Ewing T. Kerr Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, Casper, WY
Located off the original Oregon Trail, Casper, Wyoming, was a way station for westward pioneers during the nineteenth century. Incorporated in 1888, the city grew rapidly because of the completion of the Union Pacific Railroad, a growing cattle industry, and, later, an oil boom in the 1920s. The boom went bust just as the new federal building was conceived, making its construction critical to a local economy that would soon be embroiled in the Great Depression. Nonetheless, during the cornerstone ceremony, the building's construction was hailed by former Congressman C. E. Winter as, "a milestone in the progress of the west, the state of Wyoming, and, more particularly, of the city of Casper."
Construction funding came from the Public Buildings Act of 1926, which allotted $165 million for federal building construction across the country. The building's cornerstone attributes the design to James A. Wetmore, acting supervising architect of the Treasury Department from 1915 to 1933. Louis A. Simon, then superintendent of the Architectural Division, likely oversaw the design. In a Masonic ceremony, the cornerstone was set on July 14, 1931. The finished building was dedicated on October 11, 1932, with festivities featuring the singing of "America" and speeches by the city's postmaster and the mayor. Immediately following the ceremony, more than 4,000 people proceeded to tour the building.
The building was renovated in 1970 when the post office and several other agencies relocated and again in 1987 to accommodate growing court functions. In 1992, the building was renamed for former Wyoming Attorney General and U.S. District Court Judge Ewing T. Kerr (1900-1992), whose six decade career paralleled Wyoming's own maturation. Kerr prosecuted or adjudicated many locally significant cases. These include a Prohibition-era trial in 1933 in which thirty-seven citizens, including the mayor and sheriff, were indicted for bootlegging; "trust-busting" companies accused of rigging gasoline prices during the 1940s; and, in later decades, environmental, tax, and mineral rights cases. The Ewing T. Kerr Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.
Prominently sited on a corner lot of the city's downtown banking district, the Ewing T. Kerr Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse is rendered in the Neoclassical style, commonly seen upon early twentieth century public buildings. Originally housing a variety of federal agencies, the U.S. Post Office and Courthouse, as it was then known, helped consolidate Casper's emerging downtown.
The federal building is a massive, rectangular plan building, three stories in height with predominant, cross-hipped roofs clad in slate tiles. The building is clad in American bond brickwork and is detailed with Wyoming sandstone. These materials lend the formally composed building an earthen, western feeling that is contextual to its setting and location.
The facade faces west, and centered within it is a sandstone frontispiece containing a three-arched entranceway with recessed entries beneath an engaged portico. Each entry has a pair of eight light aluminum clad doors: a later alteration matching the style of earlier wood doors, beneath a multi-light arched transom window. The engaged portico is of four sandstone pilasters supporting a simple molded frieze and a dentil molded pediment. At either side of the protruding portico are five window bays, with quoining at each slightly protruding end bay. The first floor windows are double hung and topped with fanlight transoms that are accented with flat brick arches with decorative sandstone keystones and springers. The first floor windows and those at the second level within the portico are underscored with sandstone panels. A sandstone belt course runs above the first floor windows around the building's primary elevations. Second and third floor windows have gauge brick jack arching and decorative keystones above all second level windows. A plain sandstone fascia runs atop all four elevations, and above it is a cornice with dentil molding. The side and rear elevations have similar cladding, sandstone details, window treatment, and quoining as seen at the front elevation.
The lobby features its original wood trim with chair and picture railing running along most walls. A three-bay arcade inside the lobby reiterates the exterior entrance arcade. The highly intact second-floor courtroom is the most distinguished space in the building. The room features stained walnut multi-panel wainscoting, judge's bench, and molding. The entry to the judge's chambers is classically detailed with Doric pilasters supporting an entablature and a broken pediment with an elevated bud finial. Front and side walls possess windows in recessed arches, continuing the arch motif seen at the exterior and in the lobby. Dentil molding is present at ceiling edges, and original leather clad double doors to the courtroom from the main corridor are retained. Original wood trim, marble door surrounds and flooring, and brass elevator doors are present in other areas in the building.
In the lobby, original post office boxes and service windows were removed in 1970-1971 and a west-side vestibule was replaced with a corridor. The lobby under-went a significant renovation from 1987 to 1989, which rehabilitated the two side entrances and the marble-bordered terrazzo floors that were extended in-kind to the later corridor. The lobby's vaulted ceiling was added as part of this rehabilitation. During this same period, all wood windows at the exterior were replaced with aluminum windows, and the wood details of the district courtroom were refinished.
1930: Building authorization approved, concluding a four-year effort. Construction begins the following year.
