Local newspaper articles at the time of its dedication described the Federal Building in Ketchikan, Alaska as "inside and out, the structure is plain and practical." The six-story, L-shaped building was constructed of cast-in-place reinforced concrete on a structural foundation of driven steel piles with concrete caps. Designed by the Cleveland architectural firm of Garfield, Stanley-Brown, Harris and Robinson; the plain, box-like exterior, flat roofs, and lack of ornament identify the Federal Building as International Style architecture.
Pioneered by European architects shortly after World War I, the International Style rejected the ornate designs of previous eras, turning instead to a streamlined, modern approach for buildings. Walls were flat planes with no decorative treatment and windows were placed flush to the exterior. This style became widely accepted in the United States in the mid-1930s.
The building also represents a regional construction type and style known within Federal organizations as New Deal Concrete. A number of federal buildings built under Roosevelt's New Deal plan exhibit similar characteristics.
The Federal Building is located at the southwest corner of Mission and Stedman Streets in downtown Ketchikan. The site is bounded by concrete sidewalks and grassy lawns on the northwest and northeast sides, and by paved concrete parking lots on the southeast and southwest. The northwest lawn features a metal flagpole with a concrete base, one of two originals. After almost four decades of grass bounded by chain link fencing, in the mid 1970s, landscaping was added and the fencing removed at the northeast and northwest lawns at Stedman and Mission Streets. The original steps at the main entry have been altered by the addition of a functional but insensitively designed off-center ramp with painted free-standing metal handrails.
The L-shaped building consists of a long and narrow six-story tower stretching along Stedman Street to the northeast, with the narrow end of the tower and a one-story wing facing Mission Street to the northwest. The inside of the "L" originally included a basement level boiler room. While the main blocks of the building have remained intact; in 1954, a one- and two-story wing was added to the southeast side, east end of the main tower, adjacent to the boiler room. This addition has metal panel and stucco exterior finishes.
The original building sits on a slightly projecting concrete base. The concrete wall surfaces have a rubbed finish and are smooth except for continuous horizontal reveals at the heights of window sills and heads on each floor level. The building is terminated by a slightly recessed continuous concrete parapet cap. The exterior elevations are penetrated by grouped window openings which align vertically and horizontally, from floor-to-floor. The original horizontal-light, two-over-two, wood double-hung sash windows, some with matching transoms, have been replaced by new, single-light, one-over-one, wood units with operable awning sash below fixed upper sash(es). The building was painted pink in 1990, at the request of the newly built Cape Fox Lodge; the color was decided upon by a local committee. The exterior concrete and paint is deteriorated. A study has recently been completed, identifying deficiencies and recommendations for improvement.
The main building entrance is centered on the narrow northwest face of the six-story tower. The main entry doors are framed by a slightly protruding concrete surround that matches the base element. Two wrought-iron coach-lights (not original) are located at the sides of the entry doors and original cast bronze letters reading "FEDERAL BUILDING KETCHIKAN ALASKA" are located directly above the doors. The commemorative granite corner stone is located near the east end of the north wall.
The original interior of the building continued the simple and practical theme. The most significant spaces were the postal lobbies on the first floor, and the courtroom and lobby on the fifth floor. Due to substantial renovation work in the 1970s, only the fifth floor courtroom and its lobby retains their original integrity.