Federal Building, U.S. Post Office and Courthouse, Missoula, MT

Federal Building, U.S. Post Office and Courthouse Exterior

Building History

Missoula began as a small village in the 1860s, but grew quickly when it became a hub of the Northern Pacific Railroad in the 1880s. By the turn of the century, it was an important regional trading center for western Montana, northern Idaho, and eastern Washington.

Because of the growing population and the subsequent need for services, Missoula was selected as the location for a federal building. In 1907, the government purchased four lots along Cedar Street, which was later renamed Broadway Street, for $19,850. Supervising Architect of the Treasury James Knox Taylor designed the new building, and construction commenced in January 1911. The building opened in 1913, and the original tenants were the U.S. Postal Service and the U.S. Forest Service. The Daily Missoulan called the building "a handsome structure, an ornament to the city."

As Missoula continued to grow, additional space for federal functions was needed. In 1927, James A. Wetmore, acting supervising architect of the U.S. Treasury Department, designed an extension and an annex to the original building to house judicial functions. Construction was completed in 1929, and the building hosted its first session of U.S. District Court on December 5, 1929. Despite the increase in space, the building required another enlargement in the 1930s. Designed by Louis A. Simon of the U.S. Treasury Department, the second annex was dedicated on October 13, 1937.

The building, which has served as the headquarters for the Northern Region of the U.S. Forest Service since 1914, was the location of the investigation into the tragic 1949 fire at Mann Gulch in the Helena National Forest. Thirteen firefighters, who were members of an elite U.S. Forest Service team known as the smokejumpers, died when the blaze blocked their escape route. The 1952 film Red Skies of Montana was based on the Mann Gulch fire, and one of the scenes features the Federal Building, U.S. Post Office and Courthouse.

The majority of postal functions moved out of the building in 1974, but a small post office remains. Numerous federal agencies occupy the building today. The building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.


The Federal Building, U.S. Post Office and Courthouse is located on a block bounded by Broadway, Pine, and Pattee streets, near the central business area. Original architect James Knox Taylor designed the building in the Italian Renaissance Revival style of architecture, which was commonly used for federal building design throughout the country. Its classically inspired design conveyed the dignity of the federal government.

The building is three stories in height and utilizes a steel-frame and reinforced-concrete structural system. Despite the additions of the annexes, the building presents a cohesive appearance because both additions were designed to be compatible with the original building. The foundation is clad in smooth-faced granite, and limestone ashlar covers the principal facade and side elevations. The rear elevation is clad in economical buff-colored brick.

The building displays many character-defining features of the Italian Renaissance Revival style of architecture. Deep ribs in the limestone define the first story. The symmetrical facade features arched entrances. Prominent limestone window surrounds on the second and third stories are another common feature. The upper stories are defined by a series of two-story pilasters (attached columns) that have Corinthian capi-tals with ornate acanthus leaf patterns. A carved ornamental eagle on the 1929 annex conveys the federal significance of the building.

The original building is separated from the 1929 expansion by a narrow connector topped with a glass-enclosed atrium, which the U.S. Forest Service originally used as a greenhouse. A single-story addition housing conference rooms was added in 1952 and is the last enlargement.

The post office lobby, which is part of the original building, retains many historic features and finishes. The floors are covered in gray terrazzo set within a gray marble border. The marble extends up the wall to form wainscot. Above the wainscot, the walls are covered with plaster and feature pilasters similar to those on the exterior. A dentil (rectangular block) course encircles the lobby. The ceiling is covered with painted plaster panels divided by beams. Original bronze pendant light fixtures and sconces illuminate the space. Original oak doors remain.

The 1937 annex lobby also retains many original features. The floor is covered with panels of alternating light and dark marble that are arranged on a 45-degree angle with the lobby walls. The walls are covered with deep beige marble, and each contains a centrally placed arched opening. The walls are trimmed in dark gray marble at the base, while a molded wood cornice with a dentil course tops the space. The plaster ceiling features a decorative circular medallion from which a bronze pendant light descends.

The arched opening on the west leads to an exit that is framed with darkly stained wood and contains a fanlight. Decorative bronze medallions flank the exit. To the east, the arched opening leads to an elevator that has original bronze doors and surrounds.

Although the courtroom is no longer used for judicial purposes, some original features remain since conversion into office space. Original wood and leather doors are in place. Paneled wood wainscot covers the walls and a painted wood cornice tops the room. Three two-story arched windows are symmetrically placed on the north wall of the courtroom. The molded wood surrounds and mullions are original.

