Federal Building & U.S. Courthouse, Sioux City, IA

Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, Sioux City, Iowa

Building History

Sioux City was founded in the 1850s by Dr. John Cook as a trading post and docking point for steamships. As the river town grew, the population required an increasing number of federal services, and the city was selected as the location of a new post office, federal building, and courthouse to replace an existing federal building (currently used as City Hall). Construction commenced in 1932. Beuttler & Arnold, a renowned architectural firm responsible for numerous buildings in Sioux City, including the Masonic Temple, Methodist Hospital, YWCA, and East and West Junior High Schools, designed the building. The equally well-known architectural firm of Proudfoot, Rawson, Souers & Thomas of Des Moines was selected to provide input and oversight to the project. The building was constructed under the auspices of Acting Supervising Architect of the Treasury James A. Wetmore.

A site on the block bounded by Douglas, Pearl, Sixth, and Seventh streets was purchased for $270,000, and approximately $725,000 was spent on construction; in all, the costs totaled $100,000 less than anticipated. When the foundation was excavated by a steam shovel, workers who were unemployed as a result of the Great Depression protested in hope of convincing the government to revert to more the more traditional, labor-intensive method of using men with hand tools and horse-drawn equipment, but the mechanized method prevailed. The local press considered the building a great source of civic pride and monitored construction progress closely. The building was dedicated on December 29, 1933, with a local newspaper headline proclaiming "Postoffice is Uncle Sam's Gift to City."

When postal services moved to a new facility on Jackson Street in 1984, the building interior was modified to create additional office space and a new courtroom. During renovations from 1999 to 2000, another courtroom was added, along with other judicial rooms, including a judge's chamber, jury deliberation room, library, and holding cell for defendants. SiouxLandmark, a local historic preservation organization, praised the renovations and the U.S. General Services Administration's commitment to preserving this important downtown historic building.


The Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse is a skillful blend of the Stripped Classical and Art Deco styles of architecture, a combination that was commonly used for federal building design in the 1930s. The mixture adopted traditional classical forms of architecture while abandoning excessive ornament in favor of more subtle stylized decorative components that are typical of the Art Deco style. It is a refined building that conveys the dignity and stability of the federal government, which was particularly important during the Great Depression.

The building has an E-shaped footprint with a boxlike form and is three stories tall. A central stepped tower ascends above the roofline on the facade of the building. The building rests upon a five-foot base of granite quarried from Pine Mountain, Iowa, while the remainder is clad in light gray limestone ashlar from New Bedford, Indiana. A modest entablature with chevron (V-shaped) motifs, a dentil (rectangular block) course, and raised limestone coping tops the building.

Windows throughout the building are narrow vertical forms with embossed bronze spandrels between each story. Each opening is topped by a dentil course. Stylized fluted pilasters (attached columns) divide the window bays and are a classical feature. The pilaster capitals, however, contain a simplified floral design characteristic of Art Deco architecture. The entrances on the Sixth Street elevation are flanked by fluted pilasters with carved limestone capitals featuring a stylized eagle motif, which alludes to the federal presence.

The interior also displays many Art Deco components. The staircase features an exuberant Art Deco design with a cast-bronze ziggurat newel post and fluted bronze railing. The lobby is finished with light gray polished marble on the floors and walls, which are topped by an elaborate painted entablature with sunrise and chevron designs. The south wall of the lobby contains a series of openings originally used as postal service windows. Although most are now covered, they retain their original fluted bronze surrounds and bronze floral grilles that sit atop panels of Tennessee Appalachian coral marble.

