E. Ross Adair Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, Ft. Wayne, IN

Building History

Fort Wayne, Indiana, historically served as a transportation and communication center located at the confluence of the St. Marys and St. Joseph rivers, which meet to form the Maumee River. In the 1840s, the Wabash and Erie Canal opened in Fort Wayne, and the town became a bustling business center. The population continued to increase when the arrival of the railroad boosted industrial growth. By the 1920s, Fort Wayne was an important city in the Midwest and consequently required federal services. Officials planned for a post office, federal office building, and federal courthouse. In 1928, Congress authorized funds for the acquisition of a site through the Public Buildings Act of 1926, which appropriated resources for federal buildings throughout the United States. Congress earmarked additional funds for construction through the same legislation. Federal officials retained private architects Guy Mahurin, who was from Fort Wayne, and Benjamin Morris, a New Yorker. The building was designed under the auspices of James A. Wetmore, acting supervising architect of the U.S. Treasury Department.

Excavation for the new building was completed in 1931. Many contracting firms submitted construction bids. Fortunately, the bids were lower than federal officials anticipated, which allowed impressive design features such as the entry plaza and marble floors to be incorporated into the project budget. Ralph Sollitt and Sons of South Bend, Indiana, constructed the building.

The building has a structural system of reinforced concrete and was one of the first large federal buildings to use this method rather than a steel frame. The reinforced concrete technique saved $30,000. Construction was completed in 1932, with an opening ceremony held on October 29 of that year.

In 2000, the building was named to honor E. Ross Adair, a republican congressman from Indiana’s Fourth District. Adair, who was born in Fort Wayne in 1907 and died there in 1983, served in the U.S. Army during World War II and was ambassador to Ethiopia from 1971-1974. He was in private legal practice at the time of his death.

The post office vacated the building in 1987. Currently, it houses the U.S. District Court, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, and other federal offices. The E. Ross Adair Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.

Architecture

The E. Ross Adair Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse occupies a parcel of land bounded by Douglas Avenue and Harrison, Brackenridge, and Webster streets. It is designed in the Stripped Classical style of architecture, which was frequently used for federal building design during the Depression era and was advocated by Louis A. Simon, who oversaw federal building design under Acting Supervising Architect James A. Wetmore. It features classically inspired symmetry, massing, and materials, but without the abundant ornamentation that was common on some earlier styles of federal architecture. Instead, its stylized decorative elements are characteristic of those found in Art Deco architecture. The imposing building portrayed the dignity and stability of the federal presence during a difficult time in American history.

The building rises three stories above a basement and is clad in gray-buff limestone with a granite base and entrance steps. Replacement aluminum sash windows are found throughout the building. The facade faces east toward the entry plaza and Harrison Street. The bays are divided by classically inspired columns with carved capitals in a stylized leaf pattern reminiscent of Corinthian columns. Eagle motifs are found on metal spandrel panels that separate the first and second floors; limestone panels with simple medallions separate the second and third levels. The building is topped by a cornice that contains the gutter system and features carved lion heads at evenly spaced intervals.

Projecting pavilions at each end of the facade contain entrances that are topped by original cast-aluminum grilles. The door openings have stone surrounds with carved cornices containing stylized floral and leaf patterns. Carved stone medallions containing eagle motifs are located above each entrance.

The interior contains several significant spaces that retain their historic finishes and features and continue to convey the grandeur of the building. The entry vestibules have floors covered in contrasting marble that forms a central star design with a diamond-shaped border. Walls are also clad in marble with molded door and window surrounds and fluted pilasters. Built-in marble benches are below windows. The pale marble is St. Genevieve Golden Vein and the darker marble is Verde Antique. Elaborate plaster coffered ceilings glazed a rich golden brown top the space.

The postal lobby on the first floor features marble floors, marble walls, decorative plaster ceilings, and ornamental cast-aluminum door and window surrounds. Although postal services are no longer located in the building, original postal window openings with cast aluminum surrounds and marble sills remain. Above the postal windows are large transom windows with leaded glass.

The district courtroom on the second floor is another important space. Its walls have dark green marble bases below mahogany wall panels with walnut burl inlay. Ornate bronze grilles and wall sconces are original features. The ornamental plaster cornice transitions into a plaster coffered ceiling with alternating octagonal and square designs that have been painted in a polychromatic color scheme.

One of the most impressive features of the site is the elaborate plaza along the Harrison Street facade. The plaza is reached by granite steps that contain a landing with a flagpole with a simply decorated bronze base. Integral granite benches form walls that enclose the plaza. The rear plaza bench, which is 40 feet long, is carved with the signs of the zodiac on the back while the arms have carved stylized leaf motifs.

