Federal Building, Bismarck, ND

The Bismarck Federal Building constructed in the Second Renaissance Revival style is a three story striated limestone building with a red tile roof. The existing building is composed of the original 1913 construction and a large 1937 addition to the rear of the building that matches the original construction in materials and details. The structure of the building consists of steel framing with reinforced concrete floors. The exterior walls are structural clay tile and brick that are sheathed with ashlar limestone. The basement is sheathed with ashlar granite. The site has maintained most of its original 1940 landscaping with grass areas and shrubs located along the south and west facades.

There are three horizontal layers to the building. A torus-molding begins the first floor's limestone base below a wide belt course. The limestone cladding on the first floor has rusticated banding and segments of the rusticated banding were used to form the voussoirs of the limestone arches of the first floor window openings. The second floor is separated from the first by a belt course, blank frieze and a continuous sill course. The second story limestone has a smooth finish and extends to the dentil-molded sill of the third floor. The third floor is composed of a pilaster colonnade with recessed windows. An egg-and-dart cornice and a bracketed copper soffit surmount the third floor pilasters. The roof is red tile and has an integral copper gutter. The flat portion of the roof is also covered with copper, though this is not visible from the street.

The main (south) façade fronts East Broadway and is divided into seven bays. The first floor windows consist of three ganged double-hung units, a middle four-over-four light unit flanked by two two-over-two units. The original arched transoms were removed and the openings filled in with stucco. The main entry, formerly with a pair of double doors in each of the three middle bays, was reduced to one pair located in the center bay and reached by a broad set of granite steps. The main entry door is a contemporary aluminum and glass unit. The transom is infilled with stucco behind decorative iron grilles that replicate the historic at each of the three center transoms. The building identification consists of modern aluminum lettering and is centered between the belt course and the continuous sill course of the second floor. Aluminum lettering stating the building address is mounted to the belt course. The second floor has a smooth ashlar limestone finish and projecting quoins. Twelve-over-twelve divided light double-hung windows pierce the limestone. The third floor is separated from the second by a denticulated belt course which forms the sill of the recessed six-over-six third floor windows. Tuscan pilasters accent the windows and there are projecting quoins at the building corners. The egg-and-dart cornice and bracketed copper soffit surmount the third floor pilasters completed by the red tile roof.

The west façade consists of eight bays and matches the detailing and finishes of the south facade. The east façade is similar to the west, but has an opening for the light court on the second and third floors. While the light court has altered the rhythm of the bays on the east façade, the materials and details are consistent with that found on the other facades except that the colonnade was not constructed on the third floor of the addition portion of this elevation. The north façade is similar to the south façade with the exception of a loading dock located in the middle five bays, the absence of the first floor limestone banded rustication and the third floor colonnade.

Interior spaces on the first floor have been greatly altered from their original design with the introduction of suspended ceilings, the covering of original plaster pilasters, and the division of the original spaces. The original ceilings and flooring throughout the building have been covered, and all of the woodwork has been painted. The courtroom on the second floor now functions as open office space and the original doors and trim in this area have been painted. The original plaster ceilings are concealed above a suspended ceiling. Most of the original plaster and wood detailing on the walls exists. Some of the plaster wall detailing has been damaged by the installation of the suspended ceiling. Another remaining original feature in the courtroom is the eight foot doors on the east wall that provide access to the original Judge's chambers. The second and third floors have retained much of their original layout and trim work, and the restrooms retain their original marble wainscoting and terrazzo flooring.

In 1883, Bismarck was named the new capital of the Dakota Territory and when North Dakota became a state in 1889 Bismarck was officially declared the state capital. Shortly after Bismarck was named the state capital, the city experienced a boom in population and building growth. However by the late 1880s, the state suffered a period of economic depression and Bismarck experienced a population decrease. North Dakota entered its second boom period in 1898 which resulted in a dramatic increase in settlers in the state. Wheat production in the state boomed and it became the nation’s leading wheat producing state. As the state capitol and a city conveniently located on the Northern Pacific Railway mainline, Bismarck prospered during this time. The city population increased almost fourfold from 1900 to the 1910s. As the population grew, civic improvements in Bismarck included construction of schools, a public library, an auditorium and a medical center.

