaged Ionic pilasters surmounted by carved motifs of pelicans flanking shields with an American eagle in the center.

The end bay of the south elevation reflects the entry vestibule with the ogee arched opening. The second bay is delineated by two-story paired composite columns. At the third level the bay is delineated by paired Ionic pilasters. On the first level there is a pink granite stoop and steps that lead to an entry door. A carved surround of Floridene Buff marble enhances the doorway. Seven of the eight central bays have two-story paired composite pilasters. The fourth bay from the right is marked by the paired pilasters; the first floor opening has a molded marble surround with the top of a flat arch springing into an oriel which supports a wrought iron balcony. French doors open onto the balcony at the second floor. The north elevation is nearly identical to the south except for the oriel.

The windows are aluminum casement of various configurations. On the second floor level the windows are thirty-two light Palladian windows with marble surrounds culminating in a keystone with a carved mascaron. The roof is pitched and of a barrel, mission-type clay tile in various shades from buff to dark red. Copper-clad gables within the roof provide ventilation. An elevator penthouse with a Key Stone surface and mission-tile roof rises above the roof line to the north and south.

The west (rear) elevation has been altered. Originally, the west elevation was used as the loading dock area for the postal service. At the present time, the elevation has been changed somewhat to open onto a plaza connection which links the old courthouse with a new annex directly to the west. The Key Stone returns at the north and south ends of the elevation carried through the ornamentation of the other elevations. These returns are now obscured by concrete stairwells which connect to the new courthouse. The central area of the elevation remains exposed. The walls are brick (painted white) laid in common bond, except for a wide Key stone band above second floor level. Within this band are brick panels which reflect the window bays. The former loading dock area has been converted to an entrance for the west court lobby. The quarry tile of the loading dock floor carries over into the plaza between the old and new courthouses. The area is landscaped with a variety of trees and shrubs in concrete planters. Two buff brick light courts flank the District Courtroom and courtyard areas.

Directly west of the main lobby is an open Italianate courtyard with a two-story gallery at the north, south and west sides. The red brick walls are heavily ornamented by Key Stone quoins, arches and pilasters. The floors of the gallery are multi-colored quarry tile. The walls of the gallery are plaster. The plaster ceiling at the first floor level of the gallery is vaulted, and barrel vaulted at the second level. The walls and ceilings have been covered with a multi-colored fresco entitled "Frescoes in Courtyard". In the center of the first floor west wall of the gallery is an entry to the former postal work area, now the court lobby. The entry to the ceremonial District Courtroom is at the second floor level at the west side of the gallery. One striking feature of the courtyard is a marble writing table at the center of the west elevation, first floor level. The focal point of the courtyard (even the entire building) was a fountain which was originally in the center. The fountain was removed in the 1950s. Sandstone pavers form the floor of the courtyard except where the fountain was removed; concrete pavers cover the area where the fountain was. The missing fountain was a significant feature in the original building design.

Significant interior spaces include the main lobby, the ceremonial courtroom, corridors, stairway, original restrooms and a nearly original judge's suite on the second floor. The main lobby has marble floors, wainscot and engaged pilasters with a rib-vaulted ceiling. At the north and south ends of the lobby are the elevator/stair lobbies. These spaces have full-height marble walls, marble floors and polychromed coffered ceilings. The ceremonial courtroom on the second floor has wood paneled wainscot, marble engaged pilasters and a coffered ceiling. The court entry doors have limestone bas-relief sculptures. The oak furnishings and the bronze lamps on the judge's bench are original. A unique feature of the courtroom is an original mural, depicting the economic forces in Miami's development, on the wall over the judge's bench. The corridors, elevator lobbies, original restrooms and staircases retain a significant amount of original features and finishes. The elevator lobbies and corridors have marble wainscot on the walls and marble floors. The original staircases are marble with marble wainscot on the walls. There are some original fixtures remaining in the marble restrooms which also have marble floors, wainscot, and stall partitions. At the south side of the second floor the judge's suite retains original wood wainscot, crown mold, ceiling medallions and French doors opening onto a balcony.

The tenant spaces include new courtrooms and have been changed over the years. Typical finishes are carpeting, vinyl wall covering and dropped acoustical ceilings. The basement and attic remain utilitarian.

David W. Dyer Federal Building & U.S. Courthouse, Miami, FL

The David W. Dyer Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Miami, Florida is significant for a number of reasons: 1) it is architecturally significant because it is an example of Spanish-Mediterranean Revival style; 2) it is unusual among Federal buildings of the period due to elaborate detailing; 3) it makes use of local building materials; 4) it is symbolic of the federal presence in the community; and 5) it has retained its integrity.

The David W. Dyer Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse is architecturally significant as an example of Spanish-Mediterranean Revival architecture. This style was introduced to Florida in the late 1800s by Henry Flagler. Flagler, as an early developer of the east coast of Florida, hired a New York architectural firm (Carrere and Hastings) to study Spanish architecture and design his first resort development - the Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine. The design was so popular that the style became associated with the building boom that carried on into the early 1940s in Florida. The David W. Dyer Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse is a late example of the style.

The funds for the building were appropriated by Congress as part of the Public Buildings Act of 1926. Funds for the Miami building were actually appropriated, in the amount of $2,080,000, in 1928. The Public Buildings Act precipitated a flurry of construction activity that was unprecedented in the United States. Control over the process was exerted by Louis Simon who was superintendent of the Architectural Section of the Supervising Architect's Office from 1905 to 1933, and Supervising Architect from 1933 to 1939. Simon encouraged the use of "Starved Classicism", a restrained, undetailed version of Classic Revival. However, possibly due to the economic effects of the Depression on the local economy, local architects were hired frequently in the 1930s to design and build Federal buildings. This probably accounts for the elaborate detailing of the building. The building was designed by the Miami architectural firm of Phineas Paist and Harold D. Steward. Paist and Steward were well-known residential designers in the area; Paist was also known for his design of an elaborate entrance for a subdivision in Coral Gables.

According to the Florida Federal Writer's Guide, after the 1926 bust of the land boom, and the severe hurricanes of 1926 and 1928, there was more use of native materials. Coquina stone was brought from the Florida Keys and used in a number of public buildings. This particular stone was quarried at Windley Key (near Key Largo); thus, it is called Key Stone. The David W. Dyer Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse is the largest structure to be built of this material (Key Stone is known to have been used in two other federal buildings: Key West and Ft. Myers).

When the building opened on July 1, 1933, it was to house all the federal offices in Miami, except the Weather Bureau. Federal tenants have changed over the years; for a number of years, the building was an important U.S. Post Office. Since the Postal Service moved out, the U.S. Courts and related offices occupy the entire building. In 1997, the building was renamed after David W. Dyer, a Florida judge. Having served as Miami's main federal building for many years, the David W. Dyer Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse has a symbolic presence in the community.

The building retains its architectural integrity because few major changes have been made to significant features. The east, north and south elevations are virtually unchanged. More changes have been made to the interior but the significant spaces remain intact. Interior spaces which retain their integrity include the main lobby, the District Courtroom, elevator lobbies, corridors, stairways, and the principle judge's suite on the second floor.

The David W. Dyer Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in October of 1983 as part of Federal Courthouse Square.

Year
Start
Year
End
Description Architect
1933 Original Construction Paist, Phineas E./Harold D. Steward