Constructed in 1931, the Federal Building and Courthouse is located in the central business district of Fargo and occupies one-half of a city block. The building is a symmetrical, three-story structure faced with limestone on the primary elevations and brick on the secondary elevations at the rear. The primary façade along First Avenue is 216 feet in length. The depth of the building along Roberts Street is 102 feet in length.
The building's biaxial symmetry, strong horizontal lines, and classical motifs characterize it as Renaissance Revival in style. The plan is organized along a primary east-west axis, with identical elevator/stair cores located at opposite ends of a double-loaded central corridor. The two stair cores open to identical granite stair entries with double leaf doors and round top transoms on the main (First Avenue) façade. Originally designed as a U.S. Post Office on the main floor with mailroom and loading lock at the rear, the first floor fills the entire rectangular footprint and is flush to the rear alley. The upper floorplates are E-shaped, with two light courts providing natural lighting to offices on the second floor and to the Courtroom and supporting spaces on the third floor. The building also has a full basement and attic level.
The first floor is the tallest, with a floor-to-floor height of 17-feet 6-inches. Upper floors recede in height: The second floor is 12-feet 6-inches; the third floor is 11-feet. The building is articulated vertically in three sections: The first story to grade is rusticated and capped with a 12-inch beltcourse. The main entry bays are accentuated by being brought forward of the main building face, and this vertical accent is carried the full height of the building. The upper floors section (second and third floors) is finished with smooth ashlar that is capped with a 30-inch cornice and frieze. This center section frames the most dominant feature of the main façade: a symmetrical composition of ten ionic engaged columns alternated with tall window openings and cast iron spandrels. The upper most section atop the cornice is comprised of a limestone parapet with balustrades that are aligned with window openings below. The roof, not generally visible from street level, is a steeply pitched hipped roof with small dormers in each face of the attic level.
The structure consists of a reinforced concrete frame and floors supported on concrete spread footings. Walls are concrete with limestone facing on the primary facades. Walls of the rear light court are brick masonry. The primary roof is a steel truss structure.
Exterior walls on floors 1-3 are furred with 2¿ terra cotta [see wall section]. Typical partitions are 6¿ terra cotta. Vaults have walls and ceilings of 6¿ reinforced concrete.
The basement is arranged about a double loaded corridor between stair cores, with smaller storage rooms around the south and east perimeter, and the mechanical equipment and boiler in the center and rear of the building. Natural lighting was originally provided to the perimeter rooms by double hung window that opened onto an areaway. These windows have been infilled and the areaway replaced with planting areas.
WINDOWS AND ENTRY DOORS
Both round-top main entry openings have aluminum replacement doors and transom. A new entry and handicapped ramp on the east (in a former window opening) is similar but with square transom.
Windows are double-pane aluminum slider type, with fixed transoms. All windows (with the exception of one unit in the original basement toilet room) were installed in 1970 to replace the original divided-lite wood double-hung windows. New windows retain the original openings, except for those altered to accommodate doors of a new handicapped entry on the east and doors to the new addition at all levels on the west.
The first floor was originally designed as a U.S. Post Office with the public lobby occupying extending between the two elevator cores and the service bays, the post office ¿screen¿ defined by the row structural columns separating the lobby from the large workroom at the rear behind (reference Finish #6, with cornice). The workroom opened to the loading dock at the rear of the building. Postmaster offices were located in the front corner spaces of the first floor. Concrete vaults were located adjacent the two stair cores. A lookout system for monitoring the workroom and the vaults from above extended the full length of the workroom and the walkway wrapped around on the east and west to provide views to the vaults (see 1930 construction photo). The two original entries were constructed with metal and glass doors and transoms with decorative cast iron trim. The entries also included storm vestibules similarly detailed, reflecting the harshness of the local winter climate (see drawing detail and 1959 photo).
Most of the building is currently used as rental office space for various GSA departments, and has been remodeled to accommodate tenant requirements. There is no connection between the east and west elevator/stair cores on the first floor. The original building entrances on First Street are closed except for emergency egress. A newer entry with accessible ramp on the east connects to the east elevator lobby, but is rarely used. The main entry is currently from the new courthouse building addition on the west, through a new corridor to the west elevator lobby.
The second floor elevator lobby retains portions of the original finishes (#3, no cornice) consisting of terrazzo floor and marble base. Other portions of the second floor have a newer office finish package that consists of carpet, painted wood base and casing, flush rated doors, paneled non-rated doors, painted drywall walls, acoustic ceiling with 2-foot square grid and fluorescent light fixtures.
The third floor elevator lobby retains portions of the original finishes (#3, no cornice) consisting of terrazzo floor and marble base. The Courtroom Lobby, Courtroom, Library, and Judge¿s Chambers have a higher level of original finish (Lobby #4, Courtroom #5, Library #8) and much of this finish is intact. The Courtroom is in the process of being renovated at this time. The existing original features that will be retained include the stained millwork (paneling and doors), the judge¿s desk, and the benches. The witness stand and jury box will be replaced to accommodate accessibility requirements (these elements date to a prior renovation and are not considered historically significant). The existing acoustic ceiling has been removed, and it is anticipated that the ceiling will be restored to it original configuration, with modifications to accommodate modern lighting levels.
The primary hip roofs (originally standing seam metal) are finished with asbestos shingls and drain to scuppers and outlets at the center and corners of all building faces, then to internals outlets (drains). Integral gutters are lined the galvanized metal. There are penthouses above each elevator. The flat roofs over the first story in the light courts are composition roofs that drain to gutters and downspouts along the alley façade.