Federal Building, Tulsa, OK

The Federal Building in Tulsa is a rectilinear structure, built three stories above a basement, and was erected from 1915-1917 with a north extension and the third story added between 1930-1932. Consisting of non-load bearing masonry walls veneered in light-colored limestone, the Federal Building (originally an U.S. Post Office and Courthouse), exemplifies the neoclassical style with its symmetrical massing, simple box-like form, and classical details. These neoclassical elements, typically used in many courthouses and public buildings of the period, not only gives the building a monumental presence with its strong geometry and symmetry, but also conveys the authoritarian image of the Federal court system.
From street level, the building has three visible façades facing Second Street on the north, Boulder Avenue on the east, and Third Street on the south. The west façade, the rear of the building, faces an alley and is unadorned. Each level of the building is of a different scale, the first being the largest, the second slightly reduced in scale, and the third, due to its later addition, being the smallest in scale. The most prominent architectural feature of the building is the columned portico on the principle façade, facing Boulder Avenue, that consists of 22 (originally only 6) natural limestone, unfluted Corinthian columns with terra cotta capitals. The portico almost runs the entire length of the east façade and behind each of the columns is a shallow pilaster with a stylized capital. Located on individual plinths on the edge of a shallow, 6' deep portico, the columns support an entablature, once the original building's cornice, that continues around the Second and Third Street façades. This cornice, with various moldings, dentils, etc., is constructed of carved natural limestone. Originally, a 5' high parapet wall was located above this cornice and was later modified in the 1930 expansion to its present appearance as the exterior wall for the third story. Also during the 1930 renovation, the original flat roof was replaced with a copper clad mansard type roof (to enclose the attic) was framed behind the parapet. The terra cotta cornice cap was also added at this time and consists of an acanthus leaf motif that relates to the Corinthian column capitals.
Originally, only two entrances were located on the Boulder Avenue Façade: one near the third street corner and the other near the north corner of the building. As part of the 1930 addition, an entrance was added to the center of the building on Boulder Avenue and a secondary entrance (corresponding to the original) was added facing Boulder Avenue near the corner of Third Street. The original bronze entry doors for all three entrances along the east façade remain and are in good condition. The doors at the north and south ends are outer doors that lead to bronze and glass vestibules which were part of the original 1915 construction-the vestibule at the north end having been relocated during the 1930 addition. Although the center entrance is no longer in use, the outer doors remain but the vestibule has been removed. Above the north and south entrances on the east façade are projecting cornices that are supported by two carved limestone brackets. Other exterior doors, which occur on the alley side of the building, are of hollow metal construction, and appear to date back to the 1930 renovation. The north (Second Street) façade consists of ten windows on each of the three floors. The south (Third Street) façade consists of 6 windows on the first floor, 8 windows on the second floor, and 9 windows on the third floor. A small ornamental balcony, located on southeast corner of the south façade, is constructed entirely of limestone, including the balustrade, and is positioned at the landing of the interior monumental stair. The 1930 expansion also added an addition to the southwest corner, which at grade level formed a covered loading area. It has two arched openings, one facing the alley and the other facing Third Street on the south façade. The exterior windows of the building have slightly projected sills, but are mostly devoid of any ornament. These once elaborate original double hung windows were replaced in the mid-1970s with fixed anodized aluminum windows.
Other notable exterior features of the Federal Building are the ornamental metal applications that still remain from the 1915 construction. Along the east façade between each column at the second floor line, for example, are the original cast bronze spandrels as well as one of the cast bronze grills with a decorative "X" pattern. Above the central door (currently unused) on the east façade is also a decorative cast bronze grille. The arched opening on the west corner of the south (Third Street) façade contains a fixed wrought iron grille in a traditional picket motif. Other decorative metal work occurs at the basement level windows that have wrought iron grilles with a repetitive "X" pattern similar to the bronze grilles at the entrances.
The building's interior, particularly the entrance foyer, floor lobbies, monumental stair, and main courtroom contain some fine examples of Federalist/Neoclassical finishes and detailing. Unfortunately, while those decorative elements that remain are unaltered, much has been removed or has been covered by remodeling. This is particularly true of the post office lobby and the two courtrooms. The first and second floor lobbies and the monumental stair that connects the levels are intact and contain rich marble ornamentation on the walls and stair with elaborately geometric patterned marble floors and marble monolithic columns. In 1930, the elaborate monumental stair was expanded to interconnect the third floor with the original two floors and it contains the same bronze handrail and neoclassical elements as the original stair. Other notable features of the lobbies are the cast bronze and glass vestibules at the north and south entrances and the ornate molded plaster ceilings. Two courtrooms- one on the second floor from the original 1915 building and one of the third floor that was part of the 1930 addition- remain in the building. Both spaces, however, have been substantially altered.

The emergence of Tulsa as one of the foremost cities of Oklahoma is reflected by the federal government's decision to build and enlarge the U.S. Post Office and Courthouse there during WWI and the Great Depression. It is significant both as Tulsa's first permanent post office and one of Tulsa's few remaining neoclassical buildings. The building is also a good example of period detailing and craftsmanship.

In 1897 the first post office was established in Tulsa marking the first official designation of the name "Tulsa" for the settlement, previously referred to as "Tusley Town." Since its establishment, the post office was located in many different buildings in the town of Tulsa. By 1908, a year after Oklahoma became a state, the Tulsa postal service was expanding and free mail delivery service was introduced to the city. By 1913, however, the post office was restricted in working space and direly needed larger headquarters. Tulsa's rapid growth, mainly attributed to rich strikes in the nearby oil fields, prevented the overworked and cramped postal facility from providing the best service. In February 1913, Tulsa was promised a $350,000 federal building after Senator Robert L. Owen helped to override a public buildings committee recommendation of merely a $58,000 appropriation. Later the larger sum was approved.

Ground breaking for the post office at Third Street and Boulder Avenue occurred in February 1915 and the building was ready for occupancy two and on-half years later. After 38 years of rented space, the post office moved into its own building on July 13, 1917. The original structure was modified in 1930 by the addition of the third floor and the expansion of the north half of the building that tripled its size. In the mid-1960s, the federal government announced plans to construct a new $12 million post office and federal building. As a result, the post office was remodeled into district offices for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a small office for the government's property management agency, the General Services Administration was also planned. Although there have been some significant changes to the original building, the entire building exterior and nearly all of the finishes and details of the remaining public areas have survived in fine condition.

The building has been nominated to the National Register of Historic Places as one of Tulsa's important cultural resources worthy of preservation and significant to the community and state.

Description Architect
1915 1917 Original Construction
Last Reviewed: 2017-08-13