The main courtroom, located on the third floor, contains restrained classically inspired ornament. Dark walnut wainscot panels rise ten feet up the walls. Some of the panels are punctuated by cast-bronze ventilation grilles with a scalloped pattern. Behind the judge's bench, a walnut panel with a shield is topped by a pediment. Beneath it is a metal plaque with an eagle design. An elaborate coffered plaster ceiling with leaf and dolphin designs is located in the courtroom, and original bronze pendant light fixtures are also present. The courtroom lobby floor is covered with small squares of Tennessee Appalachian golden vein marble that are grouped into larger squares with a central, diamond-shaped inset of black marble. Walls are also clad in golden-vein marble. Fluted marble pilasters topped with a gold star motif flank window and door openings. A plaster entablature surrounds the top of the room. Painted in terra cotta and sepia tones, it features geometric Art Deco motifs. Some offices retain original wood panel doors and surrounds, marble sills, and wood picture rails.

Significant Events

1932-1934: Building constructed and occupied

1857: Sioux City founded

1984: GSA acquires building after post office moves

1999-2000: Renovation of building

Building Facts

Location: 316 Sixth Street

Architects: Beuttler & Arnold

Construction Dates: 1932-1934

Landmark Status: Listed in the National Register of Historic Places

Architectural Style: Stripped Classical and Art Deco

Primary Materials: Limestone and Granite

Prominent Features: Central tower; Art Deco ornamentation

Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, Sioux City, Iowa

The Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, located at 316 Sixth Street, occupies one-half of a city block in downtown Sioux City, Iowa. The three-story building is situated between Douglas Street to the east, Pearl Street to the west, and between Sixth and Seventh streets to the north and south respectively. A product of the Depression era, the building's cornerstone was laid in 1932, and the project was brought to completion later that year. Local architects Beuttler and Arnold were responsible for the design of the building; James A. Wetmore was the Supervising Architect of the Treasury. The three-dimensional transformation of the E-shaped footprint results in an essentially cubic composition with a flat roof. A stepped, four-story tower projects from the north end of the building, interrupting the box-like form. The three-story building is entirely clad with light gray limestone ashlar (except the rear elevation) from Bedford, Indiana. A five-foot high base on the exterior is granite imported from nearby Pine Mountain, Iowa. Resting on a concrete pile foundation, the 235' x 124' building has a concrete encased steel framing system with concrete joists. The main entrance is located on the principal elevation facing north onto Sixth Street. Secondary entrances are located on the east and west elevations, with service entrances and loading dock on the rear or south elevation. Granite steps lead into the building at the north, east and west entrances. The building illustrates the strong rectilinear qualities associated with the Art Deco style with strong Classical overtones. The exterior is composed of three stages, consisting of a simple base of coursed ashlar masonry, a three-story body, and a modest entablature with stylized chevron belt course and a raised limestone coping. The fenestration throughout consists of a series of narrow, three-story, vertical bays with embossed bronze spandrels between each story. The matching bronze spandrels add to the vertical feeling of the composition, a typical emphasis of the Art Deco style. The windows are typically encased with metal sash painted brown, arranged in a tripartite design on each floor, and are slightly recessed throughout. The window bays are separated by stylized, three-story fluted pilasters, a reference to the Classical style. The capitals of the pilasters have a simplified floral design, reflecting the stylized geometric motifs commonly associated with Art Deco style. The principal elevation faces north onto Sixth Street, and has a symmetrical design that is centered on the four-story tower. The east and west elevations are very similar to the principal elevation in the aesthetic treatment. The east and west elevations are identically composed, and have double-leaf entrances, surrounded by a raised limestone surround with bronze grills. The rear elevation is utilitarian in character, with a loading dock that extends between two wings. The limestone cladding used on the principal facades terminates at the inside edges of the projecting wings. The interior of the building is detailed in the Art Deco style, with many surfaces of polished bronze and marble. The lobby, courtroom lobby and courtroom are the most elaborately detailed and intact spaces. The lobby is finished with light gray polished marble on the floors and walls, with an elaborately finished entablature mural that features chevron and sunrise motifs. Rich paneling and coffered ceilings embellish the Main Courtroom on the third floor. The ceiling is covered in an elaborately coffered plaster ceiling with metal sheets. The offices throughout the building have been modernized and feature a variety of modern materials and trim including vinyl baseboards and dropped acoustical tile ceilings with fluorescent fixtures. Original wood paneled doors and surrounds, original metal baseboards, marble sills and wood picture rails remain in several offices. The site and landscape treatment is fairly straightforward. The building is marginally set back from East Sixth Street, with a wide border of grass between the building and the sidewalk. This area is filled with small trees and a low hedge along the perimeter.

Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, Sioux City, Iowa

The Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, located at 316 6th Street, occupies one-half of a city block in downtown Sioux City, Iowa. The three-story building, with raised basement and fourth floor tower, is situated between Douglas Street to the east, Pearl Street to the west, and between Sixth and Seventh streets to the north and south respectively.

This building was originally built as the U.S. Courthouse and Post Office to relieve overcrowding in the old Federal Building (now the City Hall). Provisions in the Appropriation Act of July 3, 1930 authorized the acquisition of a site for a new federal building in Sioux City, amongst many other appropriations for federal buildings across the country. [This Act was based on the Public Buildings Act of 1926.] Promptly following this approval, the City of Sioux City received authorization to advertise for a new site in real estate journals.

In early June 1931, $1,025,000 was appropriated for the entire building: the site at Sixth and Douglas streets was purchased for $270,000; an additional $755,000 was appropriated for clearing the site and erecting the new building. By June 18, 1931, Secretary of Treasury Andrew Mellon announced the selection of Beuttler & Arnold of Sioux City for the architectural services of the new post office and federal courthouse. Proudfoot, Rawson, Souers & Thomas of Des Moines were selected as the consultant.

A product of the Depression era, the construction of the building began in July 1932 and continued throughout 1933. Dedication ceremonies were held on December 29, 1933 and the building was officially occupied on January 2, 1934. Erected for a total cost of about $900,000, the building was designed to provide accommodations for the post office and federal offices for a minimum of twenty years. The actual construction costs were $100,000 lower than the appropriated funds.

The exterior of the concrete-encased, steel frame building is clad with smooth-cut light gray limestone ashlar from Bedford, Indiana, and granite ashlar from Pine Mountain, Iowa. The building illustrates the strong rectilinear qualities associated with the Art Deco style of the 1930s, and later the Art Moderne and Modern styles of the 1940s and 1950s. Stripped-down Classical elements were employed in the design for the building as a tribute to the Beaux Arts federal buildings of the early twentieth century. The federal buildings of the this era also continue the monumental scale established by Beaux Arts classicism. The style of the building reflects a new approach in the design of federal buildings that presents the form, materials and details in a restrained, clean-lined, and modest fashion. This building embodies the public architecture promulgated by the United States government for most of the country's history, and also illustrates the effect of modernism on the established ideals of American public design.

The building was constructed under the aegis of James A. Wetmore (1863-1940). Wetmore served as the Acting Supervising Architect for the Treasury from 1915 to 1933. During his Tenure as the Supervising Architect, Wetmore was responsible for the passage of the 1926 Public Buildings Act which prompted the construction of the $300,000,000 Federal Triangle project and other important buildings in the District of Columbia. As Supervising Architect Wetmore is credited with overseeing the construction of more than 2,000 post offices and other public buildings across the country.

The Sioux City architectural firm of Beuttler and Arnold were selected to design and prepare plans for the building. Consulting architects Proudfoot, Rawson, Souers & Thomas of Des Moines were selected to provide inspection oversight, criticisms, and suggestions pertaining to the architectural drawings. Government standards were met in the planning of the details of the equipment and furniture, but the general design and the location of offices was left entirely to Beuttler and Arnold.

