In 1859, just two years after they founded Grand Island, Nebraska, German settlers established the community's first post office. For many years, however, the post office shared space with various commercial establishments. When Congressman George W. Norris secured funding for a new post office building during the early years of the twentieth century, Grand Island was one of the last major cities in Nebraska to lack this important type of public building.
Supervising Architect of the Treasury James Knox Taylor designed the new post office and federal building in Grand Island, authorizing the final architectural plans in 1908. Workers completed the building, which officially opened on November 26, 1910, at a cost of $108,000. By this time, Grand Island was the third largest city in Nebraska and its economy was thriving.
Postal facilities occupied the first floor of the new building, while the second floor held a two-story district courtroom and associated court offices. As its population increased, Grand Island required expanded postal services and additional federal office space. In 1933, local architect Charles W. Steinbaugh designed an addition to the building, which opened in 1935. Two years later, the post office began housing the headquarters for Grand Island's Works Progress Administration (WPA) district office, a function that it served until 1939.
In 1968, the U.S. Postal Service vacated the building after securing a new facility. The same year, the U.S. General Services Administration purchased the building and renovated the first floor into office space for federal agencies. Current tenants include the FBI, Bureau of Reclamation, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Federal Building is located in downtown Grand Island, in close proximity to the county courthouse and various retail establishments and residential buildings. The Grand Island Federal Building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2006 to recognize its architectural significance and contribution to community development.
The Grand Island Federal Building is a visually restrained but striking local landmark, occupying the southwest corner of the intersection of West Second and North Locust streets. Supervising Architect of the Treasury James Knox Taylor preferred classically inspired styles, deeming them appropriately dignified for public architecture. The Federal Building is an example of the Neoclassical architectural style, exhibiting design components derived from Greek, Roman, and Renaissance traditions. Taylor also supported the use of high-quality building materials, ensuring that the buildings constructed under his tenure would have lasting presences in their towns and cities.
The two-story Federal Building faces north onto Second Street. It is constructed of buff-colored brick, some of which is laid in decorative herringbone patterns, with limestone trim. The original portion of the building, which is constructed on a limestone foundation, is symmetrical, with the 1935 addition extending to the west. The central block projects slightly, articulating the entrance, which is reached by a small flight of stairs. A large wood door with carved medallions and inset metal grilles is centered in the central block. The first story features three round-arch openings that contain cast-iron frames and transoms with decorative circular, oval, and floral patterns. The arched openings are topped with scrolled limestone keystones flanked by circular medallions. Vertically aligned with the arches on the second story of the facade, three central windows feature small balconies with cast-iron balustrades. The bays are divided by two-story pilasters with stylized capitals. The pilasters support a classical entablature that features an architrave, frieze, and cornice with a dentil course. On the original portion of the building, other openings are rectangular and topped by flat arches with limestone keystones. A roofline brick parapet wall with limestone coping and pedestals is on the original portion of the building. A secondary entrance, located on the east elevation, features a limestone surround with a decorative lintel carved with a foliated motif. An original cast-iron light fixture with replacement globe extends from the lintel. The rear elevation contains an original U-shaped light court. The chimney, clad in brick and topped with a limestone cap, extends from the southeastern corner of the low-pitched hipped roof, which is covered with standing-seam metal. The 1935 addition is constructed of buff-colored brick, but lacks the original structure's decorative classical details.
The postal lobby once spanned the length of the facade on the first floor. Although the postal lobby features have been removed, original materials remain. These finishes include the terrazzo and marble floor, and marble and plaster walls. Round-arch openings with wood frames and a vaulted ceiling with original pendant chandeliers dominate the space. An original staircase with dark green marble risers and pink marble treads at the east end of the lobby provides access to the second floor. An ornate cast-iron lamp post atop a marble pedestal and surmounted by a spherical globe is located adjacent to the staircase. On the second floor, the two-story courtroom has been subdivided, but the corridors retain original materials, including terrazzo and marble flooring, plaster walls, and wood doors and frames.
Over the course of the building's history, it has under-gone periodic upgrades and renovations, not always in keeping with the structure's historic character. In 1979 and 1980, original wood-sash windows were replaced with aluminum windows; however, the windows' original dimensions remain intact. Recently, GSA corrected some prior work that altered historic features. Most notably, the agency removed an inappropriate aluminum door from the Locust Street elevation and installed a replica of the original door.