October 11, 1932: Building dedicated
1970-1971: Post office relocates to new facility and building renovated to serve more judicial and related agency needs
1987-1989: Major interior renovation to accommodate expanded judicial functions
1992: Renamed to honor former Wyoming Attorney General and U.S. District Court Judge Ewing T. Kerr
1998: Building listed in National Register of Historic Places
Location: 111 Wolcott Street
Architect: James A. Wetmore
Construction Date: 1931-1932
Landmark Status: Listed in the National Register of Historic Places
Architectural Style: Neoclassical
Primary Materials: Brick and Wyoming sandstone
Prominent Features: Engaged portico atop entry arcade; Courtroom with original walnut paneling; Classical detailing and symmetry
The building is prominently located on a corner lot in Casper’s downtown banking district and has symmetry and details that conform to the Neo-classical Revival style. The building is rectangular in plan, almost twice as long as it is wide and measures 158'-4" by 87'-4". It is three stories high plus a basement, and also includes a mezzanine above the first floor on the east side. The building is a reinforced concrete structure with masonry walls. The exterior is brick laid in American bond pattern with architectural design features in smooth cut Wyoming sandstone. The base of the building from grade up to the first floor is clad with sandstone. Sandstone features are used as spandrel panels below the sills of the first floor windows, a belt course at the second floor line and quoins that delineate the building’s corners and end bays. The keystones in the Roman arched windows on the first floor and the flat arched windows on the second floor are also sandstone. A sandstone frieze and cornice at the eaves of the pitched roof cap the masonry assembly on the north, west, south and portions of the east side of the building. The flat roofed areas of the building are enclosed by parapet walls with a sandstone parapet cap. There is an additional sandstone belt course around the district court wing in the center of the east side which extends a half story above the second floor roof line.
The main façade faces west and has a sandstone frontispiece that projects three feet out from the face of the building and is three bays wide. At the first floor, the frontispiece is sandstone with a Roman arched alcove at each of the three entrance doors which have half round transom lights above them. This whole first story sandstone entrance feature is approximately thirty six feet wide and eighteen feet in height ending at the second floor line. Resting on top of this assembly are four sandstone pilasters twenty-three feet in height extending to the entablature of the stone pediment at the third floor roofline.
The north, west, south, and east façade end bays are topped with a slate hip roof. The east façade has three story end bays which flank two story inside bays, which in turn flank a slightly taller central bay. The east side is the rear or service side of the building with the former post office dock dominating the center portion of the building.
Since completion of the initial construction in 1932 the building has undergone two major interior remodels. The first occurred in 1970-71 when the post office moved to a new building and the vacated space in this building was remodeled to house other federal agencies. In this remodel an effort was made to optimize available space and the vestibule was completely done away with and replaced by a corridor. New north and south entrances were installed and an accessible ramp was constructed at the south entrance. A stair was constructed near the south entrance that runs from the first through the third floor. Additional modifications included improved clearances and hardware modifications. The HVAC system was upgraded and a mechanical room was added on the second and third floors in the western half of the southern light court. The mezzanine on the east side of the building was converted to mechanical space. There was limited work done on the exterior at this time.
The roofs of the building were upgraded in 1979 when the roof drains were replaced. The marquee roof at the east side loading dock was reworked. The ridge and hip lines at the slate roof were caulked with joint sealant and missing and broken, or badly deteriorated slate replaced. Additional accessible provisions were provided at this time, as well as some painting. Additional painting work was also done in 1985.
A freight elevator from the basement to the mezzanine was installed sometime after 1970 and prior to 1985. It has not been in use in the last decade, and is believed to be inoperable. The mezzanine is currently used solely for mechanical equipment.
In 1986, Alan B. Johnson became the first U.S. District Court judge to be permanently assigned to Casper. The second major building remodel was done in 1987-89 to accommodate expanded judicial functions. The federal agencies that once co-occupied with the federal district court in this building were moved into the new Federal Building/Post Office complex, leaving only the US Attorney, and US Marshall with the Courts. The building was extensively remodeled at this time, with the majority of the work focused on the interior. The exterior work included replacing all of the doors and windows with aluminum clad wood units that replicated the original and redoing the landscaping. Some of the interior finishes were redone, with the notable exception of the original marble and terrazzo flooring which was retained. The north and south lobby entrances were rehabilitated and marble and terrazzo flooring that match the original was installed in the new first floor corridors. A lobby was constructed on the first floor that matched the building’s historic character and materials. The lobby has a vaulted ceiling, terrazzo flooring, and stained wood chair rail and picture rail on most walls. A private elevator for the judges was installed near the south entrance and the HVAC system was upgraded as part of this remodel.