William Beuttler (1883-1964) was born in Hannibal, Missouri. As a young man, he was first employed by a relative (possibly his father), G. Beuttler, from 1900 to 1902. He later worked for the CB & Q Railroad as an architect in Chicago from 1906 to 1908. Beuttler studied architectural courses at Washington University in St. Louis from 1909 to 1911 and moved to Sioux City shortly after his training was complete. Beuttler met his future partner, Ralph Arnold, when they were both employed by architect W.W. Beach in Sioux City from 1911 to 1912. Ralph Arnold (1889?-1961) was born in Carbondale, Illinois and received a Bachelor of Arts in Architecture from the University of Illinois, Urbana in 1911. The firm of Beuttler and Arnold was established in 1912. Locally renown, the firm designed many civic and public buildings in Sioux City: the Masonic Temple, The Methodist Hospital in 1925, East and West Junior High Schools, Woodrow Wilson Junior High School, First Methodist Episcopal Church, Trinity Lutheran Church, First Baptist Church, Morningside Presbyterian Church, the YWCA, and several buildings at Morningside College, Sioux City. The firm of Beuttler and Arnold was in operation until 1940, when Arnold was hired by the State Board of Control in Des Moines. Beuttler practiced on his own until he established a new firm, Beuttler & Son, in 1958.

The firm of Proudfoot, et al was an established and highly respected architecture firm. Eminently qualified to assist in the design of the Sioux City Courthouse, the firm specialized in the design of public buildings such as court houses, libraries, general college buildings, office buildings and hotels, as well as the United States Post Office and Federal Building in Dubuque, Iowa. William R. Proudfoot, (1860-1927) a native Iowan, was the original founder of the firm. Proudfoot received his education in architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston. In 1880, Proudfoot founded the firm of Proudfoot & Bird when he was only twenty years old. Architect Harry Rawson joined the firm in 1911. Rawson is known to have been personally involved with the design of the Dubuque U.S. Post Office Building, as well as the Polk County Tuberculosis Hospital, the State National Bank, several office buildings in Des Moines, and Grinnell College. [From Withey, Henry F. and Elsie Rathburn, "Biographical Dictionary of American Architects (Deceased)," (New Age Publishing Company: Los Angeles, 1956): 492 and 532]. By 1932, at the time of the construction of the U.S. Courthouse and Post Office Building in Sioux City, the name of the firm had changed to Proudfoot, Rawson, Souers and Thomas.

The general contract for the construction was awarded to Pike & Cook, a Minneapolis firm. The final bid amounted to nearly $550,800.

The process of designing the building was outlined in detail in a newspaper article about the dedication ceremonies of the building [December 24, 1933, the Sioux City Sunday Journal]. Letters were sent by the architects to various departments requesting space requirements for the new building, resulting in eleven separate departments which were incorporated into the design. Six preliminary designs were produced; one was approved by James Wetmore. The final design was then approved by each of the eleven departments. Cabinet sketches were prepared and presented to the Treasury department. Detailed working plans were developed next, as well as full-size drawings of various areas of the building. Forty- three clay models were produced to aid in the design process.

The General Services Administration acquired the building in 1984 from the U.S. Postal Service. The building presently houses several government departments and two courtrooms.

Description Architect
1932 1934 Original Construction Beuttler & Arnold; Wetmore, James A
1969 Exterior Painting and Roofing Repairs Brown, Healy & Bach
1986 Building Alt, Asbestos Removal & Window Replace Brown, Healy & Bach
1986 HVAC System Repairs Brown, Healy & Bach
1986 Sprinkler System Brown Healy & Bach
1987 Exterior Repairs and Landscaping GSA - Region 6
1988 Bankruptcy & Magistrate Courtroom Renovation Lee & Batheja Inc.,
1990 1992 Upgrade 2nd Floor Offices
1990 1992 Replace Ceiling Tile, 2nd Fl Corridor & Lobby
1990 1992 Upgrade 3rd Floor Offices/CT Related Space
1994 Chiller Replacement GSA - Region 6
Last Reviewed: 2017-09-29