Federal Building/U.S. Courthouse, Dothan, AL
2.2 Architectural Description
Dothans Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse is a Neo-Classical Revival Style building located in the citys central
commercial core. Constructed in 1909-1911, the building was designed by government architects under the supervision of
James Knox Taylor. Facing south, the building fronts on W. Troy Street at its intersection with N. Forest Street. The
property, which includes the building and its associated parking area, occupies the southeast corner of the city block.
The faade of the building is set back from the public sidewalk with two small grassed areas flanking a broad set of
granite steps that provide access to the main entrance bays. The paved parking area extends to the west and north property
boundaries and is enclosed by black metal fencing. The east side of the building abuts the public sidewalk.
The building is of fire-proof terra-cotta masonry and reinforced concrete construction with a wood-frame roof structure.
The building is three stories in height over a full basement and the exterior is finished in stucco with a granite base
and limestone trim. Rectangular in its massing, the building is seven bays wide by four bays deep. The primary faade
features a five bay wide, two-story, projecting portico composed of six massive Doric columns and responding pilasters.
Double-leaf entry doors are set within the central three bays of the portico. The cornice of the porticos limestone
entablature continues in a band around the building separating the lower two floors from the third floor. Above the third
floor marking the roofline is a similar limestone cornice. The original building title United States Post Office and
Courthouse carved within the porticos entablature has been covered over with a wood sign that now reads Federal
The original double-hung wood windows have been replaced with modern bronze casement windows that diminish in height from the first to the third floors. On the first floor, decoratively stamped metal screens are set within the upper panes of
the windows and also in the transoms over the main entry doors. The window openings on the first and second floors have a
wide stone lintel and keystone while the third floor windows do not have this same feature but are set within recessed
panels. The building has a low slope, standing seam metal roof that is generally not visible from street-level. Constructed in 1952, a one story addition measuring approximately 55 by 38 with a flat roof and Post-War Modernist Style characteristics extends from the rear elevation to the north property line. Construction of the addition resulted in the removal of the original mailing vestibule and parking area and drive that extended around the rear of the building to North Foster Street.
The building is set upon a low grey granite block base laid in a common bond. The base is capped with a molded granite
water table above which the walls transition to stucco. On the south elevation the granite continues to form the cheek
walls and treads and risers of the main entry stair. The existing wood double-leaf entry doors are reproductions of the
original units that were removed in the 1960s. As part of these modifications the original wood entablature over the door
was also removed and replaced with a simple stucco panel. The upper halves of the doors are glazed with a single panel
below. Only the central doors are regularly used for access. Above the center entry door and transom is a sign that reads
United States Court House.
The east and west elevations are similar in arrangement and architectural treatment. On the east elevation, a set of
granite steps, set parallel to the building provides access to a secondary entrance. In the south bay of the west
elevation, an accessible entryway with fully glazed aluminum frame and sidelight was added in the 1960s, replacing an
original window. Also, the window in the north bay of the west elevation has been removed and the opening infilled with
A one-story, concrete and stucco addition projects from the rear elevation. The addition, constructed in 1952 has a flat
roof and metal awning windows. A former loading dock along the west side of the addition has been infilled to provide more
office space. Above the addition, centered on the rear elevation of the original building, three, two-story arched windows
provide light to the second floor Courtroom. The Courtroom windows interrupt the intermediate limestone cornice which
becomes much more simplified on the rear elevation. The second and third floor windows in the west bay of the rear
elevation have been removed and infilled with stucco. A stucco chimney with limestone trim, a pyramidal standing seam
metal cap and tall flue penetrates the roof near the northwest corner of the building.
The Dothan Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse was individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places on December 31, 1974. The building was nominated at the state and local levels under Criterion A for its significance in the area of Government and under Criterion C for Architecture. The period of significance is from 1900 to 1924 (U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1974).
The Dothan Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse is listed under Criterion A for its significance in the area of Government for its association with the unprecedented expansion of the Federal Presence into cities and small towns throughout the nation during the first two decades of the twentieth century. Between 1900 and 1916, it was estimated that $180 million was spent by the government for the design and construction of public buildings in the United States (Bruns 1998:74). New facilities such as combined customhouses, courthouses, and post offices were erected in many communities such as Dothan that previously did not accommodate any buildings that served as representatives of Federal authority. Funding for development was generally provided through congressional omnibus public-building bills. Opponents often decried these projects as expensive pork-barrel spending that was subject to political demands and too frequently dictated by local reasons and without regard to the best interests of the Government. Supporters countered that new construction was more financially prudent than renting and that federal architecture could stir patriotic sentiment and foster love of country in the hearts and minds of the youth of the country (Craig and Staff of the Federal Architecture Project 1978:242-243).
By 1910, the Office of the Supervising Architect maintained a two-year backlog of projects due to the frenzied pace of congressional authorizations for new federal buildings. In an effort to stem spending, the House Committee on Public Buildings mandated a limit of one project for each member in 1912. Despite additional restrictions imposed by the U.S. Treasury Department, the rate of federal construction did not began to subside until 1917 with the onset of World War I (Bruns 1998:80, 84). Today, almost one-third of all federally owned buildings in the U.S. General Service Administrations inventory over 50 years of age were erected during the period from 1900 to 1929 (U.S. General Services Administration 2008:7).
The Dothan Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse is listed under Criterion C for its significance in the area of Architecture as an example of the Neo-Classical style designed by James Knox Taylor under the U.S. Treasury Departments Office of the Supervising Architect. The return to academic classicism became a popular national trend among the architectural profession in response to the Beaux-Arts architecture displayed during the 1893 Worlds Columbian Exposition in Chicago. This change in style coincided with a declining interest in the picturesque design of the Gothic, Second Empire, and Romanesque styles, which became commonly associated with the Victorian Era and European ideals. In contrast, the orderliness of classical architecture was viewed as modern, but also hearkened back to the countrys revolutionary past (Lee 2000:165, 191). In the late 1890s under supervising architect William Aiken, classical styles began to gain favor as the preferred motif befitting the stature and authority of the federal government. James Knox Taylor exclusively utilized Beaux Arts, Neo-Classical, and Italian Renaissance Revival styles in his public building designs. Due to the large scope of authorized building projects during his tenure from 1897 through 1912, he would often recycle designs, making only slight modifications to account for local tastes and site requirements in different citites (Bruns 1998:80-81). Taylors successors in the Office of the Supervising Architect, Oscar Wenderoth and James A. Wetmore, would continue to employ neo-classical designs for federal construction projects through the 1920s and 1930s.
In 1983, the Dothan Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse was also included as a contributing property to the Dothan Main Street Commercial District. The National Register Historic District was nominated under Criteria A and C in the areas of Commerce and Architecture. The district contains 49 buildings within 180 acres on East Main, Foster, St. Andrews, Crawford and Troy streets in downtown Dothan.