The second floor courtroom is still mostly intact and has been minimally altered over the years. The room has a walnut panel wainscot, judge’s bench and moulding. Windows in recessed arches are located on the front and side walls. A plaster cornice and dentil moulding are intact at the ceiling. Behind the judge’s bench the wood paneling has Doric pilasters which support a broken pediment. The original leather clad double doors, typical in courtrooms of this time period, remain intact. The arched ceiling has been modified to accommodate updated lighting and the new mechanical system.
Present-day Casper, Wyoming got its start as a way station for pioneers traveling along the Oregon Trail during the 1800s. In the 1870s and 1880s large cattle and sheep raising operations brought residents to the area. On June 8, 1888 the town of Casper was established. The one hundred or so residents celebrated a week later as the railroad came to Casper. Less than a year later, on May 6, 1889, the town was officially incorporated and Wyoming became a state fourteen months later on July 10, 1890. That same year, Casper became the county seat of Natrona County. Many of the buildings in historic Casper were constructed along Center Street in the 1900s through the 1920s, with the 1920 oil boom providing an impetus for greater growth. As the population in Casper increased, the city outgrew the 1916 federal building and in 1924 an addition was constructed on the back of that building. A 1926-1927 study of federal government space needs recommended a replacement federal building be constructed in Casper. Representative Charles E. Winter led the effort in the U.S. House of Representatives to fund the building and Senator F.E. Warren was largely responsible for the building being approved and funded by the Senate. The funding for the building came from the Public Buildings Act of 1926. In 1929, a site was selected for the building at the southeast corner of South Wolcott and East First streets and purchased for $44,000. The site measured 210’ by 150’ and consisted of several lots. There were three buildings on the site, two of which were residences, which were removed or demolished by W.V. Johnson, a contractor, and Forest Jackson, a house-moving specialist.
The office of the Supervising Architect of the Treasury designed the building in 1930 under the direction of James A. Wetmore who was the Acting Supervising Architect. The building was designed in the Neo-classical style which incorporates geometrical shapes. The Neo-classical style was considered to be both handsome and representative of Federal governmental structures of the era. Symmetry and balance are two of the major elements of Neo-classical design and both are incorporated into the facades of the Ewing T. Kerr Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse. Columns, another important element of Neo-classical design, are incorporated into the building facades in the form of pilasters.
Excavation for the project began on January 26, 1931. Murch Brothers Construction Company of St. Louis was the general contractor for the building. Walter Murch was the construction superintendent at the beginning of the project and E.J. Jarvis held that position at the completion of the project. The federal government’s onsite construction engineer was F.E. Hayes, Jr. The internal framework of the building consisted of reinforced concrete columns, and the exterior walls were constructed of structural clay tile, face brick and sandstone. The concrete subcontract was awarded to Rognstad and Olson of Casper. The structural clay tile was provided by the Western Brick and Supply Company of Lincoln, Nebraska and the face brick was provided by Lovell Clay Products Company of Lovell, Wyoming. Casper Monument Works supplied the stone for the building and provided sandstone from a quarry in Rawlins, Wyoming and Vermont granite. John A. Ridle, a Casper brick contractor, was awarded the subcontract for the masonry work on the building. The building cornerstone was laid July 14, 1931. By August 1932, the slate roof was installed by Bacon and Schramm of Denver, Colorado. On October 9, 1932 the “Casper Federal Building” was officially completed and a formal dedication was held on October 11, 1932.
The interior of the building featured terrazzo flooring, indirect lighting using opaque panels near the ceilings and marble panels on the walls. The second floor courtroom had cork tile flooring and concealed lighting that illuminated the domed ceiling. The building was heated by steam produced in a coal fired furnace in the basement. Originally the building served as a Post Office, U.S. Courthouse and federal office building. The building had a 1,800 box postal lobby with terrazzo flooring. Federal office space was occupied by the U.S. Geological Survey of the Department of the Interior, U.S. Marshalls, Internal Revenue Service and various other federal agencies.
The Post Office and federal agencies needed more space than the building could provide, so in 1970 a new Post Office and Federal Building was constructed a few blocks away. After the Post Office relocated, the space it had occupied on the first floor of the Casper Federal Building was converted to office space. In 1987, the building underwent a second significant interior remodel to accommodate the expansion of the courts. This remodel included the construction of a lobby and corridor on the first floor that was compatible with the character and materials of the original lobby and corridors, though the layout does not match the historic.
The building was designated the Ewing T. Kerr Federal Building and United States Courthouse on March 20, 1992, in honor of Ewing T. Kerr; U.S. Federal District Judge and former Wyoming Attorney General.
Located on the southeast corner of First and Wolcott streets, it is one block east of the Casper Historical district and now in the present banking district, being surrounded by banks on the other three corners. The building, as well as the location, has aura of prominence in the City of Casper.
--some text excerpted from the 1998 National Register Nomination Form and the 1995 HBPP