In 1907, bills calling for the construction of the Bismarck Federal Building and Post Office were introduced in both the House and the Senate. The bills provided for $300,000 for the acquisition of land and construction of the building. By March 30, 1911 land on the northern edge of the business district had been purchased for $10,500, three existing wood frame buildings had been removed and the site was ready for construction. The general contractor, John Lauritzen, began construction on April 10, 1912 and completed the structure in 1913. The building was designed by James Knox Taylor, Supervisory Architect of the Treasury Department, in the Second Renaissance Revival style. This design style distinguishes the building from other buildings in Bismarck. Features of the building which exemplify Second Renaissance Revival style include: distinct articulation at each floor that is separated by belt courses, the use of both arched and flat openings, and the striated ashlar exterior with quoin detailing. The red tile truncated hipped roof and copper cornice are prominent features that, while not typically associated with Renaissance Revival, are well integrated into the classical massing and balance of the building. The building is steel framed with concrete floors and a limestone ashlar veneer. The façade is divided into three horizontal zones which correlate with the building floors. The limestone at the first floor has banded rustication which extends from the granite up to a blank wide frieze. Above the frieze, the façade at the second floor is smooth finished stone which extends up to a dentil moulding at the level of the third floor window sills. Above the moulding, the third floor façade is a line of engaged pilasters forming a colonnade with inset windows. The interior of the building had grand public spaces that included an entry lobby with fifteen foot ceilings with denticulated plaster cornice mouldings and pilasters capped by plaster capitals. The second floor corridor outside the courtroom had a cast plaster cornice moulding and beams that ran across the ceiling. The courtroom had a fifteen foot ceiling divided by five plastered beams and a denticulated plaster cornice moulding. The walls had a wood panel wainscot with plaster panels above. The building originally housed the U.S. Post Office, Federal Court and various Federal offices.

In the 1930's the Post Office required more space. In 1936 architect Wyatt C. Hedrick designed the addition under the supervision of Louis A. Simon, Supervising Architect of the Treasury Department. The construction contract was awarded to Maurice Shumacher of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Construction on the addition began on August 14, 1936 and was completed on October 30, 1937. The addition extended the structure 52' to the north in an 'L-shape', providing for a light court above the first floor. The addition maintained the building’s original detailing, materials, finishes and style. A large (10'x25') skylight that provided light to the main postal work area on the first floor was part of the 1937 addition. Along with the addition, other changes were made in 1937 including the installation of new bronze signage on the south façade, the first floor main lobby was extended to the north to accommodate installation of more mail boxes, and the revolving entry doors on both the south and west facades were replaced with single-leaf hinged doors. Mechanical and electrical systems were also upgraded. The original restrooms on the second and third floors were removed and replaced with restrooms constructed in the addition. New plumbing fixtures were installed on all floors.

The next major renovation occurred in 1964 when the Post Office and Federal Court functions were removed from the building and the spaces were remodeled for office use. Interior alterations included the installation of several new partition walls, new suspended acoustical tile ceiling, and the removal or covering of original wood and terrazzo flooring. Fire-rated doors were installed in the lobbies and stairwells, and the original glazed elevator shaft walls were infilled with solid plaster shaft walls. The mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems were also overhauled at this time, and a new fire alarm system was installed. This work would appear to be the prime reason for so much of the modifications causing damage to the historic character and appearance of the building. This renovation included alterations to the exterior of the building. The most significant of these alterations was the removal of the glazing in the arched transom portions of the first floor window and door openings which were then infilled with stucco. Aluminum signage and seals were installed on the south elevation and the 1937 skylight above the first floor was removed.

The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on June 23, 1976 and listed as a contributing building to the Downtown Bismarck Historic District which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 29, 2001.

Description Architect
1912 1913 Original Construction Taylor, James Knox
1927 1927 Enclosure for Mailing Platform General Services Administration
1934 1934 Driveway Repairs General Services Administration
1936 1937 Extension to North Wyatt C. Hedrick & Louis A Simon
1939 1939 New Concrete Sidewalk Neal A. Melick
1940 1940 New Landscaping Installed Neal A. Melick
1961 1961 Electrical and AC Renovations General Services Administration
1964 1964 Remodeling to all floors Grosz & Anderson Architects
1966 1966 Sidewalk repairs General Services Administration
1971 1971 Miscellaneous Repairs General Services Administration
1974 1974 Exterior & Interior Painting General Services Administration
1976 1976 Mechanical Revisions General Services Administration
1979 1979 Handicap Renovations General Services Administration
1982 1982 Interior Painting General Services Administration
1996 1998 Elevator Modernization Lerch, Bates & Assoc. Inc.
1997 1997 New Roof & Gutter Installed General Services Administration
Last Reviewed: 2017-08-13