Significant Events

1911-1913: Original building constructed

1929: First annex completed

1937: Second annex completed

1949: Mann Gulch fire investigation

1974: Majority of postal functions leave the building

1979: Building listed in National Register of Historic Places

Building Facts

Location: 200 East Broadway Street

Architects: James Knox Taylor; James A. Wetmore; Louis A. Simon

Construction Dates: 1911-1913; 1927-1929; 1937

Architectural Style: Italian Renaissance Revival

Landmark Status: Listed in the National Register of Historic Places

Primary Materials: Granite and Limestone

Prominent Features: Classical details; Postal lobby

Federal Building, U.S. Post Office and Courthouse Exterior

The Federal Building, U.S. Post Office and Courthouse is a series of three-story steel frame and reinforced concrete structures faced with granite, limestone and brick constructed in the Italian Renaissance Revival Style. The limestone facades of the building sit on an exposed foundation of smooth faced granite. The first floor above the granite, on the primary facades (S,W,N), is rusticated limestone ashlar with a dressed surface. The rustication on the original portion of the building has rounded edges while those on the additions have squared edges. Above the first floor, the surface of the limestone is also dressed. The upper floors of the south facade are defined by series of two-story engaged Tuscan columns with Corinthian capitals while the north and west facades are punctuated by windows with projecting cornices and sills or architrave framing. The primary facades feature a plain entablature and cornice atop the capitals or above the third floor windows. Above the cornice is a stepped parapet. The building's secondary facades (E and service court) are finished with buff-colored brick atop the dressed limestone banding at the building's base. There is also limestone detailing at the belt course between the first and second stories and at the cornice. Few original interior spaces remain historically intact due to major remodelings. Of these, the most notable are the postal lobby, the 1935 annex lobby and the original courtroom. Though constructed at different times and in different styles, both lobbies have marble clad walls and decorative plaster ceilings. Original wood and bronze fixtures highlight these areas. Although the courtroom functions have been relocated off site, the two story courtroom retains its original spatial volume, wood wainscoting and decorative plaster ceiling details.

Federal Building, U.S. Post Office and Courthouse Exterior

Property for the construction of a building to house government offices was purchased by the U.S. Government in 1907. Four lots at the corner of Cedar (later Broadway) Street became the site for the construction of the new facility. Situated one block east of the city center, the federal building is currently bordered by Broadway Street on the south, Pine Street to the north and Pattee Street on the west. An alley fronts the building's east facade.

James Knox Taylor, the supervising architect for the U.S. Treasury Department and principal designer for a number of federal buildings between 1892 through 1912, set forth plans for Missoula's federal building in 1911. This was during the time period that America's interest in classical architecture was being reborn. Classical architecture provided the symbolic appearance of federal authority in those communities that were becoming commercial or governmental centers in the early 1900's. The Italian Renaissance Revival style of architecture was frequently used for public buildings, institutional structures, and larger residences. The 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. As the building neared completion in 1912, an article in The Daily Missoulian newspaper was cited as having read, "A handsome structure, an ornament to the city." Four additions were added to the building over a period of approximately forty years. The Italian Renaissance Revival style of construction established by the original post
office building was consistently maintained by the primary facades in each phase of expansion.

In 1926, the original building which housed the post office and forestry offices was expanded to accommodate a federal court. The following year, more offices for the post office and the federal court were added. The original building was separated from the 1927 expansion by a narrow connector at the first and second stories. The connector was capped by a greenhouse which spanned its third story. A further expansion to incorporate additional office space was accommodated by an annex in 1935. The annex effectively doubled the size of the total structure. The final addition was made to the Missoula Federal Building in 1952 when construction of a single story addition was completed on work spaces for the post office and two conference rooms.

Although the majority of postal operations were moved to a new facility in 1974, the postal service continues to utilize portions
of the original building and the 1952 workroom addition. At the time of this report, the U.S. Forestry Service occupies all floors of the 1927 addition and the 1935 annex. The 1926 court addition and upper floors of the original building, which once served as Missoula's Federal Court is currently utilized as meeting and tenant space. The courtroom functions have since moved to another location.

Of interest the headquarters for the "Smoke Jumpers", a team of fire control experts who parachute into forest fires inaccessible to ground personnel, was also housed in the Missoula Federal Building. The film "Red Skies of Montana", a 1952 drama which starred Richard Widmark, chronicled the exploits of the "Smoke Jumpers" and contained a scene that focused upon the building's main entrance.

The Federal Building, which was constructed only twenty-eight years after Missoula was incorporated by the state of Montana as a city, serves to augment the residents' sense of community as well as serving as housing for important civic and regional agencies.

Description Architect
1911 1913 Original Construction James Knox Taylor
1927 1929 Annex #1 and North Addition Construction James A. Whetmore
1937 1938 Annex #2 and Greenhouse Construction 3rd Floor Louis A. Simon
1952 Post Office Work Room Expansion A.E. Sanderson
1969 Handicap Ramp Installation NW corner GSA - Region 10 D & C Division
1976 1977 Interior Tenant Space Alterations CTA Architects Engineers
1992 1993 Replace Boilers Oliver and Hellgren Architects
Last Reviewed: 2017-10-08