1908 Construction begins
1910 Construction completed and building occupied
1933-1935 Addition constructed
1968 Post office relocates; GSA purchases building and begins renovation
1979-1980 Original wood-sash windows replaced
2006 Building listed in the National Register of Historic Places
Location: 203 West Second Street
Architects: James Knox Taylor; Charles W. Steinbaugh
Construction Dates: 1908-1910; 1933-1935
Architectural Style: Neoclassical
Landmark Status: Listed in the National Register of Historic Places
Primary Materials: Buff-colored Brick; Limestone
Prominent Features: Arched Openings with Ornate Limestone Keystones; Original Lobby with Historic Finishes
The Federal Building is located at the southwest corner of West Second and North Locust Streets in downtown Grand Island. The main facade faces north onto Second Street. The site immediately surrounding the building consists of grassy lawn areas, and concrete sidewalks, drives and parking lots. Site features include a metal flagpole near the northeast corner of the building, several immature trees and groupings of shrubbery. The elevations of the original (1908-1910) building are composed of a raised limestone foundation supporting two-stories of buff-colored brick with limestone trip. The elevations are capped by a dentilated limestone cornice set below a brick parapet wall. The parapet wall shields a low-sloped standing-seam metal hipped roof. The materials and detailing of the 1933-1935 addition are a simplified horizontal extension of the original building topped with a flat roof surface. The building was designed in the Neo-Classical Revival Style under the auspices of James Knox Taylor, the Supervising Architect of the Treasury Department from 1887-1912. During this time, America's interest in classical architecture was being reborn. Civic and federal leaders thought that classical architecture would symbolize authority and culture for their growing cities and towns at the turn of the century. The Neo-Classical Revival Style is similar to the much earlier Greek Revival style; however, it differs by its use of elaborate classical detail, usually more permanent materials (brick, stone) and more massive scale. Architects frequently combined elements from Greek, Roman, and Italian Renaissance architecture into one design. Government, civic institutions, and wealthy homeowners selected the style for public buildings. institutional structures, and larger residences. Businessmen did not often choose the Neo-Classical Revival style for their commercial buildings, although banks were often built in the style. The Neo-Classical Revival style is identified by its use of Greek and roman architectural elements, such as columns, pediments, and round arches. Plans and exteriors are usually symmetrical, with entrances or perhaps wings projecting from the main structure. The Second Street facade of the original building consists of five-bays with a slightly projecting central three-bay section. The projecting section features round-arched door and window openings featuring limestone keystones set between brick pilasters with stylized limestone capitals. The second story windows are large square openings set behind cast-iron balustrades. The bays flanking the central three-bay section contain single window openings on each floor level. These openings are topped with brick flat arches with simple, stepped limestone keystones. The entire elevation is capped by a wide limestone entablature composed of an architrave, frieze, and dentilated projecting cornice. The building's current name, "FEDERAL BUILDING," is proclaimed in metal letters mounted in the frize over the main entrance. A simple brick parapet wall with limestone pedestals and copings crowns the entablature. While the materials of the four-bay 1933-1935 elevation facing Second Street match those of the original building, the details have been greatly simplified. With the exception of a few incidental locations, all of the original doors and windows have been replaced with anodized aluminum units. It should be noted that the aluminum replacement units do not match the design and the appearance of the original doors and windows. The materials and details of the Second Street elevations of the original building and the addition continue around onto the east and west elevations respectively. The building's secondary entrance in centrally located on the east elevation. The door opening is framed in a limestone surround with a decorative, carved lintel. The south (rear) elevation of the original building is a symmetrical, five-bay design. The first floor features a slightly projecting central section with three brick soldier-coursed segmental-arched window openings while the second floor is u-shaped around an open light court facing to the south. The first floor of the south (rear) elevation of the addition originally contained an elevated mailing platform, however, it has since been infilled with concrete block. The interior of the building features a lobby spanning the width of the original building. This lobby originally contained the postal service windows and lock boxes. While all vestiges of the post office have been removed, the sub-divided lobby still retains its terazzo and marble floor, marble and plaster walls and vaulted plaster ceiling, although the later has been obscured from view by a suspended acoustical tile ceiling. A cast-iron and marble stairway at the east end of the lobby provides access to the second flor level. The double-loaded corridor has terazzo and marble floors, plaster walls with original wood doors, and frames and a suspended acoustical tile ceiling. The original two-story courtroom has also been sub-divided by the installation of new partition walls and a suspended acoustical tile ceiling.
Grand Island's first post office opened in 1859, just two years after the first permanent settlers arrived at "La Grand Isle," one of the most prominent natural features of the Great Plains. For many years, the post office was little more than a desk located in various commercial and retail establishments. From 1883-1910, the Grand Island Port Office had a ground floor space in the G.A.R. Hall, along with the cigar factory and a cabinet works.
Grand Island was one of the last major cities in the state to secure an apparition for a new post office/federal building. It was not until George W. Norris was elected as the district's congressman that an appropriation was secured. In May, 1908, plans for the new United States Post Office and Court House, designed by the Treasury Department, were delivered to Postmaster Howard C. Miller for solicitation of construction bids. James Knox Taylor was the Supervising Architect of the Treasury Department from 1887-1912. Taylor's office was responsible for the design plans of small post office facilities while the larger design projects were often contracted to outside, private-sector architects. He favored individually designed building that reflected classical American traditions. Taylor also thought that government buildings should be constructed of quality materials that would endure. Through its architecture, the building reflects the turn-of-the-century concept of the federal government that public buildings should be monumental and attractive while representing both American democratic ideals as well s a local understanding of architectural styles.
The estimated cost of the building was $108,000 and the construction was to be complete by December 31, 1909. The Grand Island U.S. Post Office and Court House was not officially opened, however, until November 26, 1910. The first floor housed the postal service while the second floor accommodated the district courtroom and related court offices.
Grand Island's continued growth necessitated the design and construction of addition for an enlarged postal work room and additional federal offices. The two-story addition was begun in 1933 and completed in 1935. Another milestone in the growth and development of Grand Island occurred when a new post office facility was completed and dedicated on September 7, 1968.
Following the relocation of the postal service from the building, substantial renovations from 1968 to 1972 created new office space in the former postal work room for various federal agencies. Addition renovation work in 1979-1980 replaced the windows, the mechanical systems and the front steps. An access ramp was added on the exterior and suspended acoustical tile ceilings in select areas of the interior. Minor modifications have occurred since. Today the Federal Building remains a landmark in Grand Island's central business district.