Federal Building and U. S. Courthouse, Peoria, IL

The Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse is three stories tall, with a one-story section facing Hamilton Street (east). The building also has a basement level below grade, with windows facing lightwells that surround the building on the north, east, and west sides. This building was designed in the streamlined Art Moderne style, which was very popular in the late 1920's and the 1930's. This style emphasized the massing of simple geometric forms, as well as the use of repetitive window openings (typically grouped in multi-story, recessed vertical bands); contrasting light and dark building components; bas-relief wall ornamentation; and highly stylized (often geometric) forms for decorative design elements such as exterior lamps, handrails and stone sculptures.

The north, east and west sides of the building are surrounded with concrete sidewalks. The north sidewalk contains a few trees in circular planting areas. Adjacent to the building, minimal landscaping is surrounded with a granite curb.

The front of the building is on Monroe Street (north), where the two symmetrically located entrances once provided the primary public access to the building. Exposed portions of the concrete foundation/basement wall are located within the lightwells on the Hamilton, Monroe, and Main Street elevations. Directly above the basement level is a granite base. It wraps the perimeter of the building, with the exception of the loading dock on the alley (south) elevation. The elevation of the top of the base remains uniform around the perimeter, but the site slopes. As a result, the height of the granite base varies in relation to the adjacent grade, ranging from 1 foot 6 inches below the sidewalk level to approximately 3 feet 5 inches above sidewalk level.

Above the granite base, the walls of the east, west, north elevations are faced with rectangular limestone blocks. In most areas, the limestone consists of smooth-cut rectangular blocks in a running bond pattern, topped by a limestone cornice at the roofline. In some areas, the stone has been rusticated by recessing the face of the stone in a one inch wide band at the joints of each stone unit. This emphasizes the bond pattern and heightens the contrast between the joints and the blocks. This rusticated stone is found at the first floor level of the east and west elevations, and wraps the corners to the north elevation, where it continues past the entrances and then terminates at the smooth-faced center section of this elevation. A limestone belt course separates the rusticated facing from the smooth facing of the floors above.

The rear (south) elevation of the building, at the alley, is faced with both brick and limestone. Limestone facing is used on the south elevation of the three story high west wing of the building, on the south elevations of both four story sections of the building, and on the south elevation of the one story wing at Hamilton Street.

All remaining east, south, and west-facing portions of the south elevation are faced with brick, as is the smokestack. This brick has a lightly glazed tan surface.

The four original public entrances to the building are similar in design. Each consists of three single leaf metal doors, each with a single pane of glass in the upper half of the door, installed below a large plate glass transom in front of which a decorative bronze grille has been installed. The grilles are each in three segments, and are similar in design to the bronze balustrades along the lightwells on the Hamilton Street and Main Street elevations. They have a dark, anodized finish. Each entrance is flanked by two oversized wall mounted light fixtures of anodized bronze and glass. Each is topped with a bronze eagle. A decorative limestone cartouche with a bas-relief carving in a stylized, shield-like motif has been installed above the midpoint of each of the two Monroe Street entrances.

Although all of the windows are similar in size and arranged symmetrically, the four upper windows in the center bay of the Main Street (west) elevation are one and a half stories in height. These windows are located at the original courtroom, with a limestone spandrel panel at the base of each window opening. Each spandrel panel is covered with a bas-relief sculpture: two are of women; one is of a male Indian; and the fourth is of a muscular man with a tractor behind him and a big wrench on his shoulder.

The significant public corridors and lobbies within the building are decorated primarily with terrazzo floors, marble clad walls and painted ceilings. The tenants are comprised of the U.S. Representative's offices, the U.S. Magistrate Court and offices, the U.S. District Court, Jury Room and offices, the Bankruptcy Court and offices, the Clerks offices and the U.S. Attorney's offices.

The first official U.S. Post Office in Peoria was established on April 9, 1825. Prior to that time, mail was received via St. Louis, and was carried by travelers making a round-trip journey to that city. Within a short time after the post office was organized, service was established between Peoria and Galena. The earliest known official location of the post office was at the hotel of John L. Bogardus, the postmaster appointed in August of 1833. This hotel was a log cabin located near the foot of Hamilton Street. A series of postmasters served the post office, often for a period as short as a year, with the post office itself located in private business spaces at the convenience of the current postmaster.