Significant Events

1928: Congress authorizes funding for federal building in Fort Wayne under the Public Buildings Act of 1926

1931-1932: Building constructed

1987: Post Office vacates building

2000: Building renamed to honor E. Ross Adair

2006: Building listed in the National Register of Historic Places

Building Facts

Location:1300 South Harrison Street

Architects: Guy Mahurin and Benjamin Morris

Construction Dates: 1931-1932

Architectural Style: Stripped Classical

Landmark Status: Listed in the National Register of Historic Places

Primary Materials: Limestone and Granite Prominent

Features: Stylized Art-Deco ornamentation; Reinforced concrete construction; Granite plaza

The E. Ross Adair Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Fort Wayne, Indiana, is three stories above a slightly raised basement. The height of the building from the entry plaza to the top of the parapet is approximately 57 feet. The building is clad in gray-buff limestone with a granite base and entry steps, plaza and platforms. The simple detailing is carved limestone. Windows are replacement aluminum sash and frames. This zone consists of the original limestone elevations and site immediately surrounding the north, south and east elevations of the building.

One of the most impressive features of this building is the elaborate plaza along Harrison Street (east façade). The plaza extends approximately 50 feet from the face of the building. There are five granite steps across the entire width of the front façade with granite walls at either end. The steps are divided at the midpoint by a granite platform for the flagpole base. The base is a large bronze cylinder atop the base. At either end of the plaza, the granite base forms curved walls and the backs of built-in benches; a similar treatment is used at the back of the plaza where a 40-foot long granite bench is centered on the façade. The bench back is carved with signs of the zodiac and the armrests are carved with a motif of stylized leaves. The area behind the bench is a planting area for small trees and shrubs. The granite walls at the ends of the plaza continue, forming cheek walls for the three granite steps that lead to the entry platform at both the north and south entries. Bronze urn light fixtures are on each of the cheek walls of these entry steps. All the granite walls have copings with rounded edges. The plaza is paved with granite, and the pattern of the paving divides the length of the plaza into five plain squares, two squares with a diamond motif at the entries, and a curved pattern at each end. A handicapped access ramp made of concrete with metal railings has been added at the north end of the plaza.

The site immediately adjacent to the north and south elevations consist of wide grassy lawn areas with some mature trees.

The three-story front façade of the building is 211 feel long and is divided in eleven bays of fenestration by stylized columns of starved classical style set between slightly projecting end bay pavilions. The main entries are located in these pavilions. There are three-story vertical openings in the limestone cladding which contain the entry doors, transoms and windows with spandrels. The original cast aluminum entry doors have been replaced, but the original transom, cast aluminum transom grilles and transom bars still remain. The transom bars are decorated in stylized palm leaf ornamentation. This motif is repeated in various locations around the building. The door openings have a stone surround with a carved ornamented cornice. The ornamental motifs are floral and leaf patterns. The soffit of the cornice above the entry is a stylized mutile pattern. There are matching windows above the entry doors at the second and third floor levels. The window sash and frames are replacement aluminum units and features mullions, which are the same pattern as the cast aluminum grilles below. Black glass spandrel panels separate the second and third floors. A carved band of shallow relief extends across the front and side facades at the heads of the third floor windows. Above this band is a flat frieze band with a heavy carved stone cornice. This cornice contains the gutter system for the building and has carved lion heads at intervals along its length. A broad band above the cornice forms the parapet and has shallow molded bands near the top. There is a stone coping along the entire parapet. There are carved stone medallions in this band above each entry with an eagle as the ornamental motif.

The smaller bays between the end pavilions are marked by stone columns with carved capitals of a stylized leaf motif with the appearance of a flattened Corinthian capital, which appear throughout the building. A running band of stylized palm leaves forms the bases of the columns and continues around the front façade and three-story portion of the side facades. Each bay has windows at the first, second and third floors levels between stone columns. All of the windows are replacement aluminum sash and frames. The floor levels are indicated by metal spandrel panels with eagle ornamentation at the second floor level and limestone panels with a simple carved medallion of the third floor level. Above the columns of the front façade is a plain frieze band incised with the letters: "UNITED STATES POST OFFICE AND COURT HOUSE". The cornice and parapet treatments are the same as those above the entry pavilions without medallions.

