Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, Baton Rouge, LA
The Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Baton Rouge, Louisiana was built in 1933 and is Neoclassical in style. It is clad with limestone and sits on a granite base. The main elevation faces south. The main elevation consists of a slightly projecting central bay articulated by four fluted pilasters, flanked by symmetrical wings. Vertically, the facade is separated by an architrave between the second and third floors. The four fluted engaged Ionic pilasters of the central bay terminate at the architrave. There are two fluted Ionic engaged pilasters at either end of the facade. All the fluted pilasters feature carved stone caps. Above these pilasters in the frieze is a horizontally scored block. The window bays flanking the central bay are divided by unembellished engaged pilasters. At the third floor the windows of the central block are divided by scored engaged pilasters. There is a limestone parapet with a zigzag motif above the central bay. Unembellished limestone pilasters flank the windows at either end of the facade on the third floor.
All the windows of the south facade are recessed within limestone surrounds. The original aluminum casement windows have been replaced with bronze anodized aluminum windows. At the first floor the windows have eight panes and are flanked by the original cast nickel alloy trim featuring a vertical papyrus motif with each stalk separated by a rosette. Second and third floor windows are two over two. Limestone spandrel panels separate the first and second floor windows. The sill below the second floor windows features an incised wave motif. The spandrels at either end of the facade are paneled limestone; the other spandrels are fluted limestone. Above each third floor window is an ornamental incised block. At either end and within the central bay the ornamentation above the third floor windows consists of fretwork with a triangular motif in the center. The incised blocks above the other windows feature fretwork with a diamond motif in the center.
Granite steps and a landing lead to the main entry of the building at the center of the south elevation. The main entry door is set within an elaborate projecting limestone surround. The surround features a simple limestone pediment on which sits, at the crest, a three-dimensional carved eagle. The cornice is ornamented by the anthemion and palmette motif. The surround is outlined by a border of raised stars. The main entry consists of three brass framed storefront type doors. A large glass transom panel above the doors is ornamented by a cast bronze grille divided vertically into three panels featuring a wavy stalk motif on a diamond background. A cast bronze panel with the wave motif separates the door from the transom. Two brass framed double doors with the same ornamentation flank the central door. At the second floor two windows above the doors have a carved limestone grille with geometric motif. An original wrought iron fence featuring a stalk motif runs the length of the south, east and west facades. Original wrought iron lighting standards sit on fluted granite cheek walls and flank the main entry. The shaft of the standard is open grillwork which terminates in an urn-shaped globe.
The east and west elevations are detailed in the same manner as the south elevation. Each elevation is divided into six bays. The windows of the end bays at either end are flanked by fluted engaged Ionic pilasters. The central bays are divided by unenriched pilasters. Window trim, spandrels, and architrave are the same as on the south elevation.
The north (rear) elevation is devoid of ornamentation. It is the site of the former postal loading dock. This elevation forms the leg of the “L” with the new building, and encloses a parking lot and entries to underground parking.
The interior of the building was being rehabilitated during the inspection and all tenant spaces being built out with new materials. Significant interior spaces being preserved are the second floor courtroom with its wood paneling and original light fixtures, the main staircase with its terrazzo stairs and wrought iron rail, and the entry foyer with its marble walls, ornate aluminum panel ceiling, and original light fixtures.
The Baton Rouge Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse is significant because it is a symbol of the federal presence in Baton Rouge, and it is representative of the federal building programs of the 1930s. The building sits at the corner of Florida and 7th Streets on property that has been government property - first, state; then, federal property - since 1835. In 1832, the state of Louisiana passed an act to begin construction of a state penitentiary in Baton Rouge. The state purchased eight acres from Raphael Legendre and John Buhler for $800 in the Devall Town area of Baton Rouge. A prison was constructed on the site with the lower cell house, containing the keeper's quarters and the main entrance, being at the corner of Florida and 7th Streets. At the time the prison opened, the state purchased the adjoining eight acres which was incorporated into the penitentiary grounds.
The property was occupied by Union forces in 1862 and was extensively damaged in the Battle of Baton Rouge on August 5, 1862. The prisoners moved back to the complex in 1867 and began repairs. The property was never completely rehabilitated, however, and the penitentiary was demolished in 1917. The city of Baton Rouge purchased the property from the state and it was turned into a community park. A community center was built in the park and, in 1920, an American Legion building was constructed at the corner of Florida and 7th. In 1932, the building was moved eastward to allow construction of the Federal courthouse, designed by local architect Moise Goldstein. Jens Braae Jensen served as structural engineer for the project. In 1966 a new post office facility was built across Florida Street and in 1990 a new federal building was constructed on the property adjacent to the 1932 courthouse. These three buildings form a "Federal Complex" and are significant symbols of the federal presence in Baton Rouge.
The passage of the Public Buildings Act of 1926 precipitated a period of building construction that was unprecedented in the United States. The Public Buildings Act specified that the office of the Supervising Architect of the Department of the Treasury would be responsible for the design and construction of all public buildings. Due to the failure of over half the nation's architectural and construction firms in the Depression, many of these buildings were designed and constructed by local firms, as was the Baton Rouge building. Many of the federal buildings of this period exhibit streamlined design and lavishly finished interiors featuring marble and aluminum trim, and well-appointed courtrooms. The Baton Rouge Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse is representative of this period of construction in the United States.