The post office first moved to its present location at Monroe and Main Streets in 1867, when it was relocated in the Puterbaugh Building at that site. In 1883, the U.S. Congress appropriated funds for construction of a federal building in the same location. The existing buildings and grounds were purchased for $52,000 and the building was built at an additional cost of $251,833. Construction of the Romanesque Revival building was completed and the building occupied in 1889. An addition to this building was completed in 1910, at a cost of $218,500. Federal agencies located in the building in 1935 included the U.S. Post Office; Army Recruiting, Instruction Armory, and Reserves; Navy Reserves Dock and Armory; Internal Revenue Service; Federal District Court; U.S. Marshall's office; U.S. Weather Bureau; U.S. Customs; Federal Grain Supervision; Alcohol Tax Unit; and the Game Protector.

The present structure was built in 1937 and 1938 during the administration of postmaster Thomas Cody. The Supervising Architect for the Treasury Department was Louis A. Simon. Louis A. Simon was born in Baltimore, and educated at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After two years of private practice in Baltimore, he joined the Office of the Supervising Architect of the Treasury Department in 1896. He served as Chief of the Architectural Division from 1905 to 1933, as Supervising Architect from 1933 to 1941, and, after a brief retirement, served as Contracting Architect from 1942 to 1944, when he retired permanently.

The architect of record was Howard L. Cheney of Chicago. Howard Lovewell Cheney was born in Chicago in 1889, and educated at both the Armour (Illinois) Institute of Technology and the University of Illinois. Licensed as both an architect and an engineer, he was in private practice for most of his professional career. In addition, Cheney worked for the Public Buildings Branch of the Treasury Department from 1934 to 1942, and for the University of Illinois from 1938 to 1940 and again from 1946 to 1948. In addition to the Federal Building in Peoria, IL, Cheney designed federal buildings for Gary, Indiana and New Orleans, Louisiana; the Federal Building and Court of Peace for the 1939 World's Fair; National Airport in Washington, D.C.; and acted as supervising architect for the construction of the Chicago Tribune Tower in Chicago, IL.

The 1889 building was razed beginning in April 1937, and for over a year the various federal agencies were housed in temporary quarters. Several nearby business establishments were also demolished as a result of expansion of the original site to accommodate the new, larger building.

The cornerstone for the new federal building was laid in ceremonies on December 6, 1937. Construction was substantially completed and building fully occupied on August 1, 1938. The original contract price was $879,000, with an added cost of $128,000 spent for the purchase of additional land. At the time of construction of the new building, the post office had 250 employees and 15 substations, with four business and two residential deliveries a day, six rural delivery routes, and annual receipts of $1,045,251.65.

Since 1936, primarily interior renovations have been made at the Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse. In 1957, the skylights over the first floor workroom were removed, and new heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems were installed. At the same time, dropped suspended ceiling grids with integral fluorescent light fixtures were installed in all areas except the second floor courtroom. In 1971, security improvements to the District Court areas, and fire separation, detection, and alarm systems were installed throughout the building. In 1992-1995, the interior doors and exterior windows were repaired, removed, or replaced. Historical renovations were also included as part of this work.

In 1980, a new main post office facility was constructed in another downtown location, and in January 1981 the postal service relocated from the 1936 building to the new one, leaving the earlier building nearly half empty. At that time, the only federal offices remaining in the building were the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Railroad Administration, and the Savings Bond Division.

In 1981, new second floor chambers for the senior District Court Judge were completed. In 1986, however, extensive remodeling on the first floor was undertaken to create facilities for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court and additional facilities for the U.S. District Court.

Virtually all of the original partition walls were removed at this time, including the screen along the wall between the postal office/workroom areas and the main lobby. The only first floor areas left unchanged at this time were the offices occupied by the Congressman Michel. A small area on the second floor was also modified, to create a prisoner holding facility. New dropped ceilings and lighting, as well as new plumbing, were installed in this part of the second floor and throughout the first floor.

The building was rededicated in ceremonies on August 24, 1987. With completion of this construction, the first floor of the building assumed the appearance and condition in which it is found today.

Description Architect
1937 1938 Original Construction Howard L. Cheney
1957 Removal of Skylights, New HVAC, Suspended Ceilings Associated Engineers of Peoria
1970 1971 Security Improvements A. M. Kinney Associates Inc.
1981 Second Floor Judge's Chambers Unknown
1986 1987 First Floor Alterations Phillips Swagar Associates
1992 1995 Doors & Windows Repairs/Replacement,Historic Reno. Michaud, Cooley & Erickson
Last Reviewed: 2021-08-31