The south façade is visually divided into three segments. The first segment is the slightly recessed bay, which forms the entry pavilion. The second segment is the main body of the three-story portion of the building and the third segment is the one-story portion of the former postal workroom. The whole façade is tied together by the raised granite base that is more exposed as the site slopes down to the west. There are openings in the granite for windows at the basement level in all bays, except the two eastern bays. Each window has a metal grille. The recessed bay of the entry pavilion has a vertical opening in the limestone into which the first, second and third floor windows are placed, with spandrel panels between floor levels. The detailing of these windows nearly matches those of the front façade; however, there is no grillwork and the openings are narrower. The carved surrounds and cornices are the same, the window and spandrels of the second and third floors are the same as the front façade and the carved ornamentation cornice, frieze, and parapets are identical. The main portion of the three-story façade is divided into seven bays, which appear as five two-story vertical bands; each topped by a square opening, flanked by two bays with small rectangular windows at each floor level. The five vertical bands are defined by flattened and stylized columns, matching those of the front façade define the five vertical bands. The end bays with the rectangular window openings are unornamented except for the band forming column bases, the frieze, cornice, and parapet. The one-story portion of the former postal work room contains for vertical bands for windows. The heads of these openings are even with the first floor window openings of the end bay, but the sills are lower. The ornamentation is generally simplified. Columns are only indicated by joints in the limestone cladding, a cornice is indicated only by slight relief, and the running band of carved ornamentation forming column bases elsewhere, is only indicated by slight relief.

The north façade is identical to the south façade except that there are areaways to the basement windows and an areaway with stair to provide access to the basement along the one-story portion of the façade.

The location of the courtroom is obvious on the second and third floors of the west elevation of the far light court. The center five bays have tall openings reflecting the two-story height of the courtroom. In the bays on either side of the courtroom window are three window openings at each floor lever. The north and south elevations of the light court have two window openings on each floor level.

The interior of the courthouse contains several significant spaces including the former postal lobby on the first floor and the district courtroom on the second floor. The postal lobby features terrazzo floors, marble walls, decorative plaster ceilings and ornamental cast aluminum door and window surrounds. The two-story courtroom features mahogany wall panels with walnut burl inlay. Both of these spaces retain much of their original appearance and grandeur.

The site of the E. Ross Adair Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Fort Wayne, Indiana, is bounded by Harrison Street on the east, Brackenridge Street on the south, Webster Street on the west and Douglas Avenue on the north. The authorization for the purchase of the site was the Public Building Act of 1926, as amended by Congress in 1928. The authorization directed the U.S. Department of the Treasury to acquire the block of land at a reasonable price. However, after negotiations with property owners failed to arrive at an agreeable price, the U.S. Government submitted to the U.S. District Court a petition to condemn the land in December of 1928. The site to be condemned consisted of 21 parcels of land with single-family residences.

In addition to authorizing the purchase of the land, the Public Buildings Act of 1926 also authorized the construction of a new post office and courthouse in Fort Wayne. The plans for the Fort Wayne U.S. Post Office and Courthouse, now referred to as the E. Ross Adair Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, were prepared by the predominant Fort Wayne architect, Guy Mahurin, and New York architect, Benjamin Morris. During the design process, an attempt was made to reduce the costs of construction as much as possible. Bids for construction were taken by the U.S. Department of the Treasury on August 14, 1931. Many contracting firms submitted bids for the work, all which were substantially lower than anticipated. Between the dates the bids were submitted and the contract was awarded, there were efforts to secure the total appropriation amount in spite of the low bids in order to upgrade the design of the building. These efforts were successful and an impressive entry plaza, previously eliminated from the plans and finer interior materials (i.e. marble floors in place of terrazzo) were allowed to be added as upgrades in the design. Ralph Sollitt and Sons of South Bend, Indiana was selected as General Contractor on August 20, 1931, with George Sutherland acting as general superintendent.

Excavation for the building was completed by September 21, 1931. Unlike many public buildings of this era, the structural system is reinforced concrete instead of steel frame. Reportedly, this was the first large federal building to use this type of structural system, saving an estimated $30,000. All interior and wood finishes and mill work, including walnut and birch doors, judges’ benches, courtroom paneling and cabinets were subcontracted to the Fort Wayne Builder's Supply Company. The stone, brick, and grantee work was subcontracted to Mike Sheer and Sons of Huntington, Indiana. The U.S. Post Office occupied the building in early October of 1932 and the building was officially opened to the public in an elaborate ceremony on October 29, 1932.

There have been relatively few alterations to the building until 1986-1987, shortly after the U.S. Post Office relocated to another building. The former postal workroom on the first floor of the building was renovated to create a new courtroom. Additional alterations in 1986-1987 included the installation of replacement windows, suspended acoustical tile ceilings with florescent light fixtures, substantial mechanical systems upgrades, and the reconfiguration of the former postal loading dock to create a new employee entrance from a new rear parking lot.

On May 10, 1987, the Indiana State Historic Preservation Office determined that Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse was eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places for its significance in the areas of architecture and politics/government. In 2000, the building was renamed in honor of Congressman E. Ross Adair.

Year
Start
Year
End
Description Architect
1931 1932 Original Construction Guy Mahurin & Benjamine Morris